I became Executive Director of the Sasamani Foundation back in February, but it was just last week in early August that I had the privilege to visit our operation in Tanzania and see the work first hand. What an incredible experience it was!
Towards the end of the week, we engaged a photographer to take still shots and videos of members of our employment program. Sasamani employs nine local tailors to make unique bags that are sold overseas, and the entire program is managed by Elias, our Managing Director.
With my time in Tanzania having come to an end a few days ago now, I've had the chance to really reflect and process the experience, and am now able to truly appreciate how rewarding it was.
Going forward, it'll be useful for the team to all be accessing the same live versions of files so everyone can quite literally be on the same page. I created a sponsor and student information database that will be stored on the Team Drive and worked with Gladness and Elias to familiarize them with Google Drive and Google Suite.
In addition to the contributions I made, being with Sasamani did a lot for my understanding of the issues of poverty and economic development. The burning questions that have floated around the back of my mind most of my academic career revolve around how we can empower people to improve their economic situations. But I think that one thing my experience this summer has shown me is that, until now, I had a somewhat myopic view of how this can be achieved. I've learned that it's not as black and white as I once thought it to be. There are a million and one factors that combine to create the issue we know to be global poverty. Working with Gladness on the education initiatives cemented this idea in my mind. Understanding the realities that our sponsored students live every day has been so eye-opening.
I look out through the window to take a quick last glance of the beautiful Dar Es Saleem as the plane takes off from the Julies Nyerere Airport. The past few weeks in Tanzania flew by! I completely can’t fathom the fact that my time in TZ has come to an end. In my previous blog, I shared some of the things I have been working on at Sasamani. I took a look at my previous blog and I realized I haven't shared much about the fun weekends I spent in different parts of Tanzania. Like the beautiful trip Wes and I took to Zanzibar. I loved how kind and welcoming the people in Zanzibar were. Sun-set trips, delicious Tanzanian dishes, Bongo flavor music, beautiful view; Zanzibar had it all. For my last weekend in TZ, we took a 12 hours trip to Ifakara, a rural town in the south-central part of Tanzania, to visit the Udzungwa National Park. I complained for a bit when I realized tourists pay twenty times the price Tanzanian's pay, but I guess that's how the business world of tourism functions. Hiking 3kms to the base of the Udzungwa waterfall was tiresome, to say the least. The park consists of the peculiar waterfall, Sanje waterfall. The waterfall displays the map of Africa showing clear demarcation of boundaries as it appears on a piece of paper. It was mind blowing! The hike was totally worth it. On my last week, I went around to our three partner schools to have a session on Menstrual Hygiene Management. Although I had previous experience with training for Sanitation and Hygiene Management, I worked with Gladness to frame the session for the students in Bagamoyo. I prepared handouts, a few materials for demonstration and ice-breaker games because the students were a tad uncomfortable to get straight to the topic. After my first session 63 female students at the Kingani Secondary School, I decided it would be best to have a translator in the room because most students were more comfortable asking questions in Kiswahili. At Kingani, I stayed a bit late because it was my last day at the school. We sat down and talked with the students. They were kind enough to show me around their hostels and study rooms. The situation in public schools in Ethiopia is not that different from the public schools I have been to in Tanzania. We sat in circles and they were asking me about how I ended up studying in the States. We started talking about college applications and ended up talking about life in East Africa. Before I knew it, it was already 7 p.m, so I had to head home. Saying my goodbye to the students was quite emotional. "Madam Tihut, you are my role model," says Ester who is one of our Sasamani students. I held it in when I saw her tears as she hugs me. Once I got to the car to get back home, I just let it all out. As much as I loved our attachment, it made the goodbyes pretty hard for all of us.
I would be in a classroom for three to four hours with a translator taking questions from the students.
Tanzania really did feel like home in ways I didn’t expect, except the fact that I never rode the motorcycle at home. But, it was actually the to-go ride when I went to most of the schools in Bagamoyo. Although I was scared of being at the back of a motorcycle at first, it was one of the highlights of my stay in Bagamoyo.
For my last day in Dar, Dr. Mori took me to the University of Dar Es Salaam for the last time and I met with a couple of international students from Sweden, the States and China. I was curious about applications to study abroad at UDSM, so I went to the Office of Internationalization and Advancement to learn more about the process. Who knows, I might study abroad at UDSM! That actually sounds like a plan, if it's feasible. I have been on the Study Away Committee at Conn College, and I hope I could share a bit about how Study Abroad works at UDSM. Maybe Conn students (including myself) can study abroad at UDSM in our junior year.
This is probably my last blog, but I have a lot more to share about my time in Tanzania. For now, I would like to restate how grateful I am to have been a part of the Sasamani team. I look forward to contributing in all sorts of ways that I could possibly help with the amazing work of the team. It wasn't just working at the office, and filing paper works but I also spent family time with everyone I stayed with. I strongly hope I will visit sometime again. I have learned lessons and experienced the beautiful culture of Tanzania. Thank you for all the good lessons that will stay with me for a lifetime!