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,