Mwanaisha was raised in rural Tanzania, in deeply challenging circumstances. After her parents separated when she was still young, it fell to Mwanaisha’s mother and grandmother to support the family. Though they worked hard, their income was very low, meaning that sometimes the family went to sleep without eating anything all day. Living one day to the next, it was almost impossible for Mwainaisha to picture her future fulfilment as a leader and entrepreneur.
“For every girl, poor or rich, I think education is important.”
It was with a small bursary from the Municipal Council’s Vulnerable Children Fund, and her mother and grandmother’s encouragement, that Mwanaisha managed to keep attending school. Each day was a struggle, particularly due to the more than four mile walk there and back, which involved a dangerous river crossing. A bright student who performed well in class, Mwanaisha’s grades suffered as time went on and her anxieties about how to continue her studies grew. Nonetheless, Mwanaisha persevered. Having started secondary school with four other girls from her village, she was the only one able to complete Form 4.
After this, Mwanaisha was accepted to attend a nearby college to pursue a primary school teacher education certificate. But with no way of raising the fees, she had to forego the opportunity. Mwanaisha faced a future like that of millions of young women and girls across sub-Saharan Africa - her potential curtailed by poverty and rural isolation.
“After finishing secondary school I could not go on without having an activity to make an income for me and my family.”
In 2006, Mwanaisha became aware of a network of young women working to rewrite this narrative. The CAMFED Association had recently been founded in Tanzania and was already active in Zimbabwe, Zambia and Ghana. It is formed by like-minded female leaders, once among the most marginalized girls in their communities, who are overcoming obstacles for themselves and others through education and peer-support.
Mwanaisha joined the CAMFED Association and quickly became a valued member. With support from CAMFED and the Girls' Education Challenge, funded by UK Aid, she trained as a life-skills mentor, known as a CAMFED Learner Guide, volunteering her time to deliver a wellbeing curriculum in school. From there she became a Core Trainer, cascading her knowledge so that many more CAMFED Association members could step up as Learner Guides and Transition Guides. Between 2011 and 2013, Mwanaisha held the elected position of CAMFED Association District Chairperson.
In 2014, an exciting opportunity arose, through CAMFED’s partnership with the Mastercard Foundation and EARTH University, for Mwanaisha to learn new skills in climate-smart agriculture. She was one of 14 pioneering CAMFED Association members selected to attend a tailored six-week course in Sustainable Agricultural Systems at EARTH University.
“I have noticed climate change in my community, and its impact on my community. There has been a shortage of food production.”
Together with this group, now known as CAMFED Association climate-smart Agriculture Guides, Mwanaisha learnt new techniques and built upon the indigenous traditions used in her community. She gained skills in building water pumps for irrigation, in the use of agroforestry (mixing trees with lower growing crops), in the use of natural fertilizers, and in value addition (processing and packaging produce to increase profit margins).
“On my return, I gave training to the community and to my fellow CAMFED Association members through various meetings and forums.”
Mwanaisha estimates that through training she has reached more than 1,200 people across eight rural districts in Tanzania, with these numbers growing all the time. As an Agriculture Guide, she is committed to paying forward her knowledge, particularly to girls making the transition to adulthood, and young mothers with families to provide for. Of the women she has reached she can think of at least 10 others who are in turn mentoring their community members. By demonstrating simple interventions - like spreading manure and growing legumes in rotation with other crops - Mwanaisha enables others to increase the yield from their land and ensure it remains productive for years to come.
She has also introduced new eco-friendly technologies in her district that benefit people beyond their farming practices. Mwanaisha has trained more than 500 people in the use of fuel-efficient patsari stoves, helping them - women especially - reduce exposure to emissions and time spent collecting firewood. She has also reached 316 people through demonstrations of pot-in-pot refrigeration, helping rural communities to preserve food in hot weather and reduce waste.
Mwanaisha runs a successful agricultural enterprise, where she is able to provide employment and training for others, particularly women. She says: "My hope is to grow myself economically to be a great businesswoman and help children living in difficult conditions." (Photo: Eliza Powell/CAMFED)
“I can’t let my neighbor sleep hungry. I do support them every time.”
Mwanaisha's business is sustainable, both in the sense of being viable and of being eco-friendly due to her use of climate-smart techniques. (Photo: Eliza Powell/CAMFED)
Simultaneously, Mwanaisha is running her own flourishing agricultural business, raising animals and growing crops including maize, bananas, and other fruit and vegetables. She employs 15 farm workers, the majority of whom are women. Perhaps her greatest innovation since returning from EARTH University is to have introduced terracing in her rice fields. By levelling the land into a series of wide, shallow steps, she can prevent water from quickly draining downhill, washing away nutrients with it. Mwanaisha has been able to increase her own productivity and use her fields to demonstrate this method to others.
Amongst her proudest achievements is the contribution made to the growing prosperity of neighboring farming families. Mwanaisha remembers that previously, some could only harvest 2-3 bags of maize from a hectare of land, but with her advice it has grown to 15-20 bags per hectare. They can now sell the surplus and support their children’s education.
With their increased outputs, Mwanaisha joins together with Parent Support Groups and other CAMFED Association members to donate produce to local schools. This means that vulnerable children can eat a nutritious meal during their school day, helping to drive up their attendance and concentration.
“I would like to create a supportive environment to ensure girls can access school easily, can perform well, and understand the consequences of early pregnancies and marriages, and of dropping out of school.”
As a member of the CAMFED Association, Mwanaisha is part of a pan-African movement of female change makers. Many, like her, have earned the respect of traditional leaders and government officials, meaning they can drive progress on the most pressing issues. Together they are building resilience to climate change, increasing food production, growing sustainable livelihoods, and supporting the next generation of children to learn and thrive.