What I Know to be True

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I am back in Buffalo- having just returned from our 10-year anniversary trip to Mara Tanzania. And just like that, 10 years of my life and professional energies have been wrapped up in a bow; celebrated, honored and commemorated by my dear friends and partners who made me feel special and cherished beyond description.

And now I strain, eager to get my head around the many lessons and insights, allowing me to shift  into the next phase of my work, whatever it may be. Why the urgency- you might ask. Although our partnerships are in many ways impressive, I know that they are inherently precious, and perhaps still fragile. You see, our Tanzania project was never an institutional priority. I was never asked to develop or sustain it. In fact, over the years I have had to be tenacious, finding ways to keep it going, often under the radar, buying time until the landscape shifts and new opportunities emerge.

And even now, as the benefits are both obvious and resonant, I am still working to think ahead, identifying the next manifestation that will allow our investments to keep growing and multiplying. This work of continuously nurturing engagement is both taxing and frustrating, moving at its own pace and rhythm, always precarious, never secure. Perhaps in an effort to coax it along, or instead to simply grasp for those who understand the significance and struggle, I will share some resonant truths in whatever form they offer themselves.

Capacity building is real– both as a challenge and an opportunity, especially in developing regions like Mara. Literally everywhere we look there are assets and resources but if they cannot be harnessed and leveraged, their communities and people (especially women and children) will remain vulnerable. There are organizations and leaders ready and poised to have an impact. But without sufficient infrastructure, incentives, levers of change, they will remain alone and unable to activate their potential. Investments will not trickle down and lives will remain cruel. But if we can weave structures and networks around these assets and leaders, connecting them upward, inward and outward, we can leverage their individual resources toward greater impacts, eventually catalyzing growth and collaboration from within.

Grants and donors are not the answer– no one funding opportunity or single initiative will save our most vulnerable communities or populations. When I see new non-profits or small community organizations waiting and searching for the golden funder, or praying that it’s me, I get a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. I see the precious resources they expend trying to court the funder or win the grant- ready to pivot to whatever initiative or remediation is being endorsed. And when partial funding is offered, they eagerly accept, getting started right away, even when funding is insufficient to cover required costs. And then they are back in the weeds and the cycle continues.

Collaboration is key, but it requires strategic support. It’s amazing to see so many organizations and communities dealing with the same challenges and offering such similar programs. And yet they often fail to connect and certainly to collaborate. Instead they compete. Collaboration can be fostered and nurtured, but it needs to be facilitated by skilled mediators and designers. The best place to start (in my experience) is with new opportunities and themes that can add value to individual efforts while not competing, interfering or adding complexity. This can be achieved through identifying broader themes and commonalities that resonate with external trends and resources, and expanding and creating new opportunities rather than relying only on known resources.

Technology can be a game changer, but the “how” must be translated- everywhere we go there are computers and cell phones, and requests for more technology. But most of the computers are not working, and there is little understanding of how technology can be leveraged for individual and collective growth. We have had multiple requests for our students to design and manage websites and provide other critical support. But when we ask to work with individuals who have related job responsibilities and or skill sets we have had no success. Since technology and connectivity are featured in virtually every strategic plan for developing countries and regions, building capacity and expertise among key professionals and youth is absolutely critical.

Higher Education has a pivotal role to play– this is where it gets tough. Because I am part of this system, I cannot go too far. But I can say unequivocally that we can do much more. Our students want to get close. They want high-touch experiences. And our faculty have so much expertise and resources to offer. Our leaders must recognize that this work is not “extra” or outside our core mission. Instead it is the pathway to continued (or perhaps renewed) relevance- it is worthy of scholarship, research and innovation. It is inherently noble and important.

