On the road to the Mara Region in Tanzania, where students learned about social innovation and marketing through interactions with UB partners.
“It was a huge bonding moment for all of us,” says Lyndsey Cifra (right) about the dance ceremony at the Village Museum in Dar es Salaam. “After performing a few dance numbers,” says Regina Jackson, “they pulled us out of our seats, dressed us in skirts, necklaces and headpieces, and invited us to dance with them.”
“There was a huge language barrier,” says Cifra, explaining this image of Dylan McCaffrey taking a selfie with local schoolchildren. “Taking pictures helped bring people together.”
“Children’s Dignity Forum is doing something amazing,” says Danielle Nerber (right) of the Tanzanian organization’s mission to empower girls by educating families about the damaging effects of early marriage and female genital mutilation (FGM). “I left there feeling educated, inspired and with a full heart.”
“Sister Janepha [pictured] and Baraki Sisters Farm pasteurize and transport milk to sell within the region,” says Mara Huber. “Now they’re looking for investment partners so they can purchase milking equipment, increase profitability and provide support for their schools and other initiatives. This is truly social innovation in action, and our students were highly engaged.”
“I brought stickers with me and put them on all the kids’ hands—they were a huge hit,” says Cassandra Hamsher. Art supplies were also shared with the children, some of whom had never held a crayon or marker before. “But once they learned, they went to town,” says Cifra.
Bak USA, a Buffalo company that builds mobile computers, donated 25 computers and laptops to UB to distribute on the trip.
“We broke down stereotypes,” says Nerber (top right corner, facing camera) about their discussion with seminarians visiting Baraki Sisters Farm. “Alexander [facing Nerber] no longer thinks all Americans are wealthy, and he emphasized that practices like FGM don’t define African culture—it’s the tradition of a small culture within a bigger culture.”
“You can say what you want about the classroom, but the passion within that room is incredible,” says Natasha Clark about a preschool in Tarime. “They don’t have the things we think are necessary for education, like desks or books, but they still persevere.”
“He’s such an inspiring and charismatic person,” says McCaffrey of Bishop Mwita Akiri (addressing students). “He helped me figure out how to help people in the best way possible. He said to focus on what I’m passionate about and build connections. Because you can’t change things alone—you need support.”
A young woman from the sewing project started by Bishop Mwita Akiri threads her machine. The bishop began the program to help girls earn an income and delay marriage.
Students spent time in Serengeti National Park. “You’re standing all day [in the safari vehicle], dirt on your face, but it was the greatest feeling to be there,” says Nerber. Adds Debbie Grossman: “It was very relaxing after being through some emotional moments on the trip.”
“They said it’s the size of Buffalo,” says Cifra, about Ngorongoro Crater. But at 102 square miles, the caldera—a depression formed by volcanic activity—dwarfs the Queen City, which measures in at roughly 50 square miles.
“It was bizarre,” says Mara Huber, associate dean of undergraduate research and experiential learning at UB, describing how the Buffalo Tanzania Education Project (BTEP) was born. “My name is Mara. They were from the Mara Region. I was working on school partnerships. They were looking for a partner to help build a school for girls.”
“They” are Sister Janepha and Sister Agnes from the Immaculate Heart Sisters of Africa, whom Huber met while having Christmas dinner at her in-laws’ house in 2007. The school they wished to build opened in January of this year, with help from UB, Buffalo community groups and the Girls Education Collaborative, a local nonprofit that started as an offshoot of BTEP.
Huber started BTEP in 2009 to unite students, faculty and Buffalo groups in an informal partnership that emphasizes relationships over one-off projects. Its goal: improving opportunities for women and families in Tanzania’s Mara Region. “I have learned that the best partnerships are built on strong relationships that represent mutual respect and trust,” Huber explains. “This vision for collaboration continues to drive me.” She calls UB’s Tanzania course—which also evolved out of BTEP, becoming an official study abroad offering in 2014—a “shining example of all that is possible.”
Indeed it is. Matt Falcone, a senior double majoring in environmental and civil engineering, took the trip in 2015. He is now working on a parabolic solar trough that will provide clean water to people in developing countries, and could also find use in the U.S. in places like Flint, Mich., where clean-water issues continue to make headlines. His passion for this issue crystallized after he witnessed the need for clean water in Tanzania.
Tyler Choi (BA ’17), also touched by the people and places he encountered during his 2014 and 2015 visits, created Hugs for Tanzania, a crowdfunding initiative that raised money for school supplies for children at Kotwo Primary School. Choi also co-founded the UB Rotaract Club with Falcone to “empower local and global communities toward sustainable improvements in health, education and infrastructure across social and national boundaries.” Their mission, which happens to coincide with many of the ideas advanced by Huber and her partners, demonstrates just how strong the effects of experiential learning can be.
Huber has been making the 20-hour journey to Tanzania nearly every year since 2009. She and her colleagues started bringing students in 2011 because they felt that direct interaction with people, places and ideas would provide a powerful avenue for growth. Huber also wanted students to break free from the notion that aid consists solely of donating money.
This summer’s course, titled Community Development in Context: Social Innovation in the Mara Region of Tanzania, explored ideas and strategies for enabling social change through the medium of marketing. To prepare for the trip, students read up on the government, resources and culture of Tanzania while also getting an education in basic marketing from Debbie Grossman of the UB School of Management, who accompanied the students on the trip.
Huber, Grossman and Dan Nyaronga, an associate professor of psychology from Empire State College (who is originally from the Mara Region and has traveled with Huber numerous times), advised students to be active listeners. So often, First Worlders swoop into developing countries and tell the inhabitants how to improve their lives based on how problems are solved back home—an approach that rarely works. But by listening to local voices, they explained, a visitor can understand different cultures’ needs and goals, collaborate more effectively and contribute to a sense of equality among partners.
Upon arrival in Tanzania, the faculty advisers guided the students through meetings with local villagers, community leaders and educators. Huber’s friends from the Immaculate Heart Sisters of Africa took the students to visit some of the projects run by the Sisters, including Baraki Sisters Farm, a health center, a primary school and the just-opened Kitenga School for Girls. But it wasn’t all business. They went on safari in Serengeti National Park and on their last day relaxed at a beach in Dar es Salaam.
Once they returned to the U.S., however, it was back to work to complete their final projects and transform their learning experiences into social innovation. At press time, among other projects, there were proposals to modernize a dairy farm and to improve Wi-Fi access in rural villages. Another project is already connecting partners in Mara with a U.S.-based foundation that teaches young Tanzanian women to sew reusable sanitary pads (an initiative that builds income for the women while helping to keep girls in school during menstruation). But whether a project comes to fruition or ends up being an exercise in formulating ideas, this is the aspect of experiential learning that can change educational and career paths.
The accompanying slideshow (above) offers highlights from the Tanzania trip, from interactions between UB students and Tanzanian schoolchildren, to the students and their partners tackling the issues faced by women and families in the Mara Region, to the stunning flora and fauna of the Serengeti.
This is one of the greatest documents of my Tanzanian journey. It's like a keepsake and I will treasure it's presence. I will use it often because it simplifies my telling and sharing of something that is truly difficult to put into a few words. I can actually say it was life changing. This story captures why.