I’ve Missed You

Please excuse my absence. Perhaps it felt abrupt, like a sudden departure or loss, or maybe you didn’t notice at all.

I wasn’t really gone. I have been here the whole time, working in the early hours of the morning, stealing moments and stretching time.

I have been consumed, determined to finish the book, to share the stories of our Tanzania project, to invite you on our upcoming journey, or accompany you on your own.

And now that it is nearly complete, the final tweaks and edits being made, I am eager to reconnect, to explain the significance of my absence in hopes that you are still there.

So often in my life I have rushed from one project to the next, failing to take a breath, to appreciate or share.

But this one is big, certainly bigger than me alone, and to realize its potential I need your support.

The book is about “Finding Your Impact through International Travel,” and is dedicated “to the bold and compassionate students of the world who yearn to make a difference.”

It shares the stories of BTEP, our engagement project that began with a chance encounter with nuns from the Mara Region of Tanzania, studying in Buffalo while searching for partners to help them build a school for girls.

Written in collaboration with my colleague Dan Nyaronga, who hails from the very same region of Tanzania, it speaks to the power of friendship and the amazing connections that happen when we open ourselves to a bigger purpose, to the influences of serendipity, chance, and fate.

The book is about how fascinating the world truly is, and the adventures that await us in faraway places or in our own communities where we least expect them.

It is about the promise of people who at any moment can surprise us, contributing their talents, strengths, and passions, revealing new paths forward, crossing bridges and weaving their histories both forward and back.

And as the title suggests, the book is about impact and the magic that happens when we work together, focusing our resources on shared visions and goals.

I hope you can understand my eagerness to get this right, to share these truths that have revealed themselves through BTEP and our evolving relationship with the Mara Region.

But please know that my impatience goes much deeper. You see, 100% of sales from the book will support scholarships for girls in this region, allowing them to change the course of their lives and those of their families and communities through education and empowerment. When I think about these young women and what lies ahead, where their education will lead them, what they will accomplish, what we will accomplish together, I grow giddy with anticipation.

And so, my dear friends, please excuse my absence and refrain from holding a grudge. I have not left you, nor have I moved on to another project or audience. I am still here and am officially ready to move our relationship to the next level. Will you join me?

Return to Tanzania

Tanzania_July_2009_333

In six short months Dan Nyaronga and I will return to the Mara Region of Tanzania with a group of students for a UB study abroad course. As we immerse ourselves in planning for the trip we cannot help but reflect on its specialness and the remarkable milestones that we will be celebrating.

We just received word that the Kitenga school campus will open this January with plans to begin enrolling soon (see GEC website for updates http://girlsedcollaborative.org/). When I first met Sisters Janepha and Agnes on Christmas Day 2007 they shared their vision for a school that in its full realization would serve over a thousand girls from surrounding villages, providing them with opportunities to develop their talents and empower their lives. While compelling, their plan was purely conceptual, a mere white paper articulating their vision within a sea of need. But thanks to the Immaculate Heart Sisters of Africa and their partners, including the Girls Education Collaborative (GEC), their vision will soon be realized for the benefit of thousands of girls, families, and communities to come.

In visiting Kitenga and other locations throughout the Mara Region, students will gain much more than photos and memories. Clearly, this part of the world is worth visiting in its own right- the famed Serengeti Game Preserve, the beauty of the Lake Region, and above all the kindness and hospitality of the Tanzanian people. But most importantly students will be immersed in the promise and complexity of community development, exploring the importance of education and reflecting on their own future impacts associated with their studies and goals.

This notion of impacts is becoming increasingly important to me as I consider the challenges facing our communities both locally and around the world. Every day, I am reminded that we have so much to offer through our collective talents and resources. For this reason I am especially excited to announce that our book, “Finding Your Impact through International Travel: Stories from the Buffalo Tanzania Education Project” will be released in early fall with sales to support scholarships for girls to attend Kitenga and other schools within the Mara Region. The book tells the story of how we first met the Sisters and started our collaboration known as the Buffalo Tanzania Education Project (BTEP), while also sharing context, student reflections, and stories of the many people who have touched and been touched by this exciting project.

We can’t wait to share the book with all of you in hopes that you will in turn share it with your networks, colleagues, and students. At the core of the book and the project is the notion that by coming together we can amplify and leverage our individual talents and resources to do great things for the world. This idea continues to inspire me as I work with talented students and individuals from diverse backgrounds and communities.

To register for the study abroad course please visit http://www.buffalo.edu/studyabroad.html. More information about the trip will be available in the coming weeks.

