As we stand on a rock outcrop and survey a portion of Mavuno Village’s two hundred acres, I begin to imagine the vision that Dan is constructing. Stretching out below us are square plots, each separated by a living fence of vegetation. The property fades into the vastness of Lake Victoria. He points to several of the plots dotted with workers spraying watermelons. One of the orphanage house parents is beginning his own agricultural enterprise and hopes to sell watermelons to support his biological family and the orphans him and his wife have in their care.
The rows of plots are abruptly ended by a sixty-meter wide strip of jungle, a natural buffer between Lake Victoria and the farming. Dan explains that the buffer exists to decrease agricultural pollution. During the rainy season, the plots flood, and previously used pesticides get washed into the lake. The buffer region provides a natural pollution prevention method, and is similar to best practices found in the States: one of which is building plant artificial buffer regions along highways in an attempt to treat pollutants washed out during rainfall.
Currently, Mavuno Village staff are performing an experiment to showcase the difference between traditional and sustainable farming methods. Side by side are two plots. Traditionally, plots have no vegetated border and have mounded rows that create peaks separated by valleys. In contrast, the other has a vegetated border and is flat. Since being on the property, I have enjoyed the continuous breeze flowing off the lake. Dan explains that this constant breeze—combined with intense sunlight—deplete much needed soil moisture within a day after heavy rain. The traditional mounds increase soil surface area, which exposes more soil to the wind and the sun, but the flat plot minimizes surface area and the vegetated border blocks the wind. This method retains critical soil moisture and allows crops to flourish. The goal of the experiment is to convince the orphanage house parents and the local villagers that this is a more efficient and sustainable farming method.
It’s overwhelming to try and take in the vision of Mavuno Village, but as I stand on the hill overlooking Dan’s effort, I applaud the forethought manifested here. Even now, a windmill project is underway in order to cut the cost of pumping water from the lake. Sustainability is the ultimate goal of this organization. It’s not about marketing or tax credit; it’s about a better way of living—a better way for impacting the lives of orphans. Here, in this small corner of Tanzania, Dan is equipping orphans and their adopted parents to be self-sustaining and productive Tanzanians. Not only can they survive on their own food, but also the increased efficiency will create a surplus of crops that can be sold for profit.
Could this be a sustainable orphanage not reliant on aid from the West? The test will come when Dan hands over the reins to the next director, most likely a Kenyan named John. I believe Mavuno Village will be here for years to come—because Dan dared to envision a sustainable orphanage.