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Tanzanian Culture

10 Apr

By Fratern Tarimo, TFFT’s Managing Director

Today I will try (in every sense of the word TRY) to talk about the Tanzanian culture in relation to TFFT’s work. Last year I had the opportunity to attend the East African Philanthropy Conference organized by the Association of East African Grantmakers, and it was interesting to hear how different participants portrayed the culture of Tanzania (and East Africa in general) as the culture of giving.

Tanzanians are known for being happy and kind people, regardless of the daily issues that we have to deal with. We always try to live together as a community that cares for one another. Tanzania has over 120 ethnic groups with different sub-cultures, yet people tend to live harmoniously, regardless of their cultural backgrounds, because there is a very high tolerance and respect for individual cultures.

This is because we have a unifying culture that binds us all together thus forming the Tanzanian culture.  We are culturally unified by speaking Kiswahili, eating some of the same meals—chapatti (naan bread), rice dishes, ugali (corn meal)—and by embracing the notion that “It takes a village to raise a child.” It is part of our culture to pay for a neighbor’s child school fees, and we constantly make contributions for funerals, weddings, for the sick, and, yes, for education.

People are also very willing to give their time and energy to support different initiatives in their community. There are a good number of families that provide foster care, free of charge, to those children who do not have a place to live or do not have parents/guardians. This kind of practice is entrenched into the culture – it is simply a way of living.

One could easily ask the question, if we all care for one another and support each other, why do we need organizations like TFFT? Why can’t the community take care of needy kids like TFFT scholars and others? To answer this question we must look deeper into what kind of challenges we have in the community and why a helping hand like TFFT is necessary. So far we have seen that it is part of the Tanzania culture to work hard to support kids and those who are in need; however, the resources needed for real support are too enormous for the communities to bear. When a person gets sick, the community takes the responsibility of taking them to a local clinic regardless of the distance or the means of transportation. The challenge comes when they arrive at the rural clinic, and they are faced with a medical person with limited knowledge and limited medical supplies to properly diagnose and treat that person.

Likewise, when a child is old enough to attend school, the community is willing to take them to school because the community cares and thinks positively about education. The issue is that when this particular child gets to school s/he immediately start thinking about the distance they have walked (may be 3 miles) and after staying in school for more than 6 hours with no lunch, poorly trained teachers, no teaching materials, no safe water to drink, and sometimes no proper bathrooms, you can only imagine what that child will do the next day or the following week – may be a no show. Even if this child chooses to stay and struggle to finish a certain level of education, lets say primary school, the probability of him or her to continue with further education is very slim due to poor quality of education received in the first place.

This is why TFFT, the government, and the like, have to intervene. We can all join hands and become part of the community that works together (become part of TZ culture) to ensure that the quality of life, especially in the learning environment, is improved. TFFT highly considers the cultures of the individual ethnic groups as well as that of the larger community in implementing its programs. Each child is dealt with individually and according to their background. In other words, we at TFFT embrace differences while celebrating similarities.

Thank you for being part of the great organization that uniquely supports the children of Tanzania. And thank you for reading my-attempt-to-make-sense-of-Tanzania-culture-blog. If you really want to learn about the Tanzanian utamaduni, or any other utamaduni for that matter, I personally believe that the best way is to see, hear, smell, and live it. So karibuni sana (you are all welcome) to Tanzania.

Thanks, Fratern! Go ahead and leave your thoughts and comments, and Fratern will get back to you there. Hope your week is off to a good start. We’ll be back to introduce the next rider, Eugene, on the blog on Thursday!


Strategic Planning Part 4—Implementation Plan

19 Mar

By: Meghann Gunderman, TFFT’s Founder and Executive Director

Since the stakeholders workshops, the TFFT Team has been working tirelessly to finalize our implementation plan. It is one thing to come up with a strategy. It is a whole different animal to implement it.

Right now we are in the throes of compiling TFFT’s Action Matrix. To say this is intricate and detail-oriented would be an understatement! Imagine if our vision–our ideal world–were an amazing feast. Well. Then creating an action matrix is like picking apart that feast to consider exactly which dishes to serve, the ingredients needed to make each dish, and also where each of those ingredients come from—right down to planting each and every grain of rice. That gives you some idea of the amount of detail this matrix holds.

I’m not going to lie, it makes my head hurt to think about sometimes, but spending these past few months focusing on a strategic plan has been exhilarating. It is one thing to dream as an individual, it is another to see that your ideal world is a dream shared by many.  This process has brought clarity, a sense of achievement, a greater understanding of our strengths and challenges, and a path to move forward. It is clearer than ever that we have the ability to affect change, and there are a lot of players in our region willing and able to help us achieve our dreams for orphan and vulnerable children as well as provide QUALITY education for children throughout Tanzania.

Whew! The past four posts have been filled with questions, information, and ideas. What are your thoughts and questions regarding this whole process?

