Finding altruism in others in Tanzania

For students in the Master of Public Administration in Development Practice program, things may progress a little differently than for our other MPA and Master of International Affairs students. For example, while MPA and MIA students may elect to spend their summer between their first and second year however they wish, MPA-DP students are required to participate in a three-month summer field placement. And I use the term required loosely, as our students always enjoy their assignments. They work in one of 30 different countries to develop practical work experience in sustainable development practice and to gain first-hand understanding of how education, agriculture, health, nutrition, energy, water and community are interconnected. It’s both a challenging and rewarding experience that’s an essential part of the MPA-DP curriculum.

To see what it’s like for our MPA-DP students, today I’m sharing with you an experience Ana Carolina Diaz, MPA-DP ’16, had this summer while she’s working in Tanzania.

“Eyes wide open”

When I was told that I would officially be spending three months in Tanzania, working with the Education Team of the Millennium Villages Project, I had mixed feelings. I couldn’t believe that after years of dreaming about working in an African country, me going to Tabora, a little town in Tanzania, was the reality. But to be honest, I was really nervous. You see, I have been thinking that I want to work in the field for a long time, and this experience would tell me if I was made for it. I didn’t want to disappoint myself, and I feared I would.

After three airplanes and a dusty landing road with a little house that serves as the town’s “airport,” my adventure officially began…

-Mambo! -Poa!, – Jambo! –Sijambo!, –Habari za asubuhi! –Nzuri!, –Asalaam Alaikum! – Alaikum salaam!, -Mambo! –Safi!  These are my many conversations every time I’m crossing the street to get to the office. Times three. And every time I answer in Swahili people show me that big smile that is so distinctive of Tanzanians, like if I just made their day. Actually, their smiles are making my days.

Tanzanians are the nicest people I’ve ever met, and they NEVER get tired of greeting you. Believe me, you can be sucked into a single handshake for three long minutes (I am not exaggerating).

While Tanzanians in general are very nice, there are two specific people that have truly touched my heart. One is a teacher at Ilolangulu Secondary School: his name is Hans. I have never heard anyone talk about education they way he did when I first met him. He believes in education for ALL, and he emphasizes the importance of educating girls. He calls himself a “feministi.” I call him a role model.

Hans during one of our interviews at Ilolangulu Secondary School. Photo by: Ana Carolina Diaz

Hans during one of our interviews at Ilolangulu Secondary School. Photo by: Ana Carolina Diaz

 

 

There’s also Iddy, who’s a 10-year-old boy at an orphanage I like to visits on weekends. (If you know me, you already know that I love kids so you wouldn’t have been surprised when I said this little kid touched my heart.) Iddy’s of the oldest children at the Tabora League of Children orphanage, and he is always taking care others. If someone cries, Iddy comforts the sullen child. If someone wants more food, Iddy shares some of his own. When playing a game, he will always make sure everyone gets to have fun. When I look at Iddy, all I can see is love and compassion. He is the orphanage’s guardian angel.

Iddy taking care of one of the little kids at Tabora League of Children. Photo by: Ana Carolina Diaz
Iddy taking care of one of the children at Tabora League of Children. Photo by: Ana Carolina Diaz

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One of the advantages of being in the field is that you have enough time to experience and observe the context to be able to understand it. This has proved extremely helpful for the work I am doing with Connect To Learn (CTL), a global initiative that aims to provide students and teachers with access to quality instructional and learning resources through the use of ICT and innovative teaching practices. When I was first told about this project it all sounded pretty great to me. Children in poor small villages getting access to all of this information. This is going to open so many windows for them, I thought. I still think the work CTL has been doing is pretty amazing, but now I know that in order to open doors for those children, there are too many challenges that need to be overcome.

I’ve been here for more than a month, and just keeping my eyes and ears open has given me a totally new perspective on sustainable development issues. I mean, back in the classroom we kept emphasizing the importance of using a holistic approach to achieve sustainable development. We reviewed case studies, held discussions, and read reports that suggested the previous assumption is true. And I get it…or at least I thought I did. It wasn’t until after several (extremely long) handshakes—accompanied by insightful conversations with locals—that I finally understood the strong interdependency among sectors. I honestly think this is something you are only able to fully comprehend once you have been in the field.

The Tanzanian education system has many challenges, from lack of quality material to poor teaching practices. But to be honest, I think its major challenge is encountered in the aggregate of all the challenges faced by every other sector. Interventions such as CTL are helping a great deal, but they won’t be enough by themselves. If we want these communities to achieve sustainable development, we will need more Hans and more Iddys, and last but not least a truly holistic approach.

Children looking away in front of the dam.   Photo by: Ana Carolina Diaz
Children looking out near a dam. Photo by: Ana Carolina Diaz

—Ana Carolina Diaz, MPA-DP ’16