A Boren Scholar in Tanzania

by Amizade Global Service-Learning

This past spring, Joanna Keen traveled to Amizade’s site in Tanzania to spend 12 weeks serving and learning with our community partners in Karagwe, Tanzania. She shared with us her reflections, experiences, and adventures in a two part blog. Here is Part I of her Journey!

Tanzania and Why I Was There:
My name is Joanna Keen and I just finished a 3 month stay in Kayanga, Tanzania: a small mountain town surrounded by villages in the northwest rural side of Tanzania. For those of you confused, Kayanga is the name of the town and Karagwe is the name of the district, kind of like a county in America. Many people in the town of Kayanga identify with the whole of Karagwe as their home because many of them or their families originated from one of the villages in Karagwe. I came to Karagwe as a Boren Scholar, a scholarship given to students to study uncommon languages, and arrived in Karagwe after studying Swahili in Arusha, Tanzania for 4 months and traveling on the east side of Tanzania for 1 month. By the time I arrived to Karagwe, I already had a high intermediate level of Swahili and so I was able to engage in most conversations. This made my adjustment into the community much easier and due to this I was able to work on a project and stay in the community by myself at the Misha Guest House.

Yes, I was there by myself. The idea of living in a rural area of a foreign country is scary to many and was scary to me before I arrived, but for the most part, I did not feel isolated, enjoyed my time and the people in Karagwe, and it was not too difficult of an experience. But I owe it all to my language skills, the many Americans that would listen to my stories about Tanzania on the phone, and the lucky-to- have, God-sent- people, so-grateful- for workers of the guest house that welcomed me in like family. During my time in Arusha I stayed with a host family, which I would recommend for gaining insight about the Tanzanian family life, but it was also exhausting to be a guest for 4 straight months! At the Misha Guest House in Kayanga, I had my own personal space, but also the guest house staff including a cook, a manager, a guard, and the cleaners to socialize with when I ate dinner and relax with on the weekends. I asked them questions if I needed help navigating the town, cracked jokes with them after a long day, and even visited their home villages! Finding a few locals that you can rely on and relate too can make the world of a difference during your time abroad.

What I Did:
I worked on a grassroots project with an organization called AfroArt. Before arriving, the organization mainly focused on selling locally made art, providing tailor skills training, facilitating improved farming methods classes, and facilitating credit and savings groups (yes, they were already doing a lot!), but after working closely with the over 90% agriculture area (and being farmers themselves), they decided to start a new agricultural based project – the Agriculture Information Center (AIC). The AIC is a phone and website network that links all the stakeholders and farmers within the Karagwe district for the purpose of distributing education and information. AfroArt sits at the center of the network passing on information from one stakeholder to another. For example, the farmers can send a question through SMS texting to the AIC and AfroArt will contact the appropriate stakeholders to provide the farmer with an answer. In an area where many of these remote farmers do not have access to the internet nor the means to use transportation, this information can significantly affect their farming business which they rely on for income and food. During my 3 months there, we worked on starting the basic foundations of the project: preliminary research to determine the needs of the farmers and stakeholders, a detailed report and budget for the first two years of implementation, a website and Facebook page, brochures, and running a pilot project within one village. My work consisted of visiting villages and stakeholders for interviews and trainings and helping the AfroArt members create the above mentioned deliverables.