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Students strive for sustainable settlements in Tanzania

Canadian and Tanzanian students are working to address the effects of climate change on informal settlements and the implications for children in Tanzania.

Canadian and Tanzanian students are working to address the effects of climate change on informal settlements and the implications for children in Tanzania.

 by Robyn Jeffrey

The month before Paul Stephany arrived in Dar es Salaam, the Tanzanian city was hit by devastating floods. Office buildings were destroyed, homes were washed away, and hundreds of people were forced to abandon their communities in December 2011.

The city of Dar es Salaam was hit by devastating floods in December 2011. Photo: Ardhi University.

The city of Dar es Salaam was hit by devastating floods in December 2011. Photo: Ardhi University.

“The damage was extensive. There were lives lost,” says Stephany, then a fourth-year geography student at the University of the Fraser Valley (UFV) in British Columbia. He’s one of 16 current and former UFV undergrads who have participated in, or are currently part of, Sustainable Human Settlements in Tanzania. It’s a multi-year project made possible with support from the Students for Development (SFD) program.

Funded by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA)[1] and managed by the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada (AUCC), the SFD program is all about shared learning. It enables Canadian students to spend three months interning in developing and emerging countries, and their international counterparts to spend an academic term studying in Canada.

SFD projects address CIDA’s priorities of securing the future of children and youth, increasing food security and stimulating economic growth. Thanks to a partnership between UFV’s Global Development Institute and the Institute of Human Settlement Studies (IHSS) at Dar es Salaam’s Ardhi University (ARU), students from both countries are working together on research to address the effects of climate change on informal settlements, and the implications for children in Tanzania.

On the ground in Tanzania

Tanzania is seeing progressively more severe annual flooding due to climate change and urbanization. The 75 percent of Dar es Salaam’s population that lives in informal settlements is particularly affected. Unplanned, cramped and comprised largely of houses built with makeshift materials, these settlements often arise in areas that are vulnerable during the rainy season.

During his internship, Stephany assisted ARU doctoral candidates with GIS community mapping to produce maps of Suna, one of the informal settlements hit hard by the 2011 floods. “Maps tell the story,” explains Cherie Enns, the project coordinator and a geography instructor at UFV. As a means of understanding and tracking how informal settlements develop over time, maps are a “visual portrayal” of the impact of flooding on a community and help identify where not to build.

 As part of a visioning exercise with UFV students, displaced children drew their ideal play spaces. Photo: Alison Thorpe

As part of a visioning exercise with UFV students, displaced children drew their ideal play spaces. Photo: Alison Thorpe

Subsequent Canadian interns furthered the work of their predecessors, focusing on how the children of Suna were affected by the floods and resulting relocation of 600 households to a resettlement camp. Matthew Dirks, a fourth-year global development studies undergrad at UFV, contributed to research on the creation of safe play areas for children in that camp.

“There is no infrastructure, such as soccer nets, so the kids often play jacks with stones,” says Dirks, describing the camp’s current play space, which is undefined, on unleveled ground and plagued by natural hazards like snakes.

As part of a visioning exercise, displaced children aged 6 to 12 described or drew their ideal play spaces. The result? Pictures showing swing sets, teeter totters, netball hoops and grassy soccer fields. “Because relocation is quite a drastic measure,” adds Dirks, the goal was to apply a child-friendly lens to settlement planning and integrate children’s vision into community design.

On the ground in Canada

The partner universities are now trying to make the children’s dream play space a reality. In December 2012, they launched a fundraiser called Pennies for Playgrounds at Abbotsford’s Reach Gallery. Consisting of an art exhibition featuring students’ photographs and a presentation by the IHSS director, professor Wilbard Kombe, the well-attended event attracted significant media coverage and has raised $1,000 to date.

Public engagement activities like these, which encourage interns to share what they learned with their home communities, are an important aspect of the SFD program, as is the student exchange between participating countries.

Deusdedit Kibassa is one of four ARU PhD candidates who came to Canada. While here, he visited municipal planning offices, including a First Nations community planning office, UBC’s School of Planning, and several affordable housing projects. He also attended a conference and UFV classes where he discussed his experiences with students interested in food security issues. “It sharpens your thinking,” says Kibassa, describing how these activities, and the chance to interact with Canadian scholars and present his own research on climate change adaptation, have been influential.

“For the students, it’s a life-changer,” says Enns. Paul Stephany, who is currently pursuing graduate studies at the University of Guelph, agrees. “A lot of my perceptions changed as to what our roles are in a place like Tanzania. The people that are there have so many of the skills and ideas necessary to make the changes they want,” he says. “In the long run, it was them who helped me rather than the other way around.”

Although this SFD project will end in 2014, there are plans to continue the collaboration in other ways. Initiatives in the works include a mobile course for youth on Social Enterprise and Sustainable Development in collaboration with UN Habitat, and a joint online course on Sustainable Planning: Adapting to Climate Change.

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[1] CIDA was incorporated into Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development (DFATD) in 2013.


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