This week I had the opportunity to travel to Musoma, a small town on Lake Victoria in Northern Tanzania, to visit a branch office of Tujijenge, one of Kiva’s Field Partners. I quickly fell in love with the laid-back people and atmosphere – a nice escape from the hustle and bustle of Dar es Salaam. Maybe it’s the perfect weather or the fresh local food, but the people in Musoma are always smiling. And Bertha, a Kiva borrower, is no exception.

Bertha’s loan group, Vumilia, was having their monthly meeting to collect repayments, and I was lucky enough to join them. As I greeted Bertha, her positive energy and spirit radiated. And she wasted no time in sharing her wonderful sense of humor.  As we sat on wooden stools next to stalks of sugar cane waiting for the chairperson to arrive, Bertha told me that she is a mother of ten grown children and supports much of her extended family. As she began to tell me how she does this, I stopped her and asked if I could just see it for myself. She excitedly jumped up and led me down the dirt path to her home.

Athumani, Bertha, and Merciana, members of Vumilia group, collecting their monthly repayments

As I followed Bertha around to the side of her house we came to a pile of plastic bottles and an even larger pile of old rusty metal. At first, I was a bit confused. The rest of her plot was so tidy. What was with all this trash? But as Bertha explained her business to me, I was a bit ashamed of my initial reaction. Bertha told me that she is a “scrapper.” Individuals in Musoma sell Bertha the plastic for 100 TSh per kg (about 5 cents) and the scrap metal for 200 TSh per kg (about 10 cents). She then transports the material to Mwanza, a town a few hours away along Lake Victoria, where it is purchased and recycled into new materials. Bertha earns a small profit of about 200 Tsh/kg of plastic and 100 Tsh/kg of scrap metal.

Bertha explained that the scrapping business is becoming quite saturated, so in order to save on transportation costs she now accumulates items for two months before making the trip to Mwanza. In order to meet her monthly repayments at Tujijenge and earn extra income for her family, Bertha also sells dagaa (small fish). She collects the fish from Lake Victoria in the early morning, dries them out in the sun, and then packages them to sell in Arusha, a town near Mount Kilimanjaro.

Thousands of little dagaa drying on the beach of Lake Victoria

As we walked through the curtain that serves as a door to her very modest home, Bertha pointed at various items, such as the couch that her multiple grandchildren where piled onto, proudly telling me “that wasn’t there before the loans.” And as we were leaving Bertha’s place, she pointed at the corner of her living room where several 10-gallon buckets and one larger bucket of oil were stacked. Not only does she spend her days preparing dagaa and collecting recyclables, but she also finds time to sell cooking oil. Did I mention that Bertha is in her 60s?

Back at the group meeting, Bertha joked that she wanted me to take her on a tour of New York City when I return home. As we all laughed, the loan officer asked her, “how can we trust that you’ll come back to Tanzania?” Without hesitation and with a smile on her face, she said, “I have a family to support.”

Bertha and her collection of scrap metal

When I first met Bertha, I was amazed by her positivity and energy. And after witnessing all that she does just to support her family, I was truly inspired. If there’s one thing I’ve learned during my time as a Fellow, it’s just how resilient and creative Tanzanians can be when given the opportunity. 
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