On a seemingly typical December morning, the time had come for me to visit the Mareu Youth Group in Arusha region, Tanzania. I planned to do a short follow-up on the group’s progress, but I should have known to expect more than just that. I was already shocked to have received a printed invitation to the meeting the week prior, signed and sealed with an official Mareu Youth Group stamp. But, none the less, I would never have guessed what was waiting for me just an hour away in the rural village of Mareu…
Mareu Youth Group was established in June 2016, and was part of the Coffee Kids project for 1 year. Within this year, the youth group received organizational development trainings, learned new techniques in coffee agronomy and animal husbandry, and participated in business workshops, all with the overall goal of awakening their entrepreneurial spirit and giving them the tools to establish their own agribusinesses within their rural community. Although I was well aware of the many successful leaps this group had taken throughout their experience, I had no idea about the great strides they’d taken as a group, as individuals, and as aspiring business leaders.
The road to Mareu is a journey full of dust and bumps, so be prepared. On the way, you’ll probably encounter some donkeys hauling water, children playing on the side of the road, and a few village centers peppered with one-stop shops. Although in this harsh environment resources seem scare to the naked eye, as the Mareu group would show me, it is rich with potential.
I arrived as scheduled to our usual meeting spot, but it was immediately obvious that something was different that day. A stage was set up lined in rows upon rows of color-coded chairs; there were beautiful decorations draped along the walls; and the smell of a feast wafted from the kitchen. All the youths wore matching red T-shirts with a Mareu Youth Group symbol emblazoned on the breast pocket– shirts I later learned they had designed and bought themselves using their own internal savings.
Even as impressed as I was when I first came upon this visual display, my excitement only grew with the events of that day. There were dances, educational skits, even speeches from the pastor and village chairman. But that was not all; in celebration of the financial security afforded them by their group’s savings scheme, they even dedicated a section of the event to donations where members of the group offered what they could to support other members of their community in need. To top it all off, they had made official certificates of accomplishment for each member of the group, and held a pseudo-graduation ceremony to appreciate every individual in attendance for their financial and business successes.
Today, the Mareu Youth Group still conducts regular meetings and supports each other in their various and innovative economic endeavors. One member proudly told me about his private decorating business, while another explained their successes raising and selling poultry. Even the group as a whole has begun exploring joint business ventures in areas such as catering and chair rental services. Having built upon their original Coffee Kids seed capital, the group has since managed to give out five additional loans to youth group members!
All in all, the group is doing better than I could have ever hoped for. They have become completely self-sufficient and their ambitions have pushed them to continue to grow and explore the many hidden opportunities waiting to be seized in their rural village of Mareu.
The thank you letter written to HRNS on behalf of the Mareu Youth Group ended with the same sense of gratitude I feel towards them, and all the hard work they’ve invested in our program and their futures: “Tunashukuru, asanteni sana” – “We are so grateful. Thank you.”