University opens Tanzanian field centre to support international development

Field centre pageA Field Centre in Tanzania – set up thanks to generous supporters of the University of Sheffield to fund pioneering international development projects –  officially opened this week.

The SIDshare/KEDA Alumni Field Centre in the village of Njia’panda in the Kilimanjaro Region is a unique social enterprise designed to create a source of income to support international development programmes in a community which has suffered from high rates of unemployment and poverty.

SIDshare, led by its Director Dr Deborah Sporton, Senior Lecturer in the Faculty’s Department of Geography, is a student-run social enterprise that operates as a non-governmental organisation (NGO) seeking to promote engagement and partnerships in international development. It is working in partnership with grassroots NGO Kilimanjaro Environmental Development Association (KEDA), which focuses on sustainable environmental and social development in the Kilimanjaro Region.

Planning for the Field Centre started in 2012 with early alumni donations, but it was not until Dr Sporton was introduced to a supporter of the University of Sheffield and Tanzanian born Murt Merali that the idea began to develop into a reality.

Mr Merali donated £10,500 towards the Field Centre, which also received a small contribution from the University’s Department of Geography, a £10,000 grant from the University’s Alumni Fund and a plot of land donated by KEDA.

The centre will be officially opened by Mr Merali and Professor Gill Valentine, the University’s Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Social Science, this week.

Dr Sporton said: “We employed 50 people from the local area on the build and retained a couple of them who continue to work on-site alongside a cook, full-time manager, maintenance man, cleaner and another two cooks for when we have a field class visiting.

“All of the furniture, furnishings, murals and artwork were sourced locally. We commissioned 32 beds from a local carpenter, bought fabric for the curtains from the local market and we source food from local smallholders supported by the NGO.”

Students from Sheffield have helped to market, fundraise for and run the Field Centre, and have been working on a range of research projects in collaboration with KEDA.

Dr Sporton added: “All of our students are actively working with the NGO to deliver their research projects, which range from studying the decline in smallholder coffee production and within that the role of the Kilimanjaro Region as a coffee producer, to the dramatic decline in tourism numbers due to the perceived threats of terrorism and health issues in Africa, such as Ebola.

“They have also gained practical experience of working with communities in economically developing regions.”

The first group of students visited in 2016 and have been engaging with the community on a number of local development projects, including a bee-keeping project, which has seen training and equipment given to local people on bee keeping and honey collection. There are currently plans to run IT classes and workshops for local people, host educational groups from within and outside of the University, provide tourism opportunities and run a field class for alumni teachers in the future.

Mr Merali, who will attend the opening, said: “As someone who has lived and worked in Sheffield for many years, I have always had a deep respect and admiration for the work of the University – particularly its research in medicine and in international development.

“When I heard about the Field Centre project it was of great interest to me as I was born in Tanzania and still regularly visit the country. I was delighted to make a donation through the Sanita Merali Trust to help this initiative as not only will it benefit Sheffield students but it will also have a real impact in the local community in Kilimanjaro Region.”