Strategic Planning Part 3 – Our Vision

16 Mar

By Meghann Gunderman, TFFT’s Founder and Executive Director

What is your ideal world?

That is a BIG question. Even if you stop to think about it, it’s hard to put into words, but this is what our facilitators challenged us to articulate during our three-day stakeholder workshop. Representatives from our partner schools, TFFT scholars, heads of our partner orphanages, the TFFT Team, private sector donors, civil society organizations, and other interested parties were all present. Everyone had to sit and think/meditate about what their ideal world would look like.

We then got together in small groups to physically draw what we thought this world looked like. We were all working within the education and orphan/vulnerable children sphere, so in a sense there was a lot of overlap with regards to THAT ideal world–free from stigma, equal opportunity, families, social services, governments, NGOs all working in collaboration, education for all. These were all themes that ran deep.

To give you an idea, the illustrations looked something like this:

When each group presented their ideal world, we finally saw that the facilitators were, in fact, trying to get us to articulate our vision for TFFT. It was idealistic and lofty, yes, but that was the purpose. This collective vision took us all to a place where we hope to one day be:

“A world where orphans and vulnerable children are free of exclusion, disadvantage, and vulnerability and contribute as empowered and active citizens of a just society”

Melissa brainstorms

TFFT scholar, Irene, shares her views with our stakeholders

Daniel takes the stage

This stakeholder workshop was the second step towards developing our strategic plan, and we spent three jam-packed days sharing opinions, discussing our work, and debating how we can advance our impact over the next three years. We even invited the media and received coverage from the national station TGA.

The sessions took us down many interesting paths, which included tons of diversions, philosophical discussions, what if-s, and how to-s. With all this, though, we were able to truly hunker down and devise a plan for progress—a way to move forward—to make our mission more succinct and strategic, setting us apart from other non-profits working in our arena.

A main conclusion from the initial phases of our strategic planning was that, in order for the TFFT scholars to reach their full potential, we need to focus on securing quality education AND the appropriate psychosocial guidance/support. That will be the priority with everything we do moving forward. They will go hand in hand.

What does your ideal world look like?

Strategic Planning Part 2—Getting Technical

15 Mar

By Meghann Gunderman, TFFT’s Founder and Executive Director

Stop and think for a minute and think: who would you identify as an orphan or a vulnerable child?

During our strategic planning sessions, defining OVC (Orphan and Vulnerable Children) was one of the first tasks we tackled as a group, and the debate was quite controversial.

Many governments and NGOs refer to an orphan as a child who has lost one parent. But what about a situation in which a child only has one parent, but that parent has the means to support the child’s physical, emotional, and educational needs? Would you consider that child an orphan? Is that child more deserving of support than, say, a child with two living parents who are unable to provide for the child? What if the child is threatened in a dangerous home environment? What if a child has one parent who can provide love but has no means to provide basic food, education, or medical care?

In order for TFFT to create a concrete action plan, it was necessary to define OVC in our own terms. There are so many factors that affect children in Tanzania, and our definition needed to account for this complexity. We have come up with the following:

OVC defined:

Orphans may not be vulnerable. Vulnerable children may not be orphans.

The definition:

  • Neglected/Abandoned and vulnerable to abuse
  • Has lost both parents and has no support
  • Has one parent who cannot provide for the basic needs
  • Has both parents who are too poor to support their needs
  • Mentally handicapped children
  • Children of mentally challenged parents

What do you think? Would you personally add or subtract from this definition?

Photography By Anne Rhett

Strategic Planning Part 1—Introduction

14 Mar

By Meghann Gunderman, TFFT’s Founder and Executive Director

Hello! It feels good to be back in the United States after a whirlwind six weeks working with our team in Tanzania. My time on the ground both recharges and drains me. It recharges me because within seconds of being with the kids I am reminded why we do what we do. Nonprofit work is no walk in the park. There are many bumps in the road. But, man, being with the kids reminds me what it’s all about.

With Bryson at Matonyok Parents Trust, a TFFT partner orphanage

Me and the girls..and yes Amineli

Happy and Rachel in the library during free reading time

Nkoaranga Orphanage

It’s draining, too, though because my time is limited, my to-do list is extensive, and life moves at a different pace in Tanzania. After six weeks, the go-go-go schedule and the time I get to spend with the kids leave me feeling accomplished, inspired…and quite exhausted.

As you know, one of the focuses of this trip was to meet with a team of strategic planning consultants. Strategic planning is really a fancy name for buckling down and closely analyzing where we are, where we want to be, and what steps are necessary to get us there.

The process was comprehensive, eye-opening, and very worthwhile. It started with compiling data months before I even arrived in Tanzania, then we had two weeks of intensive sessions with the consultants and all of our stakeholders (everyone involved with TFFT… our team, scholarship students, teachers, administrators, partners, leaders of local NGOs, etc), virtual meetings the TFFT’s Board of Directors, and follow-up meetings with the team. Even now we are still working on devising our strategy for implementation.

