Hello Everyone. I know it’s been a while since I last posted, but I’ve been hard at work on some very exciting initiatives. And I think it’s finally time to share a sneak preview of what’s in store. Many of these programs and resources will be open to broad participation so I look forward to engaging in the weeks and months ahead, and would love to hear from you if these ideas resonate with your own work or interests. In addition to following my blog, be sure to visit our Experiential Learning Network (my center at UB) webpage and join our Student or Faculty/Staff Listserv to get monthly updates about related activities and events.
Global Partners Studio (GPS)
GPS is an evolving platform for cultivating deep and meaningful engagement with our international partners. Look for partner profiles and impact stories, but also opportunities to “harvest” student projects, COIL (collaborative online international learning) courses and travel-based engagement for faculty, students and community members. We will feature international partnerships that include both higher education and community-focused organizations to allow for deep and reciprocal impacts. With the Buffalo Tanzania Education Project (BTEP) as the foundation for GPS, we are excited to take our international partnerships further and deeper toward new possibilities for engagement and collaboration.
The week of October 1st we will welcome invited GPS liaisons to UB/Buffalo for a week of sharing, capacity building and engagement. Our guests will represent partnerships in Ghana, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, and Jamaica and will engage through presentations, studio sessions, and programs with our UB and Buffalo communities. With a focus on social innovation, global health, and community development, we will have many opportunities to explore synergies and shared interest. And we look forward to introducing our global friends to the many cultural, entrepreneurial and civic gems that Buffalo has to offer.
This fall we will be launching the Global Partners Studio (GPS) Journal that will be open to undergraduate and graduate students as well as our international partners. This open-source digital journal will be an accessible and dynamic place for sharing collaborative research and experiential learning projects, and connecting resources and opportunities. The journal will also be a repository for impact stories highlighting the points of connectivity and synergy that evolve from high-impact engagement. We will be open for submissions this fall with an anticipated spring release of our inaugural edition.
GPS Digital Badge (Micro-credential)
For those looking to build on recent collaborative experiences, we will be launching a new Global Collaboration digital badge (micro-credential) in the fall. Participants will be mentored through a series of reflective and integrative exercises, allowing them to gain deeper insights while developing compelling narratives to support their academic, career and/or civic-related goals.
10 Year Anniversary Community Trip and Book Release
Next year (July 2019) will mark the 10 Year Anniversary of my first trip to Tanzania, the genesis of our unique global engagement model. To honor and celebrate our extraordinary relationship with our partners in Tanzania, we will be hosting a community trip in collaboration with a local travel organization. We will also be releasing an updated version of our book detailing the evolution of our engagement over the past 10 years. Stay tuned for more on both of these exciting initiatives.
As we near the 50% mark for our crowdfunding campaign, I’d like to introduce you to another amazing partner who continues to inspire and challenge our students.
This is Dr. Mwita Akiri, founding Bishop of the Anglican Diocese of Tarime, one of the smallest and quickly growing in Tanzania. Prior to this post, Bishop Akiri served as the National General Secretary of the Anglican Church of Tanzania for almost 10 years. He holds a PhD from Edinburgh University in Scotland and is also a Research Professor of African Church History and Missiology at Wycliffe College, University of Toronto.
To say that Bishop Akiri is charismatic, would be a huge understatement. When he speaks with our students, he captivates them (us) with his passion, sense of humor, and an eagerness to challenge their thinking through provocative questions and fascinating conversations and insights.
But even more captivating than his personality is his commitment to improving the lives of the young women and their families who live in the villages of Tarime. Through his visionary leadership, Bishop Akiri is bringing bold ideas and programs to this underdeveloped region where girls marry early and life is difficult and unrelenting. Through a burgeoning sewing project, he asks girls and their families to give him one year before entering into marriage, in order to learn valuable sewing skills and develop a means for self-sufficiency. When we visit Tarime, our students engage in conversations with the girls, even visiting their homes and learning about life in the villages, and the many complexities and surprises surrounding the practice of early marriage.
