Mtwara is the main town of southern Tanzania. It is situated in a large natural bay about sixty miles north of Mozambique. Under German rule at the end of the nineteenth century it was linked to the hinterland by rail, but today, Mtwara remains isolated from the rest of the country linked as it is by just one road, which for sixty miles remains uneven and unmade. Daily life seems to trip along at a gentle pace. The buzz of bajaj and piki-piki (three wheeler taxis and motorcycles) are the main noisy disturbance to the daily pattern. Cocks competing with mosques for the morning call, women bent double over cooking pots, stirring maize flour to make a stiff porridge and smartly dressed people walking along dusty streets, to school or college or work.
Mtwara is a regional capital and the official residence of the Regional Commissioner, perched on the bluff overlooking the fishing harbour, lends the town a stately appearance. A spacious town, with residential areas spread over a few square miles, it has no obvious centre. Some will tell you it’s the bustling, scruffy ‘soko kubwa’ or ‘big market’; but others will tell you it’s the offices of the regional and municipal administrations. For many the Indian shops and houses close to the two large banks form the hub of the town.
Close to these shops is the small scruffy district of Kiangu, a division of an electoral Ward comprising two-room government houses and smaller self-built cement houses, close to the large Catholic cathedral, creeping out of the lowest lying area in town. As a consequence it often suffers flooding at this time of the year. It was in Kiangu that Mtwaralinks decided to start its work, helping a handful of families with a food grant, ensuring that the children had enough to eat and could attend school.
Mtwara has eighteen secondary schools and about the same number of primary schools. Of these, most are government schools. In primary schools it’s common to find sixty children squashed into small benches, rather like church pews, in rooms without fans and without books and resources. In the smaller private schools, conditions are slightly better but books are scarce and resources other than a blackboard a rarity.
Illness and death form part of daily life which few Europeans can comprehend. Malaria is by far the biggest killer of adults and children. The only defence the government offers to combat this massive problem is mosquito nets. There are government clinics – the closest to Kiangu is an hour’s walk away – and there is a large district hospital. But the hospital, for example, has no x-ray facility and unless you have insurance, the majority cannot afford to pay a day’s wage for a consultation then another day’s wage for the medicine.