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Experiential Learning Calls: Join UB in Tanzania this Summer

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(photos by Doug Levere)

As we deepen our commitment to high-impact experiential learning and collaborative innovation, we recognize that everyone has something of value to contribute. We find that the closer we get to places, people and problems, the more we can leverage our talents, resources and connections. This is the promise of high-impact experiential learning that we look forward to actualizing in the coming year.

This July, as we travel to Tanzania to celebrate 10 years of engagement, friendship and discovery, I am excited to bring a select group of non-students to join our study abroad cohort, ready to contribute their talents, resources and ideas to help expand our reach and broaden our impacts.

What will you gain from the trip? In addition to experiencing the unparalleled beauty of Tanzania and the hospitality of its people, you will engage with our students, joining all aspects of the program and customizing your own goals and projects based on your unique background, areas of expertise and networks.

The course focuses broadly on women’s empowerment and social innovation, with many themes and topics to be explored, including but not limited to: girls’ education, water and sustainability, economic development, global health, social entrepreneurship, technology, STEM education, and leadership. Our partners include non-profits, higher education, faith-based, schools and other communities and organizations eager to expand our collaboration toward mutual goals and interests.

You can learn more about the trip and our broader Tanzania project by reading our eBook, “On Tanzania Time” available as an open-source free PDF  http://hdl.handle.net/10477/78315

If  you are interested in learning more, please email me at mbhuber@buffalo.edu  I would love to discuss your interests!

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Be Brilliant: Reflections and exercises for helping ourselves, and others, give and get more

 

Our new Tanzania Book: completely free and accessible from any computer or digital device

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Book PDF

I’m so excited to share our new book, “On Tanzania Time: Celebrating 10 Years of Friendship, Engagement and Discovery in the Mara Region”

This book is as personal as it gets. It shares the early stages of our partnership when I first met members of the Immaculate Heart Sisters of Africa who were studying in Buffalo, and led my first trip to the Mara Region of  Tanzania in 2009. But it also details the fascinating evolution of our engagement as we expanded our focus and eventually connected with diverse partners who share their stories and visions in their own words. Also featured are some of our outstanding UB students who have allowed their time in Tanzania to permeate their lives and career goals, and recollections and context from my dear friend and colleague Dan Nyaronga who happens to be from the very region, and town.

How do these stories, impacts and visions all connect? Please consider reading about our journey and allow yourself to imagine all that is possible when we come together toward ideas and goals that are larger than our own.

It is important to note that we are making this book available in a free PDF format which is accessible, downloadable, printable, and shareable from any computer or digital device around the world.

I hope you will all find inspiration as I continue to be inspired every day by our partners and friends who are committed to changing the lives of women and girls in the Mara Region.

Asante Sana!

Social Enterprise and Community Development: Baraki Sister Farm

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

Women’s Empowerment: Stephen Marwa and Hope Revival Children’s Organization

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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.

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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.

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Learn more about Stephen’s efforts by friending him on Facebook (Stephen Marwa) or emailing him at stephen_chacha@yahoo.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

 

Actualizing our Potential

This Friday, at the EOC Women’s Conference, I will be talking about the notion of actualizing our potential.

I see potential everywhere. It’s like a radiant energy that hovers around us, waiting to be activated and utilized. Although potential is inherently powerful, it comes in a latent form, requiring a vehicle for its release. Think of natural gas, sunlight, or wind. Identifying their presence is critical, but it’s only through harnessing and channeling their energy that they become useful.

We are in a state of latent potential. Although potential is literally everywhere, building and bubbling around and through us, it remains largely untapped. It is true that we try to develop our potential, through education and workforce training programs. But our attempts are largely limited. Rather than cultivating its abundant forms- the gifts, talents, and resources that individuals and groups and places offer- and creating tailored vehicles for delivery and dissemination, we continue to work backwards. We build our pipelines and factories with specific opportunities in mind, letting jobs and workforce sectors guide and limit our preparation.