Although the Bishop is committed to expanding the sewing project to provide graduates with opportunities to earn their own sewing machines, he recognizes that education must go much farther in order to impact lasting change in Tarime. One of the highlights of our trip is visiting the Pre-Primary School sponsored by the Anglican Diocese, where local children come to learn under the direction of a very dedicated volunteer teacher. Although the school lacks many of the items- such as desks and books- that we consider essential to learning, students are eager to learn and represent the bright promise of the region.
But perhaps most inspiring of all is Bishop Akiri’s plans for a secondary school for girls in Tarime. Although education for girls is a priority across Tanzania, there are simply too few schools and resources, especially in rural areas like Tarime. But as the father of two girls of his own, who are both currently in college, Bishop Akiri knows the importance of educational opportunities and is committed to making his vision a reality.
Our students always hate leaving Tarime and Bishop Akiri. And it’s not surprising that Danielle, Lyndsey and Mathew are eager to return. Not only will they contribute to Bishop Akiri’s vision through engaging with educational and training programs, but they will also work to establish projects for future UB students and faculty to work on.
We are excited to see where this partnership will lead for the women and girls of Tarime, and our own UB students. Please help us spread the word and support this exciting initiative https://crowdfunding.buffalo.edu/project/8959
As our crowdfunding campaign continues to build momentum, we wanted to be sure to highlight a community partner who is particularly dear to us.
You could say that our engagement with Tanzania, and more specifically the Mara Region, began with this amazing woman, Sister Janepha Mabonyesho. Although she now serves as Development Director of Baraki Sisters Farm, she was a student at D’Youville College in Buffalo, NY when I first met her back in 2007. The story of how I, Mara, first connected with this nun from the Mara Region of Tanzania is a remarkable one, and is detailed in Stories from the Tanzania Education Project, a personal narrative that I co-authored with Dan Nyaronga, Empire State College professor and my co-instructor, who happens to also be from this very same region (talk about coincidences…).
Fast forward our friendship 10+ years and imagine our joy in visiting Sister Janepha at her farm in Baraki, a comprehensive agricultural project that both fascinates and inspires our students to explore issues of social entrepreneurship and business.
At the center of Baraki is a fully functioning dairy farm that produces milk under the Baraki Sisters brand, while also providing pasteurization and a market for local women, along with raising livestock and agricultural crops to serve the community.
Baraki also provides education through its pre-primary and primary schools in addition to healthcare through its full-service clinic. These social services when coupled with the dairy business represent a progressively comprehensive approach to community development.
When students learn about Baraki’s long history, started in the 1970’s as an innovative community development initiative, they gain a new perspective on innovation that challenges their assumptions and cultural biases. But as Sister Janepha shares with our students, there are many challenges to the fiscal sustainability of the project and many opportunities for students and partners to add value through ideas and engagement.
Sister Janepha looks forward to hosting our students and involving them in the work of Baraki. She and her fellow Sisters graciously welcome other potential partners to experience the many facets of Baraki and explore exciting opportunities for collaboration.
It’s hard to imagine a more committed partner than Stephen Marwa, Executive Director of Hope Revival Children’s Organization. A dedicated advocate for women’s empowerment and community development, Stephen is a stand-out when it comes to technology, communication and international engagement. His past projects have focused on social entrepreneurship (including the poultry project pictured below), agriculture, and education all in an effort to improve the lives and opportunities of women and girls in this underdeveloped region of northern Tanzania.
In an effort to further strengthen our collaboration, we gave Stephen a new computer tablet courtesy of Bak USA during our last study abroad trip in July 2018. Through his effortless mastery of this new technology, he has shared countless videos, social media posts and communications detailing his progress and seeking opportunities to do more for his community, and for our students. When Danielle became interested in the relationship between girls’ menstruation and educational achievement, Stephen immediately committed his full support and volunteered to travel to Arusha for a full week of training hosted by Dare Women’s Foundation, a non-profit engaged in a reusable pad sewing project. Since the visit, he has mobilized women and community leaders in Musoma, convening trainings and conducting preliminary research in collaboration with our partners at Buhare Community Development Training Institute (CDTI), readying the community for the new initiative.
