In our 10 days of travel to Heifer Tanzania projects, we covered 2,000 miles in the company Toyota SUV, much of it down bone-jarring, head-cracking roads little more than cattle trails where few vehicles have traveled before. Some wound steeply to the tops of rainy-season-ravaged mountains and others tracked randomly through shoulder-high, paint-scraping trees and weeds deep into the forest where the Maasai live among herds of antelope and giraffe. I can tell you through experience that without a four-wheel drive, we’d never have even made it to the project we visited the day we arrived, where Lomayani and Einoti Sarao showed us their model terraced farm on a steep slope part-way up Mount Meru, the second highest mountain in Tanzania after Kilimanjaro.
The photo above shows one of the better roads we traveled to visit a farmer, mainly because it was on level ground. However, on this same road we traveled to visit Wailos Nzalayaluma, a blind fish farmer, we came across an obstacle even Country Director Peter Mwakabwale’s expert maneuvering couldn’t conquer: A makeshift log bridge with a steep approach that proved too much for even the four-wheel drive Toyota. Dave caught Peter’s last attempt, and the parking of the SUV, in this video.
We walked the rest of the way (less than a mile) to Wailos’ farm. Luckily for photographer Dave, generous villagers volunteered to help him carry bulky and awkward camera equipment.
Donors and even some Heifer staffers who drive primarily to and from work in the United States might not realize how critical four-wheel drive vehicles are to the field work that Heifer does, so that’s why I asked Peter to explain it.
“We are going to visit the poorest of the poor,” Peter said. “The poorest are not in towns, off the nice tarmac highway. They are in rural areas where the roads are the worst.
“There are some places we go to visit, even the government officials have never been there. But Heifer is there. That’s why people here trust Heifer, because of that. We don’t bother with how bad the road is. So we need very tough cars to make sure we reach every farmer, the poor families, so we can deliver the animals and help them change their lives. This is what Heifer does.”
For a look at Heifer’s presence throughout Tanzania, check out this map by Richard Bugaisa, Heifer Tanzania communications officer. As for our trip, we started in the Arusha district in the northern part of the country, looped around through the Morogoro district to visit Mbeya and Iringa and then drove back to the coast of the Indian Ocean at Dar es Salaam for our return flight via Nairobi-Dubai-London-Dallas to Little Rock.