I hope that these insights are not construed as negativity or defeatism. On the contrary, I find myself more excited than ever to continue our relationships and our collective efforts to build capacity through collaboration and engagement. In fact, as I write this post, our students are formulating projects based on their own experiences with our partners in Mara. Their projects will be open to students from all backgrounds and majors who are eager to work on real-world issues and challenges, and to contribute their talents and resources in meaningful ways. What will come of these efforts and the foundation we have built over the past 10 years?  I have no idea- but am hopeful beyond words.

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.

 

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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Join us on our 10-Year Anniversary Trip to Tanzania

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Registration is now open for our 2019 Study Abroad trip to Tanzania. begin registration

Through this unique high-impact experiential learning course, participants will engage with our community partners cultivated through 10 years of engagement, friendship and collaboration. Students will participate in activities designed to foster critical reflection and transformative learning around topics related to girls’ empowerment, community development and collaborative innovation.

Although the course is designed for students, a few spots will be reserved for non-students who will share their expertise, resources and ideas through customized experiential learning projects.

Trip highlights will include:

  • 2-week trip will begin and end in Dar Es Salaam, the cosmopolitan port city with cultural tours and visits to Bagamoyo
  • After flying to Mwanza , we will drive along Lake Victoria to the Mara Region for 4 days of learning and engagement with our community partners
  • A 3-day guided safari through the Serengeti Game Preserve, Ngorongoro Crater and Lake Manyara Region, before driving to Arusha
  • Return visit to Dar Es Salaam with day trip to nearby island before flying home to work on final projects

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Read our book about Tanzania Project

 

 

 

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    –

 

Accepting Applications- 2018 Tanzania Summer Study Abroad

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Ten years have passed since I first met the Sisters from Mara, Tanzania. What began as a remarkable coincidence- a shared name and interest in partnering around a school for girls https://marabhuber.com/2013/11/27/giving-thanks-for-my-name/ – has evolved into something difficult to describe yet undeniably powerful. And as we begin recruiting for the summer 2018 study abroad trip, I am eager to meet the extraordinary students who will both impact and be impacted by the journey. You see, the magic of this trip lies in the people who activate the opportunity, drawn in by their unique reasons and stories, ready to resonate in ways that they cannot and will not know.

Much of the trip is in the design. Dan and I have created an itinerary brimming with contrasts and textures. From bustling Dar es Salaam to Mwanza, then winding around Lake Victoria before nestling into the Mara Region. Certain affordances are guaranteed- the beauty of the dusty roads, the smiling children, the wonders of the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater. 10

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We visit with partners with inspiring lives and stories doing amazing work, eager to share and learn, warmly welcoming us with music, dancing and home-cooked meals.

But other aspects of the trip emerge at their own pace and rhythm. Conversations over endless miles along bumpy roads; surprising moments with villagers or unexpected guests; poignant reflections over family-style dinners set against sunsets or twinkling night skies. These moments cannot be scripted or anticipated, nor can they be erased once the trip has ended.

Indeed, the impacts of our last study abroad trip- summer 2017- are still taking hold, developing in ways that I couldn’t have imagined or planned. Danielle’s final project became a GoFundMe Campaign and is now evolving into a social innovation project, with plans for local women to sew and sell reusable sanitary pads.

Research is being conducted, grants are being written, and the excitement is palpable as new collaborative projects develop and come to life. Over the years, the impacts of our visits and engagement have been impressive, but so are the personal and professional transformations of our students. As they refine their passions and sense of purpose, they weave their experiences into professional and academic goals, moving toward careers that will bring both impact and fulfillment.

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So what type of student is best suited for this trip? Certainly someone seeking a high-impact adventure, challenging their assumptions and moving them outside of their comfort zone; someone eager to learn, to increase their cultural competency and global knowledge; ideally someone with a sense of humor who enjoys people and new situations. The trip is open to students from all majors and programs of study. And while UB students are given priority, students from other SUNY and non-SUNY schools are welcome to apply.