And in doing so, we continue to propagate the belief that preparation will lead to opportunity, and that opportunity is in fact enough to get us where we need to go. And yet clearly, opportunity is not a sufficient pathway for actualizing our collective potential now or in the future. Opportunities- in the present sense- are often limited and highly specific, forcing us to compete with one another by squeezing into constraints and limitations. And let’s face it, even if we strive to win these opportunities, they are simply not enough. They will neither accommodate everyone seeking them, nor will they utilize or actualize the talents and resources of those who win them.

Of course we should continue to pursue opportunities, preparing ourselves and one another to compete for positions that offer security and meaningful work. But we cannot stop there. We need more vehicles, more models that will allow individuals, systems, and communities to plug in their respective resources, to add value, to connect with others. We need models that are generative, systems that create new spaces and opportunities, that leverage- by design- latent potential toward the greater good.

It is true that the frontiers of entrepreneurship and social enterprise are creating new spaces and opportunities for growth. But if we allow ourselves to see potential as a natural resource, THE natural resource, we will recognize that we haven’t even scratched the surface with regard to what is possible. This is the world that I revel in- the land of possibilities and potential. And although it may seem fantastical, especially for those who focus on “matters of consequence”, I assure you that it is real and well within our reach, and more fulfilling than you could ever imagine.

I look forward to sharing more this Friday. Please join me for the EOC Women’s Conference from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. March 18 in the EOC, 555 Ellicott St., on the UB Downtown Campus.

moral murkiness

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Recently I uncovered the full extent of my obsession with moral complexity. After opening a box of mementos that included artifacts from my entire life, I found myself racing past the photos and yearbooks and diving breathlessly into a stack of Ethics papers from my first year of college. As if discovering the Holy Grail, I poured over my final exam, an analysis of case studies conducted through the lenses of various theoretical approaches.

The cases were extreme examples of moral transgression. They included gross abuses of power, failure to intervene in heinous crimes, all clear-cut scenarios that could be neatly unpacked and dissected for the purposes of assessment. I recalled that it was soon after this exam that I left the major of Philosophy. It had felt too detached and esoteric, barely relevant to the dangerous challenges that threatened our society and even then captured my attention. After leaving Philosophy I had done a brief stint in English which I greatly enjoyed until realizing that I only liked to read and write about people, and especially those toiling with deep and complex moral crises. I had been relieved to finally find a home in Psychology, and eventually the world of Cognition, where I could explore the underlying structures and processes involved in decision making.

How ironic that as I reread my final Ethics paper, almost twenty-five years since I wrote it, I couldn’t help resonating with the relevance of the analyses and the obstacles they revealed. Without even realizing it, I found myself reading the paper yet again, this time inserting the case study of public education for analysis and moral critique. The most recent Buffalo News article about the dysfunction of the School Board and its likeness to a reality TV show echoed in my mind- name calling, accusations of self-interest and political pandering, all swirling around high-stakes decisions about closing and transforming city schools.

My paper had walked through some common approaches to moral analysis, the thinking behind decision making which can undermine the reasoning that serves as the foundation for a strong and healthy society. Moral relativism, egoism, dogmatism, and polarization- all flavors of self-centeredness that trap individuals in the emotions associated with protecting and aggrandizing their own views. In my paper I had made the point that although feelings are often good indicators for what’s right and wrong, ethical reasoning involves much more than venting one’s feelings.

And yet somehow it seems that we have plunged ourselves in a moral swam, indulging in a never-ending stew of self-validation and attack. Clearly, the issues facing our public schools- and other key social systems- are much more complex and multi-faceted than mere issues of ethics or morality. They involve structural and systems-level failures that call for strategic and bold solutions, perhaps better tethered to the world of Cognition than Philosophy. And yet, ironically the very same critique holds true. Emotionalism and self-centeredness always get in the way of good decision making, especially when our decisions have critical implications for the world in which we live.

Because Words DO Matter

I recently attended a press event and left dumbfounded by the remarks of the presiding dignitaries. The vast majority either didn’t make sense at all, or were essentially vacuous in terms of actionable promises. Since literally bolting from the event, I have found myself pondering the importance of words as they relate to community development.

