In a country where AIDS/HIV rates are soaring and most young women have no alternative but prostitution, there is one mother trying to fight that trend. Pauline Samata, called the “Mother of Bamboo,” has made it her mission in life to raise awareness of the marvels of bamboo and to train women to make bamboo products as a means of escaping poverty.
INBAR, with the help of a grant from IFAD, embarked on the Livelihood and Economic Development Programme in 2001 with the goal of creating sustainable rural livelihoods and enterprises by using bamboo and rattan products. INBAR aims to empower rural communities by showing them production techniques and to focus on the harvesting and cultivating of the bamboo to make sure local resources are used in a sustainable way. The idea of using bamboo to help countries escape poverty is growing in popularity.
And Samata has taken advantage of this program eagerly. She was part of a south-south exchange in which she visited China and the Philippines to discover the vast potential of bamboo. She learned to build bamboo houses, bamboo furniture and bamboo scarves. And she learned that she could save time, energy and the surrounding forests by replacing her firewood with bamboo charcoal. Most importantly, she realized that the women of her country could be integral in the production of bamboo products and could work their way out of poverty.
“I did not know the marvels of this plant, until the day IFAD and INBAR sent me to China and the Philippines for training,” says Samata. “This is why I want everyone to understand the potential of bamboo, and the many things that they can do with this plant. Mothers need money to feed their children, but because their choice of employment is limited they end up falling into the prostitution trap.”
Samata wasted no time upon her return. She quickly formed the Mbeya Bamboo Women’s Group and organized training courses for the women of her community. Her goal is to keep her fellow women from falling prey to prostitution and save them from the HIV/AIDS pandemic of Sub-Saharan Africa.
Samata’s training courses are free but there is one condition: the women must stay with her in the community for at least six months. So far she has trained over 60 women to work with bamboo. While the women, who have had little access to education, are living in her community, she also teaches them basic skills such as counting and how to write their names.
And Samata’s vision continues to grow. She is teaching women how to construct their own bamboo houses so that they escape the trap of renting and have a home of their own. She has started to build a large, integrated workshop and shop on her land in Mbeya. She is exploring potential new markets for her products and has identified Zambia, Malawi, Kenya and Uganda as potentially viable. One day, she wants to own more to plant more bamboo.
Pauline Samata – the mother of bamboo – is contributing to reducing poverty in her beloved country. Thanks to her efforts and those of others, today almost every household in the United Republic of Tanzania uses a bamboo product and many young girls and women earn a respectable living by creating objects made of bamboo.
Samata’s new slogan is: Yes, we can! And indeed, they can!