Before coming to Tanzania, I had so many questions about NGOs, sustainability, and impact. How do you know if an organization is creating sustainable change? How can you be sure an organization is working "with, not for"? I struggled - and still do - to grasp if I even have the right to enter another country and work with an organization in a place that I have not grown up in, and do not know intimately. After spending 2 months with Sasamani, I think the answer to those questions are all: "it depends." It entirely depends on the approach of an NGO; it depends on one's willingness to listen; it depends on the thoughtfulness and sensitivity of its decision-makers. What makes me so incredibly inspired by and proud of Sasamani - of Andy and Erica and Elias and Gladness - is that they understand better than anyone that change-making can only be done by the community itself. If, as an outsider, you have the ability to work with local people, to listen, to support a community in making change for itself, then by all means, that is the kind of impactful work that can enrich a community and change lives. And Sasamani does just that, through its holistic support and sponsorship of students throughout their education, through the employment of local Bagamoyo tailors, through its Women Leading Change program, and through its upcoming plans to start a community center in Bagamoyo.
One particular story stands out to me as perfectly illustrative of the magnitude of impact that Sasamani has on the individuals with whom it works. In the first couple of days in Bagamoyo, Franceine and I interviewed a few Sasamani sponsor students, one of whom is named Ramadan Kondo, who was sponsored from 2011 to 2017. When I heard Ramadan tell his story, I was so blown away by the understanding of the kind of long-term, wide-reaching change that sponsoring a student through Sasamani can have. Ramadan and his young brother lost both his parents when he was in secondary school. He would have been unable to continue his education without the support of Sasamani. Once he became a sponsor student, Rama was able to go to high school, and then graduate from University with a degree in biotechnology. He is currently volunteering at Ifkara institute for Malaria research, while also teaching biology and chemistry at a secondary school in Bagamoyo. Just imagine the web of change: by Sasamani supporting Rama’s education, he is now helping advance malaria research; he is teaching students in secondary school, inspiring those students as we speak; he is now financially supporting his younger brother to go to school; and when his young brother finishes his education, imagine the kind of positive change he will also be making, all thanks to his brother. By supporting just one student, the web of positive impact can be exponential.
I do not think I can fully express how grateful I am to have had the opportunity to spend this time in Tanzania, and to work and learn from the amazing people on the Sasamani team, and with whom Sasamani works. Over the past 2 months, Franceine and I have spent time in all three secondary schools, teaching classes, meeting students, interviewing Sasamani sponsor students, talking to teachers, talking to administrators, meeting all of the Sasamani tailors, meeting the Women Leading Change cohort, spending time in Dar, in Bagamoyo, making friends, talking to waitresses and vendors and artists and church members and other NGO employees... It has been a whirlwind of beautiful experience after beautiful experience, and I am humbled and honored to have met so many incredible and inspiring individuals, from toddlers to peers to elders, who have been so friendly and kind and giving, regardless of the tremendously difficult situations some face. Thank you to Sasamani for the work that you do. It is impactful and inspiring, and I am endlessly lucky to have spent these months absorbing and learning and appreciating it all.
I cannot to wait to come back someday.
All my love and thanks,
During our last week in Bagamoyo, Gladness, Erica, Franceine and I held a teachers' focus group discussion, inviting teachers from the three secondary schools attended by Sasamani sponsor students. We were joined by Mr. Stevens from King'ani Secondary School, Mr. Msokelee from Matimbwa Secondary School, and Ms. Maria from Kiromo Secondary School, and we asked them to share their feedback and input. We learned about the many challenges that students are facing in Bagamoyo: that students often miss morning classes because they are traveling long distances to get to school; that many students cannot concentrate on their studies because they have not eaten anything all day; that some girls face early pregnancy due to the cultural priorities of their families; that many students have to prioritize helping out at home and thus cannot focus on school; and that some students cannot travel to and from school safely. It is so heartbreaking to learn about the barriers that students face in pursuing their education, and yet simultaneously so energizing and hopeful to hear that our Sasamani students are thriving, and passionate, and are leaders in their schools. When asked how Sasamani can improve, the teachers only suggested that we increase the number of students we support. They explained that it is through the holistic commitment of Sasamani that our sponsor students are able to overcome these challenges and flourish. For me, one of the other most powerful and humbling takeaways came from Mr. Stevens, from King'ani, who explained that Sasamani is the only organization in Bagamoyo that works directly with teachers to select sponsor students and to administer programming. He explained that everything Sasamani does is done in direct communication and with input from the teachers themselves, and that the students are thriving as a result. Listening to Mr. Stevens comments, I was reminded of Sasamani’s core principle - 'with, not for' - that the only way to approach community support is through direct collaboration with the community itself, with the educators who know their students better than anyone else could. I was so humbled to hear from the teachers themselves that Sasamani is acting as collaboratively and thoughtfully as we hope that we are. I feel so lucky to be working and learning from this incredible organization that is conscientiously and sensitively approaching everything it works to do.