Stephen is also a champion for clean water, working with Friendly Water for the World out of Olympia Washington to bring water filtration to the Musoma community. He looks forward to working with Matthew on sanitation and filtration efforts while also supporting Danielle and Lyndsey’s interest in women’s health and empowerment.
Learn more about Stephen’s efforts by friending him on Facebook (Stephen Marwa) or emailing him at email@example.com
This post is part of a crowdfunding campaign to send UB students back to Tanzania to engage in community projects mentored by our partners, including Stephen. Visit https://crowdfunding.buffalo.edu/project/8959 to support the initiative and please consider sharing with your networks. Thank You!- Mara
When our students travel to Tanzania through our Study Abroad course, their understanding of the world is profoundly altered. Assumptions are challenged, career plans are questioned, and they return to their lives eager to find their purpose and contribute tangible impacts. As institutions of higher education, it is our challenge to support students in both gaining high-impact experiences AND helping them to integrate these experiences within their academic and professional goals. How can we support students who yearn to return and go deeper with the projects and issues that first captured their passions and sense of purpose?
Help us pilot a new initiative that will support students in returning to their host regions, working with partners and communities to give more, learn more, and do more towards the goal of building capacity and making a significant difference. https://crowdfunding.buffalo.edu/project/8959
Please know that our students are serious about their projects.
- Danielle has already started a reusable sanitary pad project that will allow girls to go to school during their periods while also supporting economic empowerment. She has already funded training and hopes to bring supplies and materials to help get the sewing project off the ground.
- Lyndsey is focused on women’s health and specifically the practice of Female Genital Cutting (FGM) that is still prevalent in the Mara Region. She hopes to work with Children’s Dignity Forum to help educate girls and men while exploring the intersections between health, education and community.
- Matthew is ready to put his Engineering education into practice, working with leaders in Musoma and Tarime on projects related to water purification and sanitation, both major challenges that intersect with community development.
Please consider making a donation of any size through visiting our crowdfunding campaign. Once you become a donor, we will send you updates with additional details about our partners and student projects. Also, please share the link via your networks and social media platforms. We need your help to make this project a reality.
Thank you for your support and interest!- Mara –
One of the hardest things for people to talk or write about is themselves, and why they are uniquely well suited for a particular opportunity or honor. I have been noting this challenge at the University as I work with some of our most outstanding students. Despite the fact that they have so much to offer- travel, research, academics, the whole package- they often blank when asked to write a personal statement or to be interviewed about their experiences. Invariably, they insist that they’re not good at talking about themselves or bragging about their achievements. And yet ironically, they have spent so much of their time and effort collecting these very accomplishments.
Perhaps part of the issue is that we’re all in such a hurry. Students rush through high school trying to get into college, and then once in college we hurry them through as quickly as possible in an effort to save them money and get them into the work force. In our haste, perhaps we are failing to support their critical reflection- namely, helping them understand and articulate what it is that they’ve experienced and accomplished, what they can offer that is uniquely theirs. And yet, these are the very skills that will move them to the next level, allowing them to create and secure opportunities for growth, advancement and expansion. And perhaps most importantly, these are the skills that will help them self-correct when they find themselves in positions and situations that no longer connect with their cores values, interests or goals.
How can we help students get better at talking about themselves and their experiences? (Although intended for students, these techniques can be used by anyone for virtually any opportunity or goal.)
- Begin by listing the categories of skills and competencies that are of critical importance to your intended audience. You can usually find these in the specific posting but I encourage you to dig deeper. Look at reports, press pieces, or profiles of individuals who have held the position/opportunity (or similar position/opportunity) in the past. Allow yourself to imagine the perfect recipient/employee or candidate. What types of categories of skills and competencies would they possess and why are these important given the demands/honors of the opportunity of interest?
