PWRDF delegation visits Masasi, a diocese of challenge and possibility

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Masasi Bishop James Almasi (second from left) welcomes PWRDF delegation members (L-R) Chris Pharo, Geoff Strong, Maureen Lawrence, Bishop David Irving, Leah Marshall, Zaida Bastos, Jennifer Brown and Suzanne Rumsey to his diocese. Photo: André Forget
Masasi Bishop James Almasi (second from left) welcomes PWRDF delegation members (L-R) Chris Pharo, Geoff Strong, Maureen Lawrence, Bishop David Irving, Leah Marshall, Zaida Bastos, Jennifer Brown and Suzanne Rumsey to his diocese. Photo: André Forget

Masasi, Tanzania
It’s barely 9:30 a.m., but already the walkway between the Anglican Cathedral of St. Mary and St. Bartholomew and the bishop’s residence is a furnace, and the dozens of choristers who line it are sweating in their gowns.

In the meagre shade of the residence’s porch, James Almasi, bishop of southern Tanzania’s diocese of Masasi, stands beside David Irving, bishop of the diocese of Saskatoon, and bows his head. Raising a hand over the group waiting for the procession to begin—a mix of Canadian visitors, Tanzanian priests and acolytes—Almasi says a blessing.

It’s Sunday, May 14, and hundreds of Anglicans have turned out to celebrate the arrival of a delegation from the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund (PWRDF), the relief and development arm of the Anglican Church of Canada. It is a day for confirmations, and Irving, a member of the PWRDF board, has been asked to preach at the service.

The prayer complete, Almasi walks down the steps, and the choir breaks into a hymn. The procession makes its way to the cathedral doors.

 

Long-standing ties

From the slopes of Mtandi Mountain, the cathedral overlooks the town of Masasi; away to the south, the savannah stretches for hundreds of kilometres to the Ruvuma River and Mozambique.

Completed in 1910, 34 years after Christianity was brought to the region by a group of freed slaves from Zanzibar, the cathedral grew to be the centre of what became, in 1926, the diocese of Masasi. It is now a centre of Anglo-Catholicism in the Anglican Church of Tanzania.

Masasi has long-standing ties with the Anglican Church of Canada, including a formal partner relationship with the diocese of Montreal. In the past 20 years, Masasi’s diocesan leaders have worked closely on a variety of PWRDF projects, from care for those suffering from HIV/AIDS to building fish farms.

Over the past five years, the emphasis has been on preventive health and food security. Beneficiaries in 21 villages in the Masasi district and the neighbouring Nachingwea district have received livestock, seeds, medicine and education, to help them establish a sustainable food supply and cultivate better nutrition and health practices. Known locally as CHIP (Community Health Improvement Program), the project has received $3.32 million from PWRDF and Canadian International Development Assistance (CIDA).

In 2014, the Canadian government announced that it had allocated $370 million to support NGOs engaged in partnerships to strengthen maternal, newborn and child health.

“When the Canadian government launched this specific call for maternal, newborn and child health, we really saw an opportunity to use the lessons learned [through CHIP],” says Zaida Bastos, director of PWRDF’s development partnership program, who has been involved in development work in the region since 1997.

Members of the Mothers' Union choir wait for the welcoming procession to begin. Photo: André Forget
Members of the Mothers’ Union choir wait for the welcoming procession to begin. Photo: André Forget

PWRDF reached a five-year funding agreement with the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development totalling $17.69 million for its All Mothers and Children Count (AMCC) program, aimed at improving maternal, newborn and child health in 350 villages across Burundi, Mozambique, Rwanda and Tanzania.

Of that money, $5 million is earmarked for development projects in the diocese of Masasi, which covers a large swath of territory along the Tanzania-Mozambique border and straddles the districts of Masasi, Mtwara, Tunduru, Nachingwea, Lindi, Newala and Nanyumbu. It is a region with a population of 3.26 million, many of whom are among the 46.6% of Tanzanians the United Nations Human Development Report says subsist on less than US$2 a day.

Data published by the Tanzania Human Development Report in 2014 show that 64% of mainland Tanzanians live in poverty, particularly acute in rural regions like Masasi. The proportion of those living in extreme poverty is 31.3%, as judged by the Multidimensional Poverty Index, which weighs factors relating to education, health and living standards.

The AMCC project runs from 2015 to 2020 and targets 72 villages, mainly in Tunduru on the diocese’s western reaches. Its overall focus is on lowering mortality rates among young children and new mothers. (According to UNICEF, the infant mortality rate across Tanzania is 51/1000 live births and maternal mortality is 454/100,000 live births.)

But as Bastos explains, dealing with this particular problem means tackling a slew of issues, from gender equality to access to food and water.

“It is all related—a woman that doesn’t have a good health status, doesn’t have a good nutrition. Of course, [she] will deliver a baby that [has] low birth weight and the chances of dying are higher,” she says.

When asked why PWRDF has chosen to partner with Masasi once again, Bastos says: “They deliver the program well, they are accountable to us as donors, but also to their community. They are efficient…When you get a partner like that, that delivers every time they commit to something, and deliver[s] high-quality work, you stick with them.”

