It’s probably the 25th time I’ve written those two words. But the first time I’ve penned them after a 24 month hiatus and global pandemic. They are good words to write because, it means, I actually left.
GEC’s work is not transactional and formulaic. It is relationship-based. It is learning and listening driven. It is tactile and dynamic. Yes, we managed to stay mission-driven from afar, and I’d say there were even some unanticipated silver linings. But at some point, it just begins to wear out! And the temporary solutions lose luster. Hence, while I am always so super happy to write “I’m home safe & sound”, this time it is all the more meaningful.
I could probably write a short book about this particular trip to Tanzania that began February 22nd and ended March 16th. Which is why I’ve had a hard time writing this post – what do I include? Where do I begin?!
Hence, I have decided to write for now about three big take-aways; over the next weeks, we’ll share more details about other happenings, bit by bit. Before I begin, I’d like to take this opportunity to extend my deepest gratitude and appreciation to the three volunteers that also came to Kitenga. Patricia Minter-Powell from Immaculate Heart Central School in Watertown NY, and Guillemette Dejean and Alexander Helmer from Lisbon. This year’s GEC Fellow, Sarah Filippi-Field also came. Except for Sarah, no one was a Kitenga newcomer. Everyone had their list ‘of deliverables’. So much more was accomplished than I could have ever done on my own – asante sana!!
Here we go, the top three:
1. The Sisters’ vision is being realized. The school has grown to 160 students and two graduations have taken place. It is a place in motion and it is going forward, despite setbacks big and small. From afar, GEC funded and project-managed two beautiful new facilities. The Sisters built urgently needed roads. We collaborated on a school clinic and nurse. There are new gardens and fruit-bearing trees that have grown ten feet. Not to pretend there aren’t challenges, some serious: water is limited and being stretched to capacity and lighting and electrification is insufficient. GEC and IHSA are co-designing solutions to these critical issues – they are complicated and made even more so by the remote location.
2. Kitenga students remain adept at both working hard and having fun. No words needed.
3. Our model on how to approach social change seems to be working (phew!). Committing to the long game, supporting local actors who hold the reins, ‘being there’ when a thought partner, connector, funder or project manager is needed, ‘being there’ when all does not go as planned—the needle is moving. It’s tangible, subjective, illusive, and measurable, all at once. It’s real.
My top 3 personal moments:
1. Going into the physics lab one evening to show the students the short film we made about them and being amidst a packed room filled with girls laughing, eating popcorn and lollipops.
2. Meeting up with a recent Kitenga graduate and witnessing the strong and beautiful woman she is becoming; her aspirations still intact of becoming a doctor AND a lawyer that fights for girls’ rights.
3. Friends being reunited