Voices From Tanzania, 2 of 4: Her Story

by Amizade Global Service-Learning

This week we bring you a series of blog posts written by participants in Amizade’s summer service-learning course in Tanzania. The posts were written by program participants in response to their work with women from one of Amizade’s community partners, Women Emancipation & Development Agency (WOMEDA).

Her Story

A structure, and I say structure in the most basic sense – mud walls covered by a pitched thatch roof–, exists unknown to you, tucked into a land covered in red dust, bananas, pineapples, and beautiful people.

Within this simple home sits a Tanzanian woman with a smile so white, wide, and warming that the memories of her gaze still soften me across time, geography, and culture. Her story is typical of the most rural parts of the Karagwe District: widowed, many children (some not born to her), works daily for long hours on her banana farm, a work ethic so strong that in the worst conditions, she and her children still survive.

Sitting with her now I ask, “If you could have any skill or trade taught to you, such as tailoring or learning English, or if there was something that could make your life better, what would it be?” Her smile slowly slips away as she mulls over the question. Finally, she looks up at our translator and us and in Swahili replies, “I don’t know.” The translator and I implore further, thinking that surely she has some idea of what she needs or wants; surely the only reason we received such an answer was due to our inability to provide the properly worded question.

Yet still she insists that she has no idea as to what she could learn or change to make her life better. I could ask someone living in America that same question and receive a laundry list of needs or wants. Yet this woman, with so little, has no way of articulating the needs for herself, children, and community.

Have poverty and its vicious cycle become not so inescapable that those affected by it now concede to hopelessness? Have their dreams of betterment and advancement been tossed away in order to just maintain the basic needs of life?

How lucky I am to be born to a life where I can question and aspire for both sustainability and opportunity. Chances are, if you are reading this, then you too are as lucky as I am. You are lucky enough to be able to dream and seek the opportunities that will make those dreams a reality. Should we as logical, compassionate, and empathetic creatures allow our fellow brothers and sisters to not have equal access to opportunity? Is this woman’s flesh, bone, and drive really so different than mine that I should be so lucky?

Surely not. And it would seem that by an unforgiving biological lottery she tends to her bananas, walks for water, and loves her children while I sit at my desk, read my books, and type this essay on my Mac.

I tell you of this woman’s life not to invoke feelings of guilt, but to try and open your vision to people around the world who have little to no opportunity beyond mere survival.

And although you will probably never meet this woman in Karagwe, Tanzania or experience her sweet smile and hospitality, there are things you can do to make a positive change in the global world of inequality. I implore you to think globally and act locally, to find volunteer opportunities where you can use your skills, efforts, or funds to help bring about a world of equal human rights and equal opportunity. We have the ability to help end the hopelessness of inequalities brought about by the biological lottery of life.

-Ryan Gayman

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