From Mara to Mara (2)

My days are filled with poignant moments. Family meals, neighborhood walks, daily rituals cast in heightened relief, with contrasts and nuances amplified in detail and significance. My conversations with Stephen are no different. Yesterday morning he called while I was shopping, and I let the phone ring as he tried again and again to reach me, so sure that I would eventually pick up. I had been among the first in line at the grocery store, determined to stock my pantry with ample food and resources for the coming weeks. I had donned gloves and a mask hand-sewn by my daughter Natalie from Tanzanian fabrics brought back from my numerous trips. I had given her a stack of beautiful batik cloth of vibrant colors and patterns, in hopes of lightening this somber project.  

I eventually connected with Stephen and we began with news of the Virus. He had completed the initial field research in an island community in Rorya, a nearby district. He mentioned that in visiting a health clinic, they were entirely unaware of Corona and had virtually no hand washing or preventative measures in place. He planned to return with his soap making project, beginning to train local community members to produce this precious resource.

Our conversation quickly turned to the success of his research. The community had embraced his work with great enthusiasm and gratitude and the leaders were eager to connect and discuss possibilities for future collaboration. The initial work was complete, and I felt a tremendous sense of relief that we had found a way to make it happen. With the spread of the Virus and the move to online instruction, virtually every project has come to a halt, a state of suspended animation as we await the dreaded apex and begin the envision the other side. How fortunate that the fundraiser was successful and I was able to send over $450 to support the initial work. Although I had targeted the mapping project as the focus of the Happy Hour and GoFundMe campaign, it was all related and my friends and colleagues were happy to offer their support. Thankfully, Stephen understood the preciousness of the gift, and was determined to use the funds strategically in recognition of their significance.

It is this recognition that lingers in my mind as I type these reflections. Stephen understands the preciousness of our gifts. He also understands the spirit of collaboration that drives my continued efforts. He said that while grants and sponsors offer valuable resources, they bring frustration and complexity. Instead, it is better to build from within, laying the foundation through an understanding of needs and strengths, and building growth through trust and relationships, moving forward and expanding through collaboration and synergies. Although Stephen did not use these words, he did convey their essence, an exquisite recognition of a truth that has given me strength, and continues to drive all that I do and know.

Stephen ended the conversation with his hopes that HRCO will become an organization known globally for its work and partnerships, a model for what is possible for communities and people around the world.    

From Mara to Mara (1)

We are in the middle of a pandemic. Like everyone around me, I have gone virtually nowhere in the last few weeks. An occasional walk or quick errand in the car. No need for coordinated outfits or dressing up. And yet, this morning, I organized my closet, initiating the great migration of my spring and summer wardrobe and putting my heavy winter things into storage. For me, this is yearly therapy. Despite the usual disappointments of spring in Buffalo, NY, and the looming frost that mocks my impatience, I boldly prepare with color and vibrancy. Of course, this spring I need it more than ever.

When I opened my summer totes, I was overcome with emotion. I realized that for the past 10+ years this ritual transcends seasonal anticipation. As I looked at the clothing before me- the dresses, skirts and colorful cloths- memories of Tanzania washed over me, the trips themselves but also their preparation, selecting items that would be good for travel- the long plane rides, the dusty roads, and bumpy safaris. I chose long skirts for the villages and special dresses for our dinners by the sea. These experiences- complete my with thoughts, conversations, and moments- had permeated the clothing and continue to emanate now, as I sit here typing on my bed, staring at my open wardrobe, feeling blessed beyond words.

It is true that my May trip has been postponed for how long, I cannot know. But rather than sadness, I feel an overwhelming sense of gratitude, thankful for my relationships and my ability to live vicariously through the movement and growth that continue. Ironically, while I was sorting through my summer clothing, I received a call from Stephen Marwa, who was checking in from Tanzania. Although we had been maintaining weekly conversations, we had fallen off, due to the virus. I have to admit that I was hesitant to answer Stephen’s call, unsure I could hold my usual energy and attention. I am so thankful I answered.

We talked briefly about the Corona outbreak, exchanging updates and news. But the conversation quickly moved to the week ahead. On Monday, they will begin the community survey work, using the instrument that we helped create through collaboration. Although we intended to send funds associated with our students’ project, everything had come to a halt. Luckily, I was able to organize an informal fundraiser that went forward even in the face of social distancing. Through the generosity of colleagues and friends, and the power of GoFundMe, I was able to send $450, which in Tanzania still goes far. Stephen assured me that he would use these precious funds wisely, since there is no way of knowing when external funding will resume. We agreed that the work must continue, and the need for nimbleness, leadership and tenacity are greater than ever. Stephen shared that the heavy rains have washed out many roads, making his initial plans to focus on Musoma Rural untenable. Instead, he will conduct the survey on an island in Rorya, traveling by boat, joined by students from Buhare Community Development Training Institute who are eager to be involved. Any remaining funds will be used to start the mapping work.

