In August, James Steel paid a visit to Kindwitwi. James is a colleague of one of the trustees of the Rufiji Leprosy Trust, Geoff O’Donoghue. He stayed at the Father Robin memorial rest house and spent four days getting to know Kindwitwi and the surrounding areas. Here James reflects on what makes the village such a special place to visit.
What is so special about Kindwitwi? This was the question in my mind, after my first couple of days there. My short visit to Kindwitwi was my first experience of staying in an African village, and Kindwitwi matched the picture of regular village life that I imagined – sandy, hot, relaxed and overall very welcoming.
Other than the arrival of a full-scale sound system for an all-night wedding party, the village was wonderfully peaceful, with people slowly going about their daily business and always taking time to share a greeting. Given my total lack of Kiswahili and some others’ limited English, I often had surprisingly long conversations with handshakes that went on and on.
The hub of the village was the three small shops where the bus stopped, and the village itself is set on the edge of the beautiful Rufiji delta; with the forest, farm land and sand banks stretching out before you. A perfect place for long afternoon walks.
Even with a few surprises (the crocodile in the lake behind the rest house, an almost indestructible scorpion in the rest house, and a stand-off with an unidentified rodent in the long-drop), Kindwitwi seemed to be absolutely regular place.
So what was all the talk about a community of people affected by Leprosy?
It was only by spending time with the wonderful staff of the care community (Abdallah, the manager; Salem, the shoemaker; Fatuma, the accountant; Ramadhani, managing the Rest House) that I understood why Kindwitwi is so exceptional.
It is a place with a common bond (with all families having been affected by Leprosy), a shared history (people coming together on unused land and over the decades establishing a real community) and special and long-term link with the UK (from those who have lived in Kindwitwi from the sixties through to the nineties and the work with UK Rufiji Leprosy Trust since then).
Abdallah showed me around the care community – the stores for weekly food distributions, Salem’s shoemaking workshop, the dispensary and the thriving Kindergarten. The highlight was meeting the remaining four residents in full-care support, a delightful group of elderly people who had seen the changes in the village over the years. Abdallah also explained how the needs in the community had changed over time and that discussions were happening with the UK trust on the longer-term future of support and the care community.
Whilst it will be a challenge to consider changing the current model of support and the care community, it also struck me as something to celebrate.
From my brief visit, I got the impression that the persistence and strength of the community and the partnership with the UK, has resulted in real development and a real improvement in the prospects for those who continue to face the challenges of Leprosy now.
So maybe what is so special about Kindwitwi is that for those visiting today, it doesn’t seem to be somewhere defined by Leprosy alone.