Also in our last week in Bagamoyo, we met with all of the tailors from our manufacturing initiative, for the big reveal of the Sasamani bag-making competition. Each tailor was asked to make a bag of their own design, using local materials. We will be bringing these bags back to the United States to find out which designs will be most marketable, so that we can continue to expand our manufacturing initiative using locally sourced materials and the incredible design talent of our tailors! The Sasamani sewers all came to the office and presented their amazing designs, including backpacks, purses, tote bags, and duffel bags. It was so much fun to see everyone’s beautiful work, and cheer for each design!
Franceine and I spent the last leg of our time on a team building trip with Andy and Gladness in Northern Tanzania, visiting Tarangire National Park, Ngorogoro Crater, and Lake Manyara National Park. We had an absolutely amazing time, most of it spent in hysterical laughter with Andy and Gladness. It really is crazy how much beauty can fit into one country – the animals, the multitude of different landscapes, and of course, the incredible people. As our time in Tanzania is coming to a close, I am realizing how much I am going to miss living here and spending time with the amazing Sasamani team. It has truly been an eye-opening, exhilarating, humbling, and inspiring 2 months.
With gratitude and love,
Hi again! This past week, Andy and Erica's arrival to Dar es Salaam has brought everyone together as a family and I have loved working closely with them! Saturday, we all took the ferry to Kigamboni to visit the Kigamboni Community Center. The staff at the community center was extremely welcoming and eager to share their story and answer any questions. Seeing how this community center is able to impact children and families in the area, has really shown us that the vision we have for a community center in Bagamoyo is needed and could have a similar impact on the community. I must say the five-minute ferry ride from city center to Kigamboni was super beautiful! Later that evening, the whole gang packed up and headed to Bagamoyo for the week.
This week, Gladness, Erica, Rachael and I spent time working with students at Matimbwa and King'ani Secondary Schools. I worked with students in the biology lab testing everyday foods for the presence of starch and just getting to know them and their teachers better. It really warms my heart to know that so many students have an interest in the sciences and I am helping to further that interest with labs that involve everyday items like food or leaves. Rachael spent time continuing the conversation with students about gender socialization and gender roles. Then after the classroom, we all went outside and had fun doing some exercise and playing games with Madam Solider (this is our endearing nickname for Erica). Before we left, I had a moment with Sasamani sponsor student Miriam, who asked me for advice for studying biology and chemistry at the university level because she often doesn’t feel confident in her abilities. I assured her that if she studies hard, she can achieve anything. Another Sasamani sponsor student, Covina, told me she couldn’t stay to spend time with us because she had to study for an exam. Before we left, she gave me the tightest hug and told me she wanted to be just like me. What Miriam and Covina didn't know, is that they inspired me. To see children who have had difficulties of their own be so happy and focused on the future really gave me a push to finish strong at Connecticut College this fall. After we left Matimbwa, we headed to the Amani Orphanage Center. The students at Matimbwa sent cassava for the children at the orphanage. This exemplifies one of Sasamani's core values. The way sponsor students can pay us back is to pay the help forward to others in their community. At the orphanage we spent time playing with all the children and it really warmed my heart.
Rachael and I have really been involved in every part of Sasamani's mission this week and have loved every part of it. Bagamoyo and all the Sasamani students really have a special place in my heart!
Talk again soon,