I asked him about soap making, which is growing in popularity as communities worry about Corona and learn of the importance of hand washing. We spoke briefly of other projects, emphasizing the importance of a new website that will be designed by a UB student, showcasing ongoing initiatives and building capacity for collaboration and support. I mentioned that I would come as soon as I could, but that was a given and didn’t need to be said. Stephen mentioned his appreciation, but only quickly, since it was also understood. We are well beyond these formalities and both recognize that our journeys are forever interconnected.

How ironic that things are moving more quickly in Tanzania than here in New York. It’s as if we are in a state of suspended animation. Perhaps right now, I need Mara Tanzania more than they need me. But I am grateful that I can come along, sharing their growth and movement, brought to me through Stephen’s voice, social media posts, and my beautiful summer clothes.

I hope to share these updates with you, whoever and wherever you are. I have a feeling that I am not the only one in need of movement, connectivity and relevance. In reality, we are not so far away, and we are all in this together.

After 10 Years in Tanzania, What Next?

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photo by Doug Levere

In a few weeks I will be returning to Tanzania with my dear friend and co-instructor, Dan Nyaronga, and a new group of students from the University at Buffalo. As always, we will be visiting with our various partners, exploring community initiatives and the complexities of women’s empowerment in this challenged but magnificent part of the world.

While our itinerary will be similar to past trips, this one will be different. I will be celebrating my 10-year anniversary, and (hopefully) ushering in a new phase of engagement.

When I remember the very beginning, the first time we visited in 2009, I am reminded of this video produced by Kevin Crosby, and the model we initially set out to create. Even then, we dreamed of collaboration built on shared understanding and respect, and a commitment to adding value and building capacity, leveraging our vast UB resources, while building synergies with community-based organizations within the Mara Region and beyond. We hoped to seed interdisciplinary efforts, working across silos to develop innovative solutions to improve the lives of women and their families, while stretching our models for university engagement and outreach.

As I reflect on our accomplishments, there is much to celebrate. Over the years we have helped to support the emergence of community leaders, the creation of new initiatives, and the early stages of collaboration among partners. But how to go even further; to transcend the expectations and constraints of traditional support and partnerships; to elevate the notions of collaboration and capacity building both within the community and our own institution?

This time I will bring the promise of an exciting new initiative that we are busy building- so busy that I have yet to write about or introduce it. We are creating a digital portal that will invite students to engage in collaborative projects, mentored by UB faculty and/or select alum and partners around the world- including (and especially) Tanzania. We will construct profiles introducing our partners and their work, inviting students to browse through pictures, videos and reports, learning about challenges and complexities, towards engaging in projects that will add value while helping to clarify and support their academic and professional goals.

For our partners I dream of expansion and empowerment, building their internal capacity around strengths and resources, leveraging engagement with UB and other partners around shared and synergistic goals. For our students I wish them the fulfillment that comes with the knowledge that they are making a meaningful difference and the sense of agency and infinite possibilities ahead.

For me, the portal offers a path to access and equity, allowing students to engage at their own pace and at no additional cost. The idea that anyone can activate their talents and interests, clarifying their sense of purpose, and making a difference in ways that will extend well beyond their own professional success.

This July we will be harvesting projects for our new portal, laying the foundation for future students to engage through collaborative projects. This idea of project harvesting is both compelling and profound.  When we begin to see challenges and needs as invitations for projects and collaboration, opportunities will emerge all around us, and technology will be the transformative tool that allows us to build, catalyze and expand our impacts in ways that we cannot know.

As I return to Tanzania I cannot help wondering what lies ahead. And as I prepare to celebrate my 10 year anniversary, I can’t help feeling (hoping) that this is still the beginning.

 

Transforming Global Partnerships into Pedagogical Impacts

GPS Institute

Register for GPS Institute

On Monday October 1st we will welcome partners from Ghana, Jamaica, Tanzania and Zimbabwe for our inaugural week of sharing, capacity building and networking toward the goal of creating new collaborations, projects and experiential learning offerings.

What will come from this exciting week of presentations, studio sessions and innovation modules?  Our website is ready to receive idea submissions  which will be synthesized and shared at our closing reception on Friday, October 5th at 4:30 pm in Silverman Library.

To expand the scope of possibilities, we are introducing a suite of learning platforms, resources, and opportunities that enhance students’ global collaboration experiences, through integrating them within their UB coursework while developing compelling narratives that will support their learning and professional goals, AND maximizing their impact within the communities they touch.