- Once you have a good list, allow yourself to reflect on your own positions, experiences and achievements and begin to note these under the specific categories with which they correspond. While you can start with specific responsibilities or activities, also note actual experiences that connect with these- both good and bad. Allow yourself to reflect around these experiences and note any big lessons, developments or growth. Ask yourself, “why was it important, what did I learn, and how did it impact me or those around me?” Keep going with this exercise until you have an extensive outline of key skills, experiences and competencies that you can reference and expand upon. Hopefully, at this point you can take some satisfaction in noting the abundance of experiences upon which you can draw.
- Now it’s time to look for patterns. Everyone has unique patterns that help describe the ways they approach choices in life and work. Patterns often reveal themselves over time and diversity of experiences. Once you can recognize and articulate these, they can be extremely helpful in telling compelling stories about you and what you will bring to any particular opportunity, along with how you will respond to challenging situations or contexts. Consider using critical questions to help reveal your defining patterns. What drives you? How do you define growth or success? How do you add value to challenging contexts? Consider how these patterns have propelled you on your path and have led to your current interest in this particular opportunity.
- The fourth step is perhaps the most important. It involves flipping your lens and focusing not on yourself and your accomplishments, but instead on what you can uniquely contribute to the potential employer, organization, opportunity, or broader community via your efforts. Through succinctly articulating how your unique skill set and experiences can complement and benefit the recipient, you can assure the decision makers that you have strong potential and are worthy of their investment.
Once you have worked through these exercises, allow yourself to practice talking about your experiences in relation to your signature patterns and sense of broader impacts/contributions. You can move between these levels of reflection, making connections, bringing up specific examples/evidence, but always tying it back to the specific opportunity and what you have to offer.
The most exciting aspect of helping students master these skills, is seeing them discover and internalize their signature patterns for the first time. There is something quite powerful in recognizing the unique ways in which we approach our lives and work. When these patterns resonate strongly with employers and the needs of the world around us, we feel empowered and more confident, and begin to seek out opportunities and choices that further strengthen our potential contributions. It is when these internal and external narratives strongly align that we can be our most impactful.
This past July I led a UB study abroad trip to the Mara region of Tanzania. By all measures the course was a success. All expectations and outcomes were met and the students arrived home safely with enough memories and photographs to last a lifetime. Officially, the class is done, but the impacts are just getting started.
As I struggle to communicate the meaning of high-impact experiential learning, I can only offer a glimpse into my world- a world of infinite possibilities and points of connectivity that often leaves me exhausted and exhilarated as I try frantically to keep up.
In the seven short weeks since we’ve returned, so much has happened- is happening. Every day I brace myself for new developments. Here are just a few highlights from this week alone- and it’s only Wednesday:
- Natasha (who was featured on the cover of UB’s recent issue of its Alumni Magazine https://issuu.com/ubaa/docs/at_buffalo_fall17_-_issuu ) is ready to plan a fundraiser for the preschool in Tarime. She has been thinking about the teacher who currently works as a volunteer, and wants to start a fund to ensure that early childhood education is a priority. In preparation, she is thinking about her networks of influence and how to connect her efforts with her Sociology graduate program.
- Danielle- a senior Anthropology student- finds herself completely immersed in an initiative that began as her final course project. With a deep interest in women’s health and specifically the impact of menstruation on girls education, she identified a Tanzania-based organization, Dare Women’s Foundation http://www.darewomensfoundation.org/ interested in bringing a reusable pad project to the Mara region. In less than a week, Danielle has raised almost $1,000 through a GoFundMe campaign https://www.gofundme.com/girl039s-empowerment-in-tanzania and is now coordinating the details of an upcoming training trip towards the goal of utilizing existing sewing projects to begin this new venture. Danielle is also connecting with a faculty member within her Anthropology department to frame her efforts within a research project which will in turn support her involvement in the UB Honors Program.
