The Meserani Project – Tree Planting in Tanzania

The Meserani Project is a small, family-run  UK-registered charity co-founded by Peter and Diane Swan. Over the last twenty years, The Meserani Project has supported the education of all children living in a remote area of Tanzania, predominantly inhabited by the Maasai tribe, with the focus on ensuring that everyone has access to a full education at primary and secondary level. Fourteen classrooms have been built and furnished in four primary schools, and a new secondary school is due to be completed soon, with the first pupils starting in January 2024. Further work has involved refurbishing teachers’ houses, providing educational resources, (books, photocopying machines, printers, laptops) and installing water harvesting and solar power systems. A sponsorship programme was set up in 2009 for those pupils who progress to secondary, further and higher education. To date, 288 students have been sponsored to attend secondary school, high school, college and university. Sixty-six students have actually progressed all the way to university, including three students who are training to be medical doctors, one student who is training to be a pharmacist and another a radiologist. All these young people are predominantly children of the Maasai, who without an education are destined to a life of extreme poverty that is currently being made worse by climate change, as crops fail and cattle die due to drought conditions brought about by recurrent failed rains. The Meserani Project is unique in that all money that is donated goes directly to sponsoring and supporting children’s education. No money is siphoned off in expenses, and the work undertaken by the trustees and supporters is entirely voluntary and at their own expense. To date, the charity has raised more than £580,000.

The seeds of a new initiative for The Meserani Project were sewn in 2018 when the ladies at Stockton Soroptimists donated £100 to the project, and a decision was made by Diane to purchase some trees to plant at one of the secondary schools that the project’s sponsored pupils attended – Moita Secondary School. This school is a boys’ boarding school, and is remotely situated 23 km. from the nearest road. More than 100 saplings were purchased from a cooperative of ladies who ran a nursery in the foothills of the Monduli mountains, costing less than one pound each. Subsequent trips, involving groups from the U.K. who were supporting The Meserani Project, saw more tree planting projects taking place. Trees were despatched to Losingira Primary School, Sokoine Primary School and the staff at a local tourist campsite. Then Covid happened. The world changed.

Returning to Tanzania in July 2022, and aware of the increased global focus on what is widely referred to as ‘climate change’, Diane decided to fund a perimeter hedge surrounding the new secondary school that was being built at that time. The Meserani Project is funding the building of two dormitories, beds, a dining/assembly hall, kitchen and storage rooms for the new school. The perimeter hedge was completed in January 2023 using finger euphorbia, a plant used widely by the Maasai due to how impenetrable it becomes when fully established.

 

 

We are currently trialling bamboo plants with a number of Maasai families, following ongoing research and discussion with government officials in Tanzania. Bamboo plants cost the equivalent of £3.50 in Tanzania, they grow rapidly, (they are in fact the fasted growing plant on Earth), they are a renewable resource providing endless timber, they produce more oxygen than trees, they sequester carbon, they are good for water, soil and biodiversity conservation and are a source of bio energy – pretty impressive! The Masaai can use the bamboo to build their traditional mud huts and perimeter fences, and they can also be used as fuel. Furthermore, any surplus bamboo poles can be sold on as a much needed source of income. If this ground breaking project is successful, it will be rolled out across a wider population in the Meserani area.

 

The tree planting project has generated a lot of interest from supporters of The Meserani Project, particularly because of the link to climate change. However, it must be stressed at this point that we consult throughout the whole process with the indigenous population of Meserani, and all decisions and actions are taken with their approval. The primary question was – is it really a good idea to plant trees, or is it just a fanciful pet project of ours, trying to alleviate guilty consciences for the damage that we as westerners are continuing to inflict upon the planet – climate change, loss of habitats, loss of biodiversity and loss of ecosystems. The resounding response from everyone we consulted at Meserani was YES, this is a very good idea. Throughout the whole process, we are also advised by them on the best native trees to purchase, where to purchase them, and more importantly where to plant them.

In July 2023 Diane visited Moita Boys Secondary School again, and was delighted to
discover that the new headmaster, Mr. Nehemiah Mboya, has a passion for planting trees, possible even greater than hers! His enthusiasm was abundant and infectious, and some of his personal reasons for planting so many trees in his school provided Diane with an increased insight into their importance:

  • Improve oxygen levels.
  • Carbon sequestration.
  • Provide shade, shelter and food.
  • Prevent soil erosion.
  • Act as a wind break.

Diane had a grand tour of the school grounds so that she could both inspect and admire all of Mr. Mboya’s trees – there was no stopping him, he clearly loves his trees and he is on a mission to transform a remote and desolate environment into an oasis. It must be noted at this point that the school has access to water, albeit it a limited access, and each pupil is allocated a tree and tasked with tending to it every day, thus ensuring its survival.

 

Further time in Tanzania has involved Diane undertaking more research into sourcing trees and negotiating affordable transport for those that are purchased. Following further advice she purchased a combination of fruit trees, (avocado, mango, stafeli and guava), and trees for shade, (predominantly acacia). A number of trees were sourced from a street garden nursery on the outskirts of Arusha, and Diane was assisted by Dominic and James, senior members of staff at Moita Secondary School, in selecting and then transporting them. It was decided to purchase trees that were two to three feet tall, and with a good root ball so as to improve the chance of rooting and surviving. These larger trees cost the equivalent of less than £2.00 each. Smaller trees were sourced from a street garden nursery at Mto wa Mbu, and were donated to Sokoine Primary School, Losingira Primary School, The LivLife Centre and selected families from the Meserani area – this was based on the understanding that there was access to water at all locations and that the trees would be cared for. Naturally, the recipients were extremely grateful, and equally naturally they are looking forward to further donations!

More recently Diane arranged for a representative from the Tanzania Forest Services Agency, Jonas, to talk to a group of pupils from Yarm School, England, about the effects that climate change is having on the environment and on wildlife. These pupils were visiting Tanzania to support the work of The Meserani Project, and had actually taken part in tree planting at one of the schools. A further talk from Loth Naparana, elected Councillor for Meserani, covered the hardships that Maasai farmers are now facing with the consistent failed rains, and the dilemma of wildlife now encroaching onto their lands, eating what remains of their failed crops. Each and all are competing for the same scarce resource – Food.

 

The enthusiastic teachers from Moita Secondary School, Dominic and James, are in regular contact with Diane, sending regular updates and looking forward to the next delivery of trees in January 2024. Jonas from the Tanzania Forest Services Agency sends Diane regular updates on the training programmes he is attending, including the conservation of wildlife corridors and teaching communities the importance of conserving wildlife and the environment. Jonas’ latest project is the provision and installation of beehives in the local community. The repeated message to Diane from Jonas, Dominic and James is, “Make the world green to make it better for all of us”. Here we have three young men in their early twenties, surviving in one of the world’s developing countries, living and working in a very difficult environment, yet striving and desperate to make a difference – something we should all be doing.

Diane Swan M.Sc.
Treasurer, The Meserani Project.
www.meseraniproject.co.uk

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