To learn more about the study abroad trip and our broader engagement initiative, please visit the fall edition of the UB Alumni Magazine http://www.buffalo.edu/atbuffalo/past-issues/fall-2017/article-page-fall-2017.host.html/content/shared/www/atbuffalo/articles/Fall-2017/features/african-connections.detail.html or browse through Tanzania-related posts on this site. Photos for this post taken by UB Photographer, Doug Levere.

For registration information visit http://www.buffalo.edu/studyabroad.html

 

What is High-Impact Experiential Learning?

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Photo by Doug Levere, University at Buffalo

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.

 

The Day of our Birth and why it Matters: Reflections from Ghana

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Before we left we were instructed to look up the day of the week on which we were born. Our host explained that in Ghana babies are given many names that together represent their unique place in the world. The day of birth is the first name to be given, with others to follow once the baby survives to the eighth day, including, at a minimum, the name of a family member or ancestor to be emulated, a religiously affiliated name and a surname that is usually associated with the father. Listening to a Ghanaian share their full name is like listening to the beginning of a story, my favorite kind of story. A story about people, places and history all woven together into a rich and textured tapestry. A story without a true beginning and one that you hope will never end.

This impression of rich connectedness is what continues to linger with me as I sit and reflect upon my trip. In Ghana, details of birth, life and death matter. People and places matter and serve to elevate the expectations that surround individuals and their future legacies. This is why marriage is taken so seriously, with families investigating the character of potential mates and their respective lineage. With so much at stake, a union must be acceptable and worthy of one’s inherent promise.

And then the slave castle, the final destination of our trip. To bring people who mattered so much- men, women and children; chiefs and honored wives; mothers, daughters, aunties and uncles, each with important legacies and expectations surrounding their lives. And then to strip it all away. To defile, shackle and humiliate. To squeeze them through the place of no return.

People do matter. But their connectedness matters even more. People are part of families and communities. They are from specific places. They are part of stories and legacies that weave together in complex patterns over time. When we elevate people and their stories, we give them honor, we adopt a long-term vision, we think beyond ourselves. But when we break the connectedness and devalue people, the implications reverberate further than we can know.

Even before I left Ghana, I found myself trying to explain the lessons of the castle. Through texts and pictures I told my children that I had stood in the dungeon, that I had looked through the bars and touched the walls of the point of no return. I tried to convey the power of these experiences when juxtaposed against the nobility of lives and stories.

When I think of sending UB students to Ghana, I hope they will experience the extremes in this order, first beholding the elevation of humanity before confronting its annihilation. Somehow the sequence seems important. As my dear and wise friend Oluwafemi once explained, in order to achieve our potential we must continually dip ourselves in gold. This is the gift that Ghana has given me, one that I hope to continue to share.

Kitenga Update- Truly Remarkable

Although I have returned to Kitenga many times since my original trip in 2009, my visit this past week (July 2016) felt qualitatively different. Even as the various buildings have taken shape over the years, the idea of a comprehensive and vibrant campus for girls has felt largely conceptual and entirely aspirational. Perhaps it was the expansiveness of the vista, the absence of children’s voices, or the lack of infrastructure or tarmac roads. Perhaps the Sisters’ vision was simply too bold or audacious for my mind’s eye to fully construct or comprehend.

And yet, there it was in undeniable form. As I stood with my UB colleagues, beholding the remarkable progress since my last visit, I was filled with a sense of awe and gratitude. Not only were the buildings real and tangible, but they were aesthetically beautiful and sound. As I walked through the courtyard of the dormitory, I could feel the presence of the girls and young women to come. And reflected in the gleaming windows of the new science building, was the promise of innovation and achievement, empowerment and hope.

The transformation was truly remarkable and I am humbled by the power of your generosity. With the collective support of the GEC community, the Kitenga campus is poised for success and impact. The school will become a model for the promise of education and all that is possible when we invest in girls, their families, and communities.

Congratulations GEC- truly remarkable!

-Mara

Taken from the GEC website  http://www.girlsedcollaborative.org/kitenga-update-truly-remarkable/