Bishop James Almasi translates as PWRDF board president Maureen Lawrence (third from left) offers her greetings to members of the diocese of Masasi. (Also pictured, L-R: Chris Pharo Asha Kerr-Wilson, Leah Marshall, Zaida Bastos, Suzanne Rumsey and Elin Goulden) Photo: André Forget
Bishop James Almasi translates as PWRDF board president Maureen Lawrence (third from left) offers her greetings to members of the diocese of Masasi. (Also pictured, L-R: Chris Pharo Asha Kerr-Wilson, Leah Marshall, Zaida Bastos, Suzanne Rumsey and Elin Goulden) Photo: André Forget

In introductory remarks made earlier to the delegation, Bishop Almasi spoke warmly of the work PWRDF has done in his diocese.

“Over many years, PWRDF has been serving our people in this diocese of Masasi with very great generosity…this is a partnership we value enormously,” he said. “As a bishop, I have seen the impact of this partnership grow and develop over the years…Let me assure you that lives of hundreds of children and their parents, of whole communities, are being changed through your love and care for us.”

In an interview with the Anglican Journal, the Rev. Geoffrey Monjesa, the diocese’s development officer, says that PWRDF projects allow the diocese to work with the local communities to improve knowledge about health and nutrition.

“The support we get from PWRDF is important, because it helps the community members to get education,” he says. “Part of our program [is] to educate the community on how to identify their problems, and how to plan various strategies…and also to provide them with support in terms of essential drugs in various health facilities.”​

Ten Canadian delegates have travelled here, alongside Bastos and Irving—Maureen Lawrence, president of the PWRDF board; Geoff Strong and Chris Pharo, diocesan representatives from British Columbia and Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, respectively; youth representative board member Asha Kerr-Wilson and youth representative Leah Marshall; diocese of Toronto outreach and advocacy co-ordinator Elin Goulden; and PWRDF staffers Suzanne Rumsey and Jennifer Brown. They are hoping to get a sense for what AMCC will accomplish, based on CHIP’s outcomes.

First, however, they will get a taste of Anglican worship in Tanzania.

Bishop James Almasi (left) and Bishop David Irving confirm young parishioners at the Cathedral of St. Mary and St. Bartholomew. Photo: André Forget
Bishop James Almasi (left) and Bishop David Irving confirm young parishioners at the Cathedral of St. Mary and St. Bartholomew. Photo: André Forget

Anglican worship, Tanzanian style

The diocese of Masasi’s Cathedral of St. Mary and St. Bartholomew is packed. Built almost entirely of stone to accommodate more than 500 worshippers, there is barely enough room to pass through the crowds of children sitting on the cool flagstones in the aisles beside the nave.

As the procession enters the building, the congregants stand and add their voices to the choir.

The architecture of the service is identical to that handed down by Anglicans for almost five centuries, but the length—four hours, in total—and the enthusiasm would be uncommon in most Canadian parishes. (There is, at one point, unchoreographed dancing in the central aisle.)

The presence of young Tanzanians is also remarkable.

Earlier, the delegation had been told 70 young people would be confirmed. But when the time came, the bishops laid hands on more than 80.

This is both a reflection of Tanzania’s population (according to the 2012 census, 78.6% are below age 35), and, perhaps, a reflection of the religiosity of its Christians—despite the length of this fairly typical Sunday service, the children remain engaged (and, perhaps more miraculously, silent) from beginning to end.

In his sermon, Irving thanks his hosts and the members of the diocese, and underscores the importance of the visit.

“We learn from each other,” he says. “When God’s children from different parts of the world stretch out and join hands together, work together, it truly is joyous.”

It being Mother’s Day, he commends the work that women do in supporting, nurturing and caring for new generations and exhorts the confirmands to be bold in their decision to fully commit to the Christian faith.

Those who couldn't find seats for the service watch as the recessional parade leaves the Cathedral of St. Mary and St. Bartholomew. Photo: André Forget
Those who couldn’t find seats for the service watch as the recessional parade leaves the Cathedral of St. Mary and St. Bartholomew. Photo: André Forget

When the service is over, the worshippers leave the cathedral slowly. Many stop in the cathedral yard to chat with friends and family, and people crowd into group photos with Almasi and Irving in front of the cathedral doors.

The delegates mingle with their diocesan hosts, and discuss the afternoon’s next activity. After lunch, they are going to be driven to some nearby Mothers’ Union projects. (The Mothers’ Union, an international Christian charity group that supports families, has significant weight in the affairs of the Tanzanian church.)

The children, like children who have just gotten out of church services the world over, are playing loudly in the sunshine.

Many of them took their first steps when PWRDF’s first projects in the region were getting off the ground. As their country continues its long battle with systemic poverty, the hopes are high that the current PWRDF project will play a not insignificant role in the kind of conditions into which their own children may one day be born.

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André Forget
André Forget was a staff writer for the Anglican Journal from 2014 to 2017.

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