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,