Thank You Global Explorers

marble

Close your eyes and hold out your hands, Cazau and Julia instructed the children as they stood in a circle somewhere off the road near Gallup New Mexico. It was the final day of our adventure and although we needed to head for the airport in Albuquerque, they wanted to squeeze in a final discussion, so the roadside clearing would have to do. Luckily, over the past nine days, the kids had become so immersed in the spirit of the Canyon and the San Juan River, that they were able to hold their energy even so close to the city.

I too held out my hands, wondering what memento would be offered and whether it could do justice to the experience that we had all created and shared. When I felt a small smooth marble placed in my palm, I immediately understood the symbolism. The notion that these children held the Earth in their hands- that even though it was so much older and bigger than any of them, or us, they were largely in control. And how they would choose to utilize their influence would in many ways define our individual and collective futures.

The children understood the significance. The trip had been full of powerful moments – sleeping on the Canyon floor under a blanket of stars, experiencing the joyous embrace of Kathy and Ravis who welcomed us into the Navajo traditions, and spending lazy days and nights on the river, sharing stories and laughter, and a sense of community for which we would always yearn.

In that moment, perhaps the children felt the magic slipping away and the sense of responsibility settling in its place. How would they take what they learned and transport it back to their individual lives? They shared their reflections- spending more time outdoors, less technology, trying to be present and not overscheduled. They promised to come back to the Southwest, to become river guides and group leaders, continuing the journey that we had all started together.

As I stood within the circle listening and watching, I was moved beyond words. I felt so hopeful that these children would carry this experience with them forever, that they were changed in some important and profound way.  I wished that I could follow each of them home to help them process the jarring reality of return, reconciling the fact that they are changed, yet expected to be the same, helping them reflect on the wisdom of the Canyon when they are tested by the challenges of their lives.

Perhaps this is our next frontier as educators and parents, creating tools and forums in which to share and integrate experiences, helping others to process new-found truths and epiphanies within the borders of existing realities.  This integration  is more complex than we may realize. But ultimately, it offers the promise that we so desperately need. By creating and leveraging high impact experiences, we can become kinder, happier, and more responsive to the world around us, global citizens worthy of the precious earth we hold.

Feeling our Impact through Student Experiences

students

Although we all strive to have an impact in the world, it’s often difficult to feel our contributions.  We may sense our influence as we connect and interact with others, but our effects often feel indirect and intangible, leaving us wanting more.

As someone who actively searches for touch points, moments in time that capture the power of our purpose, I wanted to share one such experience.

Yesterday I had the pleasure of gathering with members of the Buffalo Tanzania Education Project (BTEP) to raise funds and celebrate our collective connections with the people and country of Tanzania.

Although we have had only three such events since BTEP formed back in 2009, each has been unique in the specific projects and initiatives that are highlighted.  And the particular focus in turn exemplifies the various stages and phases of this interesting and ever-evolving project.

This year we had the pleasure of showcasing the six students who participated in our first UB Study Abroad course to Tanzania, three of whom shared reflections and thoughts about their experiences.

From our vantage point the trip had been a success.  Everyone returned safely and the University learned that Study Abroad to Africa was both viable and appealing, opening the door for future travel and exchange.

But hearing the students speak about their experiences provided a glimpse into the magnitude of our impact- not just the Study Abroad course, but the larger BTEP initiative that has slowly unfolded over the past 5+ years.

A Masters student from China, Yi, spoke about the hospitality of the Tanzanians and how they welcomed and embraced the students with such kindness and openness.  She shared that she had always dreamt of going to Africa, and how the trip has impacted her life.  As she works to complete the first year of her graduate program, she has decided to focus on micro-finance and supporting developing countries in their efforts to emerge from poverty.  She is now very clear on her goal of returning to Africa upon graduation.

Tyler, our youngest student to participate in the trip, spoke of the friendships he formed while in Tanzania.  He talked about the Bishop and the role that faith plays within the communities he visited, not as a luxury or simply an activity of going to Church on weekends, but instead as a lifeline for the people giving them hope and promise as they struggle every day.  Tyler also spoke of his relationship with the driver who he got to know through late-night conversations about life, marriage, and self-sacrifice.  He also described the sense of purpose that he was left with and power that all of us have to make a difference in the world.

When Tyler and Yi spoke about their trip it was evident to everyone in the room that their life path had been significantly affected by their experiences.

Although we cannot know where their educations and careers will take them, we do know that they have for the moment embraced humanity and their own connection to the world.

Through this point of connectivity our own impact and significance can be felt.   What a wonderful gift to share.