Cambridge students launch development initiative in Dar es Salaam

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A pioneering initiative in the slums of Dar es Salaam aims to transform student volunteering, by kick-starting locally-run initiatives in healthcare, education, public sanitation, and enterprise.

Students are not necessarily the right people to run or build community resources. What we can offer is specialist knowledge, which can facilitate such development

Kelvin Wong

A team of Cambridge students have begun a collaboration with people living in the slums of Dar es Salaam, aimed at road-testing ways for students to contribute meaningfully to improving lives in the developing world.

More than 30 students are travelling out to the Tanzanian city to set up four pilot projects as part of the new Cambridge Development Initiative. These include a plan to install the first sewer network in a community where cholera is often rife, and another to establish peer-to-peer learning in schools where class sizes are almost 100.

The longer-term aim, however, is to establish a blueprint for student volunteering which marks a step forward from what organisers describe as the traditional, “bricks-and-mortar” approach. Rather than sending students to developing countries to build one-off community facilities during their holidays, the Cambridge initiative will focus on training and skills development as well as infrastructure, kick-starting sophisticated development projects which can be sustained in the long term.

Set up in partnership with a Tanzanian organisation which works in 10 different city slums, the student-led initiative also hopes to create a lasting link between Cambridge and Dar es Salaam. The hope is that students will travel to the megacity every year, implementing and analysing different development initiatives which have been thoroughly researched and tested during the preceding months.

“The ambition is to create a model for students at other universities who are interested in making an innovative contribution to international development,” Chris Clark, a Master’s student in Development Studies at St John’s College, Cambridge, who will lead the evaluation phase of the pilot projects, explained.

Kelvin Wong, who, along with fellow-student Patrick Hoffman is a co-founder of the Initiative, argues that universities are full of students with valuable skills and experience, which rank as “untapped assets” in the context of international development.

“Students are not necessarily the right people to actually run or build community resources,” he added. “What we can offer is specialist knowledge, which can facilitate such development. Cambridge in particular has provided us with a wealth of expertise and resources right on our doorstep: this has helped position our projects at the cutting edge of development."

Dar es Salaam is one of the world’s fast expanding mega-cities, with a population of over four million, 70% of whom live in so-called “informal settlements”. The rapid growth of this urban sprawl has led to the emergence of slums which lack basic facilities and public services, and where many of the inhabitants cannot find jobs.

The Cambridge Development Initiative will aim, by the end of August, to start four community-based projects which address some of these problems, and can then be sustained by the communities themselves. Each project has been devised during six months of comprehensive research, and all four are based on solutions which have already proven effective elsewhere in the developing world.

They include an engineering scheme to construct a simplified sewer system in the settlement of Vingunguti, part of Dar es Salaam’s Ilala district where more than 80,000 people currently live without any proper sanitation, and where outbreaks of cholera are common.

Education specialists from both Cambridge and the University of Dar es Salaam will meanwhile run summer workshops at the city’s Manzese Secondary School, aimed at supplementing the traditional curriculum and establishing peer-to-peer learning clubs for students.

The Initiative will also bring primary healthcare to some informal settlements for the first time, by opening local health shops and clinics which will offer affordable medicines, regular consultations with nurses in treatment rooms, and run health-awareness schemes in the immediate area. The final project will help Tanzanian university students interested in starting a financially sustainable social enterprise aimed at bettering living conditions in Dar es Salaam’s slums. The project takes the form of a small business incubator designed according to a model which focuses on developing socially conscious small businesses.

All four projects will be thoroughly evaluated by members of the Development Initiative team, with a view to improving the existing model as well as informing future schemes in 2015. “Through surveys, statistics and stories, we will be able to gain an understanding of the impact of our projects while still in the pilot phase,” Clark said. “That will enable us to make informed decisions about how to refine the projects and bring them to scale.”


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