These evolving resources are now offered through our Global Partner Studio (GPS) and include:

  • COIL (Collaborative Online International Learning)- we invite faculty to add collaborative course content to an existing course or engage in the development of new offerings. Through collaborative course modules and exercises, students can develop cultural competences, communication and teamwork skills while completing core courses and projects.
  • Short-term study abroad. Together with our colleagues in International Education, we invite faculty to leverage their global relationships through the development of innovative high-impact study abroad trips during summer or winter session. Interested in reaching more students? consider integrating VR (virtual reality) or AR (augmented reality) in your next global adventure
  • Global Collaboration Digital Badge. Once students have completed a global collaboration project, we invite them to enhance their experience through guided reflection and integration exercises, towards the goal of developing compelling narratives that connect with their experiences with academic and career goals.
  • GPS Journal. Our new open-source journal hosted by the UB Libraries provides students with a platform for sharing research, insights and innovations. And to ensure active collaboration with partners and integration with coursework, student authors are required to provide testimonials from partners and subject librarians.
  • Mentored Independent Study A great way to prepare for or enhance a global collaboration experience is to delve into related research and frame specific  interests within broader questions and challenges. We invite students to engage in a semester long independent study in partnership with their respective department/program of study and ELN staff.

Global collaboration represents an exciting new frontier for high-impact experiential learning. I hope you will follow our work and consider joining us for our inaugural GPS Institute! – Mara

 

Marketing Menstrual Maintenance in the Mara Region

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It’s been just over a week since our return from Tanzania and I’m still working to process all that transpired.

We had no idea that sanitary pads would feature so prominently in this trip or represent such a galvanizing focus for social entrepreneurship. Both Danielle and Lyndsey had researched this topic as part of their ELN independent studies and were well aware of the connections with girls’ education and public health.

But seeing Danielle working on the reusable pad project was an emotional experience for all of us. The idea had come from her final study abroad project and when she discovered Dare Women’s Foundation’s model via an internet search, they had offered to train our partners in Musoma. Danielle quickly raised the funds needed to support Stephen Marwa’s (Executive Director of Hope Revival Children’s Foundation) travel to Arusha. And here we were, returning just one year later with sewing materials, ready to support the start-up of a Musoma-based reusable sanitary pad project.

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To our surprise, the very next day Stephen delivered the first batch of reusable pads (see featured photo) and I was proud to be the second customer -Danielle being the first. Stephen explained that after the pads are certified by the Ministry, they will be manufactured and sold. Proceeds will sustain the sewing project while also supporting school-aged girls unable to afford appropriate menstrual supplies.

I was so pleased with the pads that I carried the prototype with me as we visited leaders and organizations throughout the area.When we were introduced to the Anglican Bishop of Musoma, Dr. George Okoth, he was so impressed with the project and our interest in menstrual management that he asked us to visit a Safe House in Mugumu Serengeti where village girls fled go to escape Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). He explained that they had acquired a disposable pad machine that was sitting in storage, without any institutional knowledge about how to operate or fix it. Although Muguma was a clear departure from our itinerary we were all eager to accept the invitation. With a recent Engineering grad (Mathew Falcone), our own Macgyver Librarian (Cindi Tysick), and resident pad experts (Danielle and Lyndsey), how could we pass up the challenge?

Our 2+ hour drive to Muguma was both fascinating and bumpy. We winded our way around the massive Acacia gold mine as we tried to anticipate what lay ahead. When we arrived at the Mugumu Safe House we received a brief tour of the facility while learning about the daunting challenges facing the girls. And then Melina (Director) showed us the pad machine.

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It was sitting in a a storage closet draped in plastic, obviously never touched or utilized. We all stood and stared at the impressive contraption, trying to comprehend what we were seeing. Then Lyndsey yelled, “It’s from the Pad Man!” We knew this to be a movie that our UB School of Management colleague, Debbie Grossman, who had visited Tanzania with us the last year had urged us all to see- but we hadn’t had had time. Within seconds the girls were texting Debbie and miraculously even though it was the crack of dawn in Buffalo, she immediately replied, confirming that the machine was indeed the same type and make of Indian apparatus featured in the movie.

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And then they were off- a quick assessment (with the help of YouTube) revealed that nothing was wrong with the machine. There was simply no Tanzanian adapter for the Indian power cord. Dan quickly surrendered his travel converter and the machine immediately purred into action. Between Cindi and Matthew the first prototype was produced in minutes and once the girls got the hang of it, the Muguma Disposable Pad Project was born before our very eyes.

But our biggest joy came as Melina recognized what she had just stumbled upon. Suddenly, her prospects for supporting and stewarding the Safe House and its girls were much more promising.

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How to celebrate the promise of girls’ empowerment in the Mara Region?  Early in our trip we were treated to unforgettable dancing and poetry by the new “Musoma Action, Girls Empowerment” group led by partner and friend Monica Achieng. These beautiful girls were gathering to celebrate their solidarity and share inspiring messages about education, self-empowerment and women’s health.

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As we reflect on the beauty and vibrancy of the young women we met throughout the trip and the promise of their collective futures we can’t help thinking about menstrual management and girls’ empowerment in a new way. Clearly, there is much to celebrate and infinite opportunities to learn, share and collaborate around this important topic.

Hope Revival Website

Musoma Action Girls Empowerment Website

 

 

 

How far will we travel with our international partners?

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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.

GPS Institute

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.

GPS Journal

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.

 

 

 

 

Girls’ Education in Tarime: Bishop Mwita Akiri

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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.

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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.

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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

 

 

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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

 

Help our Students go Deeper

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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    –