I have already confessed my general fascination with words in an early post https://marabhuber.com/2014/03/24/sculpting-our-words/, but in this case I’m reflecting on the lack of intellectual and ethical discipline that they often convey. Just recently I was accused in a LinkedIn group of being too academic and using “the turgid style that seems to say: “I’m smarter than you are.” The critic urged me to say what I mean. While I admit that I have often been accused of being difficult to understand, I would argue that my intentions are at least noble. In choosing my words, whether verbal or written, I strive and struggle for clarity and precision. In the world of higher education, which is my home, and more specifically in the realm of research, we are left to constantly defend the veracity of our assertions, and so we take our words very seriously. Whether in peer reviewed articles, presentations, or meetings, our words are scrutinized for logic and proof, and accordingly they serve as the very foundation on which our relationships and reputations are built.

I realize that Higher Education is not the real world, and that many “normal” people would argue that academics get lost in words and their meanings. Yet I strongly believe that regardless of your background or professional culture, words DO matter and should be treated with more care and thoughtfulness. And I would assert that this is especially true when we deal with matters of community development.

Why? Well, for one reason words are simply not interchangeable. It’s true that we have multiple words to describe similar ideas or concepts, but each connotes nuanced distinctions that are subtle yet important enough to be named. The differences between a partner and a customer, an opportunity and a contract, collaboration and commitment all become extremely important as projects play out, grants run their course, or tensions begin to rise. The ability to articulate one’s goals, needs, and boundaries in a way that is respectful yet clear can make all the difference in project outcomes and the ultimate longevity of relationships.

This is especially the case in community development where organizations are seeking to help and add value in humanitarian ways, while at the same time attending to their own budgetary needs and agendas. Even when all parties are nonprofit with no direct gains or monetary interests, the complexities of their missions and funding sources and associated political lifelines guarantee that ethical conflicts and landmines will abound. Without the ability to clearly articulate and maintain one’s position using carefully selected words with their associated meanings, the promise of successfully navigating the treacherous waters of community development will remain dismal at best.

Dorothy’s Gift

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As I prepare for the New Year, I find myself combing through past posts, searching for poignant memories and lessons learned.  Perhaps ironically, I am drawn to one of my earliest musings, a piece that details an encounter with a homeless woman temporarily living in a neighborhood park.  Her image has become indelibly associated with the place, and I find myself thinking of her often.

Unsure what is befitting my 100th post, the final day of a fascinating year, and the beginning of unknown adventures to come, I re-offer Dorothy’s Gift, originally posted in December 2013.

Happy New Year everyone, and thank you for being part of my journey.- Mara

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The moment of realization struck me like a lightning bolt.  The woman sitting on this bench before me had been in this very spot for several days, maybe even weeks?  I strained to remember when I had first noticed her, but couldn’t get past the weight in my throat as I acknowledged the obvious.  She was sleeping there, on this bench, in this lovely little park right in the middle of my neighborhood.

My cherished early morning walk had come to a halt as I stood there looking at her trying not to be noticed.  The impression was one of a mystical tree.  Draped in a dark green cloak with a peaked hood and flowing sleeves, she sat with her head down, all angles pointing to and merging with the earth.  Her legs were like thick tree trunks, completing the image of stillness, strength, nature.

Although I didn’t want to disturb her I knew that I had to acknowledge her presence and repent for the days that I had let slip by, lost in my own self.  I resumed walking and prepared to initiate conversation, or at least some respectable gesture.  As my steps approached her bench I uttered, “Good Morning,” and immediately regretted my words.

But a melodious voice echoed, “Good morning to you.”  I stopped to pivot, beholding the rising of the hood, and the whitest most lovely set of teeth parting in a warm smile.  In just a moment I took her all in- well kempt hair, healthy glowing skin, and a tiny diamond ring on clean and dainty fingers.

Despite my shock I continued conversation, confirming that she had been sleeping in the park, and inquiring about her safety and well-being. Her responses were light and reserved, hinting at circumstances and her decision to make the park her temporary home.  She alluded to domestic and mental health issues, plans to move to a shelter in Carolina, and only mild concerns about the cooling temperatures and impending weather.   She was clearly a woman with choices, a woman with a plan.

