We have been incredibly busy this week; four amazing volunteers have now arrived! Since so often I share my own perspectives here, I thought it might be interesting to have some of them write what they’re learning and observing here in Tanzania. This entry is by Zoe Flanagan, a 21-year-old college student whom we met on our first trip to Tanzania, and who is working with us here now. I was excited to hear her views on our work here…and I hope you are too!
Hey everyone, my name is Zoe, and I’m going to be taking over this blog today. I am currently volunteering for Epic Change here in Arusha, and I couldn’t be happier to be working with these great people. I met Sanjay and Stacey as a fellow volunteer, on their first trip here with CCS. I was not very involved with Epic Change this year, to be honest. I signed up for the monthly donation, half out of guilt that I could not do more. But this trip has changed that.
My initial travel plans for my summer were to travel throughout East Africa to learn about the world of NGOs. I am studying Sociology and Anthropology (SOAN) at Lewis and Clark in Portland. A friend of mine who is also in the SOAN department initially planned on exploring this world with me. We decided together that we would do some sort of ethnography of the NGO culture. We recognized how large the NGO phenomenon had become and we wanted to see what made it tick. Sadly my friend was unable to come, and because of that, I was less comfortable traveling alone to do the research. I decided instead I would come back to Arusha, a town I really enjoy, and see what I could find. Quite serendipitously Epic Change was going to be here, needing help, the same time I was. So I went with this omen and decided to see what exactly it was my crazy friends Sanjay and Stacey were up to.
So what have I learned about NGO’s? Well to be honest I think it is going to take several years for me to truly digest everything I have learned. I have an inkling now, I’m getting the feeling that Epic Change has become my diving board into this non-profit world and I have just taken a swan dive in, no looking back. I am giving credit to Epic Change for being my diving board because I have been in the non-profit world as a volunteer, fund raiser, and promoter for five years now. I have always been passionate about the causes. Yet, coupled with this passion was a feeling of failure. Although I had good intentions, what I was doing was not sustainable. So far in my research of NGOs I have identified this characteristic, the lethal couple, passion and failure. In the past week I have been plagued with fits of uncontrollable excitement when I rule out this characteristic from what Epic Change is.
So what are my crazy friends Sanjay and Stacey up to? Well first, they are working their butts off. Just this week I think Sanjay pulled two all nighters back to back; the late nights were spent tackling a two hundred item to do list, and many hours were spent battling a printer with an attitude problem. I was there for the second one and that was when I realized just how much work goes into doing this right. You ask what do I mean when I say doing this, right? Well it’s what makes this project sustainable. They are working harder than ever to create the tools and the plan which will allow Mama Lucy to pay back the loan. These tools and plans to fund raise are amazing gifts because they will allow Sanjay and Stacey to step back and let Mama Lucy continue with her important work. By doing this Sanjay and Stacey are also creating a powerful new relationship. Africa has been told for too long that they need the mzungu (foreigner) and that they cannot do anything worthwhile without them. Mama Lucy already had an amazing program before Epic Change got here. Epic Change simply believed in Mama Lucy and what she was doing. To believe in a person and a cause is a powerful thing. Life threw her a curve ball and all Epic Change has done really is allowed her to keep her school. Because she has been given the power of decision in this relationship, she is now allowed to own the moment. From my point of view Epic Change has not only helped build a school but the project has shown this community that it can be built by a local.
It helps that Shepherds is a pretty amazing place. When I go there I really understand that it is the hopeful future of our world. This is a cliché, I know. Hope has been a little over used in the US this year, but not for naught. My fits of excitement have been the first moments in my life where I know I have felt hope; true unadulterated hope. These children will change the world, I am sure of it. Our world is plagued with ill-intentioned leaders, this is true everywhere and Shepherd’s young leaders are being taught to raise their voice. You can hear it when fourth grader Leah says she wants to “be a doctor so that she can find the cure to AIDS”. That is a pretty loud declaration, right? In many of the systems here Leah would be segregated into a school for the poorest of the poor. Mama Lucy does not allow this to happen at her school. This is partly why it is such an amazing place. Children of all backgrounds are learning together at the highest level they can. And they are brilliant kids, all of them.
Mama Lucy says “An ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure.” I have never heard it stated any better. A quarter of a million dollars seems like too much money to some. Many people feel more pulled to go to the most devastated situations with that kind of money. But don’t you think that if you educate this many children at this level and without social discrimination, those devastated situations may be eradicated in ten or twenty years? It is hard to see that, but I really think if there were more Shepherds Juniors throughout the world, the next generation could live a much better life.
These past two weeks have not only been filled with bright and shiny happy days of birds singing songs of hope. Along with my fits of excitement, there have been many moments when I feel like this is just too hard. Along with all nighters, I have witnessed the ugly side of trying to “help”. When you put your whole heart into something, the pain is much deeper when something goes wrong. I think one of the most important lessons I have learned so far is that when you are here you need to think, you really need to be self-reflective and aware of the fact that by trying to “help” you could be creating more hardships and more social handicaps. I know this sounds harsh, but I really believe it. Our presence here is powerful. I am not saying this to make myself sound important, quite the opposite, ( I think I am still figuring this out to be honest) but what I know is that in this one project, Epic Change has stepped back as much as they can, and I have never seen such good results.
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