Notes from the Road: Tuungane Program

Tracy and I are in Africa for two-weeks: Tanzania, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Kenya. The trip will bring together work from Hope Through Healing Hands (global community health) and The Nature Conservancy (intersection nature and health) in conjunction with Pathfinder International (global women’s health). As chairman of Hope Through Healing Hands, I will explore how we can globally impact peoples’ well-being and health by more smartly addressing and integrating: food and nutrition; clean water by protecting sources and exploring the power of social impact water funds; sustainable agricultural practices; environment and pollution; climate change and coastal impact; maternal and reproductive health; infant mortality and child health. The expertise of The Nature Conservancy – the leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people – will be invaluable as we study in depth its science-based best practices in each of these areas. Internet access is intermittent, but I will share updates as I can.

Wednesday, January 31: We begin the day asking, “Can a program uniting Health with Nature have a synergistic impact on wellbeing?” And further, is that impact measurable and scalable? I’m here on behalf of Hope Through Healing Hands to learn the answer.

We are in the bush. We are remote, as remote as you can get in Tanzania… two bumpy, bush-plane rides west from Arusha. Obviously no cell coverage or roads. Our camp on the lake is then an hour and a half boat ride from the dirt airstrip, south on Lake Tanganyka (the world’s longest and second deepest lake).

We are here to explore a unique “experiment” program that tests the hypothesis that a specific health program integrated inextricably with a specific nature/conservation program can have a meaningful (and ultimately scalable) impact on an individual’s and community’s health and wellbeing. The Nature Conservancy and Pathfinder International sponsor the program together; I’m gathering best practices that Hope Through Healing Hands can apply.

Traveling another 2 hours north by boat we arrived at Buhingu village, now comprised of two smaller villages. We spent the day interacting with the people there, walking and learning about the impact of the Tuungane Program, the TNC and Pathfinder International partnership that works not in parallel but actually in full integration of staff and operations and facilities. The Tuungane Program focuses on:

  • Fisheries: TNC-provided fish drying racks provide a more valuable fish product to be produced and sold, with consequently higher incomes brought to the community;
  • Lake: new sustainable fishing practices conserving the most immediate natural resource for the long term
  • Water: the greatest disease burden in the village of 2,000 people comes from waterborne illnesses like amebic dysentery and giardiasis
  • Health Clinic: a minimal, primitive infrastructure. The nearest “hospital” —  more advanced but still only basic — is a 6-hour boat ride away.
  • The community health worker program: A team of impressive volunteers focuses on family planning. Pathfinder International’s major focus is family planning. Their focus on decreasing maternal deaths and healthy timing and spacing of pregnancies aligns with our work at Hope Through Healing Hands.
  • The “model home” initiatives: Introducing improved, efficient mud stoves to conserve the forests, lessen inhalation of smoke (respiratory disease), and reduce serious burn and death by fire.

I see unique aspects in the TNC/Pathfinder model:

  1. Equal partnership and full integration of two NGOs operating as a single program. Of the 10 or so team members wearing the single logo “Tuungane … creating a healthy future for people and nature” shirts, I could not tell who represented TNC and who represented PI.
  2.  Community health workers (volunteers from the community and jointly trained by both organizations) served the entry point for all communication and potential change in behavior and values.  All messaging is delivered and accepted through this powerful funnel of trust.
  3.  Outcomes. For health and well-being: Maternal deaths fell from 16 to 7  to 4 over the last two years! For nature, fish—the most valuable resource for the economy—are replenished as regulations are designed for sustainability and enforced. Forests are protected.