- My own children will be hosting a book and baked goods sale this weekend to raise money for a poultry project in Tarime. Once mature, the hens will be given to women throughout the region as a means of generating income through the sale of eggs. But the cost of feed and vaccination has exceeded the appropriated grant funding, so the project is in jeopardy and immediate help is needed.
- We’re gearing up for an informal event tomorrow evening that will help build capacity for future trips and engagement efforts. In partnership with the New York chapter of American Women for International Understanding http://www.awiu.org/, we will be featuring photos from UB’s own Doug Levere http://www.douglaslevere.com/gallery/ along with student reflections and videos. Having Doug participate in the trip, along with the contributions of the talented UB Communications team, is yielding impacts beyond anything we could have imagined. Not just for our own immediate benefit, but for our partners like Children’s Dignity Forum http://www.cdftz.org/ who are beginning to share the photos of our visits and utilize them to build further capacity for their own community development work.
Just listing these examples makes my head spin, and yet these are the type of outcomes or outputs that represent the magic of high-impact experiential learning. While the experience itself- in this case our trip to Tanzania- is hugely important, it is not the end product, but instead a vehicle for impacts that can continue to generate, build and transform well beyond the life and limits of the experience.
As we contemplate the potential of higher education to be an engine for innovation, we must insist on delivering offerings that are high-impact by design. No longer settling for localized or siloed outcomes, we have to challenge ourselves to think and design bigger and bolder. Although we cannot know what is possible, we must design with a vision in mind, building models that are generative and foster collaboration and synergies for the benefit of all involved. This represents a new frontier for curricular innovation and I’m so excited to be testing the limits.
Dissonance is like the Holy Grail of learning. It is the place where we hit a conceptual wall, where our core assumptions about people, life, knowledge, and ourselves are rocked to the very foundation, forcing us to do something drastic- to alter our ways of understanding and interacting with the world.
To say that dissonance is uncomfortable would be a gross understatement. As humans, we go to great intellectual and emotional lengths to remain “ok” with ourselves and our views of the world. We surround ourselves with people who confirm our viewpoints and spend endless hours explaining away any thing or person who might disagree. For these reasons, we avoid dissonance like the plague, continuing – whenever possible- to believe that everything makes sense and that we essentially have it right. It is only when we find ourselves in places and situations that are so unexpected and surprising that dissonance has a chance to take root. But even then, if given the option, we will find an escape hatch- retreating to a place of comfort, reframing what we have experienced, and preserving our core frameworks and beliefs.
Clearly, we are tenacious with our assumptions. That is why our study abroad trip to the Mara Region of Tanzania is so powerful and exciting. Not only do we take students into a sorely underestimated part of the world, but we expose them to countless examples of people and projects that challenge their core assumptions and beliefs. We visit schools and clinics, agricultural projects, and community development colleges, and see the amazing work being led by Tanzanians, within their own communities, regions, and neighborhoods.
And with these experiences, through the process of guided critical reflection, cracks in our core understandings begin to emerge. If Tanzania is so underdeveloped, then why are the people so happy and industrious? If they are so primitive with regard to infrastructure and innovation, why does everyone have cell phones and access to the internet? And if they are so vulnerable and in need of external support, why are they so committed to education and to strengthening their own workforce through training and professional development?
Eventually, when the differences between the realities of what we are experiencing and our initial understandings become too great to sustain themselves, something powerful and life-changing begins to happen. We admit that we were wrong. Not just a little wrong- but stupidly wrong. And if we were wrong about Tanzania, about Africa, about communities and people around the world and in our own backyards, then we are undoubtedly wrong about so many other important things.
And this, my friends, is when life finally gets interesting. Yes, dissonance is a powerful pedagogical tool. But it is not for the faint of heart. It is strictly reserved for those who are open to a life-changing adventure, to seeing the world and themselves in fundamentally different ways. And to coming back changed.
For me, this is the promise of experiential learning, and the new frontier that lies ahead.
