Profile of an active member of PIUMA

Member Profile: Tumaini Swallow

Tumaini Swallow is tough. At 28, she has already had four children, is living with HIV and has been a member of PIUMA for two years. Despite her small stature, and that she has lost the fingers on her right hand from an accident with hot charcoal as a child, she will not let anyone call her weak. Her profession, making charcoal, ironic considering the nature of her accident, is among the toughest things one could do without machinery.

Her husband, who shares in her profession, owns several plots of forest, but they insist on working separately. "For efficiency," she says as she picks up an axe to demonstrate her strength and accuracy, halving a tree trunk with a 20 cm diameter in just a few brisk swings. Her job has forced her to be quick.

Every day, Tumaini sets out for the section of forest ripe for clearing. Single-handedly, she levels the plot with just an axe, and then chops the fallen trees into logs of roughly eight feet length. Once her selected area is clear, she piles the logs up, sometimes as big a house. The tough manual labour is not all done though. First she must cover the pile with dried grasses, after which she digs up the area cleared and coats the wood in a thick layer of dirt, effectively building a furnace.

After she piles wood shavings and more dried grass at one end of the pile that is left open, she sparks the furnace, waits for the fire to catch within, and buries that end too. The wood may burn for one to three days depending on its size, and as soon as it stops smoking, it is ready to be uncovered and broken into the charcoal bits for sale.

Tumaini alone generates six big bags of it every week, which each sell for 3000 Tsh. Part of her job involves delivery from her home in Makwavuta to Bulongwa, on foot with her product on her head.

In addition to this business, Tumaini grows crops for sustenance: maize, potatoes and sweet potatoes, has two chickens, one of which is part of her PIUMA group project, and had a pig that she recently sold. But when asked whether she's overwhelmed, she says that in fact, she "wants her project to grow or to have more projects."

Gabe Maldoff
Canadian Friends of Highlands Hope