BUFFALO, N.Y. -- The driving forces of the university's Buffalo
Tanzanian Education Project are on the move again as they return to
a remote African village this weekend for a 12-day trip where they
will continue their partnership with the Immaculate Heart Sisters
of Africa working to give teenage girls alternatives from
traditional cultural practices of early marriage.
The to-do list for this latest trip includes delivering 12 solar
cookers to women in the Kitenga village, women who customarily
spend several days a week gathering firewood to cook a meal for
their families, a routine that leaves them vulnerable to violence
and rape, as well as burns from cooking over an open fire.
"These solar cookers -- provided by Solar Liberty Foundation, a
local solar energy foundation -- will allow women to spend more
time in their villages," says Katie J. Biggie, program manager for
UB's Center for Educational Collaboration's Civic Pathways, which
has spearheaded a community-wide campaign to address the dramatic
needs of girls whose harsh reality includes such substandard health
practices as often-lethal female circumcision, forced marriages for
girls as young as age 10 and one of the world's highest rates of
"Having the cookers may also allow the women more time to
possibly explore other options such as basket weaving or beadwork
to sell at the local market and earn much-needed income," says
Biggie, who returns for the fourth time to a region of Africa as
beautiful and scenic as any movie set, but one mired in poverty and
problems of a developing nation, will be one of seven people taking
the trans-continental flight to Dar es Salaam. They then will fly
to a small airport in the interior of Tanzania to Musoma, and visit
the small rural village of Kitenga near Lake Victoria. Besides
Biggie, the contingent includes Suzanne Tomkins, UB Law School;
Gudiya Musu-Purks, UB staff; Ashley Crane, UB law student; Erin
Hart, UB law student; Christine Biggie, community member; and John
Study, community member.
Delivering the solar cookers is only one objective of their
"It's also our latest step in involving and engaging local
community members and university students, faculty and staff in the
project," says Biggie. "Members have different interests –
some are interested in domestic violence and law, and others in
maternal health care. We are going to learn about the challenges in
those areas but also about the opportunities and assets available
like non-governmental organizations."
The Buffalo Tanzania Education Project aims to work within the
culture in the region – including the nuns of the Immaculate
Heart Sisters of Africa and the tribal elders who preside over the
villages, Biggie says, continuing the "partnership" model UB's
Center for Educational Collaboration prides itself on.
"This isn't UB going to Tanzania and telling them what they need
and how they need to get there," says Biggie. "This is UB listening
to another government and culture to understand their goals and
initiatives, and then using UB's vast sources of partnerships and
community to add value in ways that are meaningful for all those
"In July 2009 during one of our previous visits, the leaders of
the village of Kitenga said to us, 'Why can't you educate one girl
now?' 'Can you take one girl from our village and educate her now?'
They believe in the value of education and they want education for
their children. And that is why this project will have lasting
The Tanzania project is a partnership based on a foundation of
trust, respect and understanding, according to Biggie, who has met
face-to-face with young girls who are less likely to receive the
benefits of education as their brothers. "And it is that foundation
that will serve to have a tremendous impact on all those involved,"
The grass roots project with global aspirations, which has
spread throughout Western New York, began with a serendipitous
encounter among Mara B. Huber, UB's special assistant to the
president for educational initiatives, with Tanzanian nuns visiting
her mother-in-law's Amherst home during a recent Christmas.
Biggie will be featured in an interview to air between 6 and 9
a.m. Monday on WBFO-FM on the group's latest mission. The blog site
for the project is www.tanzaniacommunitytrips.wordpress.com. They
will leave Sunday, Jan. 2.
The project has touched a chord among many in the community who
recognize the urgent plight of the girls in the Kitenga region
where education and basic health services often will determine very
distinct directions for their lives. A December fundraiser raised
over $4,000 for building a pre-primary school, over $500 for the
solar cookers and over $200 for a village well project.
"More than 100 people attended that on a snowy night, which I
think is a testament to how much this project resonates with
people," says Biggie. "And we had a wonderful performance by the
Miraculous Rhythms of Sankofa who donated their time for the
Biggie is just one who has been profoundly moved from the global
discrepancies and the ability to change the lives of these girls
with what seems like minimal intervention.
"The first trip was a study trip to learn about the challenges
and opportunities," says Biggie. "I was curious, but intent on
doing something to help. After our time there and speaking with the
girls and the sisters, I just became determined to help in any way
I could. I believe that we, as people, have to help those around
us, whether it's in our local community, nationally or even on an
"I don't think I'm different from the first time I was there. I
think I'm more determined."
Biggie says she knows the project has resonated with many people
who have found themselves compelled to devote their talents and
energy to this mission.
"For me, being able to work with organizations to provide girls
-- and eventually over 1,500 girls -- with the opportunity for an
education and an independent future struck my core," she says. "I
have always had the opportunity for an education simply because of
where and when I was born. I'm working on a PhD currently, and feel
strongly that every girl around the world should also have that
opportunity. This project allows me to connect with several facets
that touch my heart, women, their struggles and triumphs, and
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