Feeling our conversation coming to a close I asked if there was anything I could bring her to make her stay more comfortable.  She dismissed my gesture with an airy wave and insisted, convincingly, that she had everything she needed.  I pressed on, determined to offer something of value.  When she finally agreed to some left-over chicken and perhaps a light blanket, I turned and quickly ran home, assuring her that I would be right back but secretly scared that I would be too late.

When I got home I made a beeline for the kitchen, wrapping food items with care, and placing them in a still perfectly functional backpack from the previous school year.  I sneaked up the stairs, trying not to draw my family’s attention as I frantically looked around, surveying the endless shelves and piles of stuff for worthy offerings.  I grabbed a Smithsonian magazine and a book of crossword puzzles unused by my children at camp.  And then I finally saw it, the perfect gift, making me giggle as I touched them one last time.  I lovingly placed my most wonderfully cozy and warm pair of socks into the bag.  They had been given to me by my husband, brought home from our family’s clothing store.   Indulgently unnecessary, they were the perfect gift for someone who had everything and wanted of nothing.  They were the perfect gift for my new friend Dorothy.

When I raced back to the park I was relieved to find Dorothy still on her bench, peaked hood down and re-rooted in the earth.  I experienced a rush of gratitude as she lifted her head once more and returned my greetings.  Like a child I described my offerings as I pulled each from the bag.  Only mildly feigning interest, she accepted my gifts and thanked me by name, sealing the exquisite moment of connection that I continue to cherish today.

Fairies, Unicorns and Most Things Magical

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I have a fairly expansive belief policy. My kids will tell you that I believe in anything that is good. Santa Clause and Guardian Angels, yes…. evil monsters and zombies, definitely no.

This may seem like a joke, but I assure you that my policy is well thought out and quite sound.

It is grounded in the existence of infinite diversity, and the knowledge that virtually anything is possible, especially when we focus on the greater good.

From an implementation standpoint, my policy is highly robust, transferrable and scalable to most domains and settings. It allows me to scan for the positive, picking and choosing perspectives and teachings, remaining open and determined to find something of value.

From an impact standpoint, it serves many functions. By espousing such a policy people always know where I stand, especially my children who I am most interested in influencing. My policy also affords a certain protective functionality- preventing me from getting bogged down in the endless negativity and defeatism that threaten us at every turn.

To be clear, I want to be known as a dreamer, an optimist, someone who believes in infinite possibilities and potential. And so I let my curiosity and openness guide me, feeling my way forward toward new adventures, relationships, and the magic they afford.

In some ways my policy has high discriminative validity. If it resonates strongly with the policies of others, I can usually tell right away. There is a certain synergy that ignites, catalyzing collaboration, innovation, and excitement that is too apparent to be ignored.

But interestingly, my belief policy does not have the opposite repelling effect on those with more cynical tendencies. Although I have been known to madden my staunchest and most empirically minded colleagues with my openness to the worlds of the unknown, they seem to be drawn to my sense of wonderment, even if they would never admit it.

Let’s face it, the opposite of openness is not very inviting, even for those who are trapped inside. The Land of the Cynics, Skeptics, and even Realists can feel dark, desolate, and shrouded in fear. And clearly, it’s growing more crowded by the minute. Conversely, the Land of the Dreamers is infinitely inclusive and open, with endless room to stretch and explore the landscapes that continually change and reimagine themselves.

You might ask whether my belief policy is somehow counter to my training as a researcher, but I would argue that the two go hand in hand. Data and research allow us to be thoughtful and reflective, pushing the boundaries of what we know and can do. But ideally, they should be grounded in theories and world views that are strong and powerful, guiding our questions and interpretations, scaffolding us higher and further.

I concede that my approach- and associated policy- may be unconventional, but I can assure you of their inherent appeal. And since the Land of the Cynics isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, I encourage you to take a little vacation.

I will leave my door ajar, just in case you choose to visit… and stay.