As I snuggle under a blanket on a cold, grey, January morning, still reeling from jetlag and the discombobulation of our recent return, the tastes and memories of Tanzania linger tantalizingly within reach. Yet I know that if I try to capture them directly, they will scurry away like little geckos, disappearing through the spidery cracks in walls. So instead, I will attempt to offer their manifestations, like seashells shaped by the rhythms of the ocean- experiences, moments, and interactions- individually powerful, yet collectively profound.
THOSE WHO NEED YOU MOST WILL FIND YOU
Her name was Christina, and over the course of 2 days, she had lost both of her parents to horrific circumstances. Suddenly an orphan, she found herself alone in the world, without hope or comfort. Yet when the Sisters learned of her situation, they brought her to Baraki on the same day as our visit. A teacher agreed to take her in, and schooling would be provided assuming they could raise funds for her tuition and fees. A partial uniform had already been issued in hopes of helping Christina feel more at home. Upon meeting her and hearing her story, the students were called to action. Amanda and Julia, who had raised money in advance of the trip, pledged to sponsor Christina’s education for one year. They had come to Tanzania hoping that worthy projects would reveal themselves. Little did they know that Christina would be waiting for them, and they would know instantly, without hesitation, that she was theirs to help.
WE DON’T KNOW WHAT WE ARE CAPABLE OF UNTIL WE ARE TESTED
When we asked Sister Janepha to put our students to work, we meant it figuratively. But to our surprise, we found Allison, Tory, and Ali immersed in the work of the clinic, assessing incoming patients and offering recommendations for care. While the students admitted to feeling overwhelmed and under-qualified, their sense of purpose and exhilaration were undeniable. In that moment, in that faraway place, their talents and resources were called upon, and they rose to the challenge with a sense of humility and courage that made us all proud.
LEAD WITH WHAT YOU VALUE MOST
In the end there was playing and laughter, the simple joys of spending time together and discovering connections. This came as a welcome relief after the initial discomfort of raised expectations. Past study abroad groups had visited the school, bringing lavish gifts and offerings. The disappointment on both sides had been palpable, hanging heavy in the air, making it difficult to breathe. If only we had started with the laughter, the intimacy, the joy- these were the gifts that we had come to deliver and eventually received.
LOVE IS THE MAGIC INGREDIENT
We had never seen anyone enjoy chocolate cake as much as Yasin. And as he helped himself to a 4th or 5th piece (we quickly lost count), it was clear that he had fallen under the spell of the Sisters (the Immaculate Heart Sisters of Africa). He was not alone, and as I glanced around the dining room, I saw students laughing, exchanging stories, and glowing in the haze of warmth and joy that seems to cloak the Sisters and all they touch. And as I sat enjoying the home-cooked meal and hospitality, I felt so blessed, honored, and happy we had come.
REVEL IN THE UNEXPECTED
Flat tires, overcrowded safari vehicles, and impromptu theatrical numbers were just a few of the countless unplanned moments that made our trip so amazing. There is something powerful about embracing the unexpected, giving up illusions of control and preparation, opening oneself to the richness of moments and opportunities they bring. Our students seemed to understand this secret from the very beginning. They dove into the moments, the imperfections, and snags- they reveled in the unexpected, embracing each gift with such authentic joy and respect that it often took my breath away. We had planned for the trip to be fascinating, but it was the students who made it so special. How did they become so wise at such a young age?
FRIENDSHIP IS EVERYTHING
There is something magical about hugging an old friend across so many miles and years. Visiting them in their element, seeing their work, meeting their friends, and discovering new ways to connect and build. As I reflect on the 2016 trip and my broader relationship with Tanzania, it is clear that friendships serve as the foundation, the bedrock of everything important. Reconnecting with dear friends like Sister Janepha, Fortidas Bakuza, and Godfrey Telli, and forging new friendships and collaborations- these are the riches that continue to beckon me back to Tanzania, and I always leave wanting more. Asante Sana Tanzania!