I went to Tanzania with Coca-Cola

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The nice people over at Coca-Cola invited me, along with 9 other bloggers and journalists from around the world, to visit Tanzania to explore and understand their social responsibility initiatives in this part of the world.

It was an exciting, eye opening and humbling experience. The words I write here, will not do this experience justice because until one tastes and touches this landscape for themselves, it is hard to describe the emotion that you see on people’s faces, it is hard to explain the number of lives that are being positively changed or how different this world is, to the one I live in. But I will try.

It was hot. I grew up in Durban so I am  not unaccustomed to high humidity levels, but the humidity in Dar Es Salaam is stifling and suffocating. It’s that kind of heat that envelopes you and makes you instantly tired. If I had any hopes of slapping on some make up and GHD’ing my hair every day, they were dashed that first moment I stepped off the aeroplane. The city itself reminds me a lot of Thailand, the poor and the rich coexist; there are run down buildings next to posh hotels. It is surprisingly clean, and there are no beggars at every traffic light, although there are hawkers trying to sell you nuts and Coca-Cola at every stop. The traffic is insane but people don’t seem to be bothered by it like our resident-road-rage-joburgers.

Our first stop was at the Coca-Cola Bottling Plant in Dar Es Salaam. It was fascinating to witness the behind-the-scenes work that goes into that cold drink you buy in your local shop. We even got to see the secret syrup that makes Coke, COKE.  This here, is a Buddy bottle:

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We were then introduced to my most favourite project: #Projectlastmile. Isn’t it freaking ridiculous that you can get a Coke anywhere in the world, in the deepest darkest parts of Africa, in small villages which aren’t even on the map… and yet… people are dying from treatable diseases because they have no access to medicines. Not because there are no medicines. There ARE medicines. There are medicines which are reaching their expiry dates in warehouses. There ARE medicines which will change people’s lives. But. The medicines can’t reach the people. How sad is that? Coca-Cola have teamed up with USAID, The Global Fund and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to share their business model, their distribution and logistical strategies to help African governments improve their medical supply chains. Thus reaching the Last Mile. Even as I write this, I get goose bumps. We’re all entitled to certain basic commodities, and it breaks my heart that some people don’t have access to the sort of stuff that I take for granted everyday. This project saves lives.

Another initiative which I have to mention is #5by20. In a nutshell, Coca-Cola has committed to empowering 5 million women entrepreneurs  by the year 2020. These women are all previously disadvantaged, the women we met in Tanzania who are benefiting from this project all have an amazing story to tell. One cannot deny how this project has changed their lives, and the lives of not only their families, but the communities they live in. It’s incredible.

” The initiative addresses common barriers women face in the marketplace by providing access to business skills training, financial services and mentoring and networking opportunities. Coca-Cola collaborates with government, civil society and other businesses to customize 5by20 programs to address the needs of female entrepreneurs in specific countries.”

We visited Lillian, who now owns and runs a key distribution centre for Coca-Cola. She started her business with a small push-cart, she endured through a broken marriage which left her penniless, with one daughter. She has grown her business, with the help of Coca-Cola, and her distribution centre can now house 8000 cases of soda. It’s fantastic to witness.

We visited another market place where women are selling food (and Coke of course 🙂 ). Their stalls are powered by solar panels to cook and keep their fridges operational. They run these little stalls and are able to provide for their families, and again uplift the community by providing the service.

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The last project we were introduced to was EKOCENTER. They call it a modular community market. It’s like a “shop” in the middle of an otherwise rural village. It looks quite out of place in its rural surroundings but the impact it is making on this village is incredible. Aside from the fact that it is run by local women entrepreneurs, and aside from the fact that you can buy your food and household items here without having to travel hours to the nearest town.. for me, the most BEAUTIFUL thing about EKOCENTER, is that is provides safe water and solar power. This is like a gift. A gift that we take for granted everyday, yet people right here on our planet, have been denied of it.

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Over and above being exposed to these projects, we got to experience a day in Zanzibar. It was an amazing adventure of visiting a spice farm, Stone Town and spending 20 minutes in  a rather rickety 12 seater plane… but that story I shall share with you another day.

It was an amazing experience, I got to meet some great people from around the world, and more so, I think when one’s eyes are opened to the great need that exists in the world, outside of your perfect little bubble, you cannot go back to being the person you were before.

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While the Coca-Cola company sponsored the trip, I was not compensated in any way for writing about my experiences, nor was I asked to write about my experiences. 

Forget that, I can do anything.

My firstborn. My son. Liam John. He graduates from preschool today. I am in complete disbelief and denial over the fact that he is going to big school next year. This seems like the other day:


The moms in my circle will agree that five is the most awesome age. I call it the Age of Enlightenment. For you as a parent. And for the kid. This year has been difficult for Liam in many ways. I think he became cognitively aware of the fact that the sun doesn’t rise and set on his command. He also became staggeringly aware of the fact that he isn’t always the smartest, or the cutest, or the most loved (except to his mother). And that losing, is in fact, just as easy as winning and that he won’t always be the winner. Not an easy lesson to learn when you’re five and you don’t have the emotional maturity to understand that. Watching your kid grow physically is mind blowing enough; between 4 and 5 they grow like weeds. But I didn’t think the emotional growth would take such a toll on both of us. He has grown from the gregarious, crazy, attention seeking, over-the-top-playful boy (whom I absolutely adored because I am ALL those things) into a sensitive, contemplative, lovable someone who over thinks everything, asks intelligent questions before answering, loves hugs and cuddles but doesn’t invade your space without asking kinda kid. He is still however loud, noisy, crazy and VERY naughty mischievous when the need arises. He cries easily and his feeling are hurt easily and I’ve only just discovered after 5 years of parenting that he, in fact, is not the overtly extroverted kid that I thought he was. Mind blown. He teaches me something new about himself, and about myself, on the daily. As I discover what makes him tick, it feels like playing Pass the Parcel, where every new layer reveals an awesome surprise.

Today is a big day. He leaves our amazing little preschool, where he has been for 4 years, to go off into the big world. This may seem like nothing to the next person. I mean there are many more exciting things he gets to look forward to like high school and hair in places that-shall-not-be-named and leaving home and getting married and having kids and all that REALLY amazing stuff. But for me, as his mother, this beats all those things because THIS thing, this going to big school thing, THIS is the very first time he does something on his own. This is the first time I let my child walk away. This is the first time I consciously decide to loosen the apron strings. Just a little.

I could quote you some C.Day-Lewis (still one of my favourites, read it) at this point about letting go, but as we got to school this morning Hedley comes on the radio and it was THE most fitting song for Liam’s Graduation Day.

Son, you are amazing, you are wonderful, you are loved, you are someone to ME. You can do ANYTHING. I stand behind you 100%. All day, err’day. For the rest of your life and mine. Go get ’em. Here’s our BIG SCHOOL anthem: