village women moving dirt on soccer field

“Unity is Strength”

“Umoja ni nguvu” or “Unity is strength” is a commonly heard phrase in Tanzania. We saw this principle in action in the creation of a sports field for Twegashe School.

Sports field requirement

One of the surprises we encountered in preparing to build the school was learning that the government requires all rural schools, even primary schools, to provide a full-size soccer field to be used for a variety of sports activities. The requirement does not apply to schools in towns and cities since space there is limited. Because we hadn’t yet obtained a building permit when we traveled to the village last September, we decided to tackle the soccer field at that time.

Creating a level soccer field presented a challenge, since the plot that the village donated for the school has a significant slope. Of course, we could have settled for the standard we’d seen at school soccer fields around the country, many of which are not at all level. But we wanted a quality soccer field to match the quality education we are hoping to provide at Twegashe School.

Defining the task

stake in a hole in the dirt with blue tape at the bottom of the stakeWe began by locating the flattest portion of the site, and then measuring and staking out the boundaries of a regulation-size soccer pitch. Bill used his laser level and story pole to sight elevations and we placed stakes around the field marking with blue tape the final height that the dirt should be at each point. On the lower side of the field, the blue tape markings were about two feet above the existing ground level. On the higher side of the field we had to dig holes two feet deep and put the tape on a stake at the bottom of each hole. In order to bring every spot to the level of these blue tape markers we estimated that roughly 1000 cubic meters of dirt would have to be dug away from the top side of the field and piled up on the bottom side. This would clearly be a formidable task with no equipment other than hoes, buckets, shovels, and a few wheelbarrows.

The women can do it!

We wanted to support the village economy by using local laborers, and it was recommended to us that the women of the Bushasha women’s “cooperative” would be the best candidates for the job. Their chairwoman recruited forty women, ten from each of the four village sub-units, and after meeting us at the field to learn the exact nature of the task and agree on a price, they set to work.

These women were out on the field moving dirt every morning from about 6 a.m. to 11 a.m. They performed the work very methodically, dividing up each section of the field into four units, one for each of their subgroups. If a woman could not be present on any particular day, she was required to send a substitute from her family so her share of the work would still get done. Having young children wasn’t an obstacle—there were generally several babies or toddlers seated near the edge of the field entertaining themselves while their mothers worked. We enjoyed hearing the murmur of the women’s conversation, their laughter, even occasional singing, as we worked elsewhere on the school site. They seemed completely undaunted by such a huge task—clearly they knew, as the saying goes, that there was strength in their unity, that together they would be able to accomplish this task without difficulty.

And accomplish it they did. About a month and a half after we returned to Seattle from Tanzania we got word that the soccer field work was finished. The task had taken longer than expected because the women encountered lots of rocks on the last section of the field. They had to haul these rocks away by wheelbarrow. Even this was not too much for the women, although it was too much for several of the wheelbarrows. The villagers had to repair the wheelbarrows with hand-carved wooden replacement wheels in order to finish the job!

Final steps

We’re now working on getting some local, low-growing grass plants started on the field to prevent erosion and provide a suitable playing surface so that when school begins next January, the field will be ready for service. The women have requested that a soccer game between their women’s groups be a featured event at the opening of the new school!