The following pictures give a little glimpse into what this looked like:

Fratern addresses the group

Workshop with the stakeholders

Group activity

Over the next few days I will post about specific parts from the process that I found particularly interesting. Please feel free to chime in with your thoughts and opinions in the comments!

Tuko pamoja (we are united)

21 Feb

By: Meghann Gunderman, Founder and Executive Director

I have been back in Tanzania now for almost a month, and once again I am inspired and excited. Not only have we celebrated our scholars academic success, I have seen firsthand the physical and intellectual growth in all of our children. It is crazy how much growth happens in 4 months (the time between my visits).

I spend most of my days with the team in the office for the first half of the day and then visiting our partner schools or one of our partner orphanages in the afternoon. Interacting with and listening to our children gives me hope and brings me joy.

I have started to read more blogs recently, and one that stands out challenges us to “Choose Joy.”  I love that mentality. In life, whether here in Tanzania or in the West, there challenges, obstacles, and hurdles can get in the way, but you can turn your day around by “Choosing Joy.” I look to my kids for joy, and in turn I see the value in our work. I have yet to be disappointed:

I have found myself more than once sitting on the steps of the girls’ dorm talking about the future with our girls as they wonder, how do we move forward as young women? How do we impact our communities?


Our number one student Richard, told us that even in his new, more academically challenging school, he will strive to be number one.

Salvatory Seth (left) and Richard Augustino (right)

Irene Peter found out that George Mavroudis, one of TFFT’s supporters, will take her up in an airplane in a few weeks so that she can start to realize her dream to become a pilot.

Irene Peter, future pilot

Much of my time here this month is also focused on our 3 year strategic plan. We are working with In-Depth Consulting, our stakeholders here on the ground, and our Board of Directors to define our collective vision and to develop a strategy to achieve that vision, identify our threats, implement our mission, and drive results. As I examine our work over the past 5 years, I can’t help but be proud. We have empowered hundreds of children to believe what once seemed impossible. We’ve brought NGOs, the government, and the community together to challenge status quo and look for a plan to not only advocate on behalf of orphans and vulnerable children but to take steps to make real changes.

strategic planning session

A friend here challenged me last week to focus on actions that are transformational. Be confident that we have the power to change policy and improve the QUALITY of education on the district, regional and national level. Moving forward, I hope this will be a theme with my blog posts, I want to be held accountable.

I want you to ask us what we have done this month that is transformational? Keep asking us, “what are your plans?” “How do you plan to do X,Y & Z?”

In return I will share with you guys our steps towards transformation. It is not only affecting change amongst our scholars, we have now taken on the stance to make this difference at the community level throughout Tanzania. The challenge is large, but what challenge isn’t?

While our strategy is not complete and will continue to evolve, I am enthused by the conversation and engagement we have seen this week in our workshops with other civil service organizations, interested individuals, partner orphanages, partner schools, our students, private sector partners and other educational institutions working here in the Arusha area. Tuko pamoja (we are united).

To be continued on Thursday. Happy Tuesday!

See more pictures from Meghann’s trip here and read about the half marathon she and some of our students are training for here.

TFFT needs your help this February

1 Feb

Hello and Welcome to February!

February is (usually) a very cold, wintry month, and, to be honest, it’s also a tricky fundraising month for TFFT. It’s short, the holiday giving surge has come to a close, and we don’t want to ask the majority of you who recently attended a TFFT event, paid your Scholarship Dues, or made a holiday donation, “hey, will you open your wallet? Again?”.  To you we just want to say shout, “THANK YOU!!” over… and over… and over again. Our reality, however, is that we do still have to meet our monthly fundraising minimum in order for TFFT to move forward.

What’s wonderful is that Valentine’s Day transforms February into a month filled with paper hearts, candy, and L-O-V-E. That’s why this February we are asking you to join our first annual Spread The Love Valentine’s Challenge. We’re asking that you roll up your sleeves and get your family more involved with TFFT by participating in this engaging and unique challenge over the next two weeks.

We created this challenge with a few goals in mind:

– To offer a way for you to directly connect with our students
– To find something fun for you to do as a family
– To spread awareness and to raise some funds during this short month

We hope you’ll join us in one or both of the following ways!


Make Valentines for our kids!

  • Email, and we will match your family with one (or many!) of the kids
  • Spend time with your family creating Valentines
  • Take a picture of the process and post it on our Facebook wall, tweet it, or email it to us so we know you’re participating
  • Send the Valentine to: P.O. Box 470836, Charlotte, NC 28247
  • We’ll send the love overseas to our students!
  • We’ll showcase the Valentines here, and the most creative Valentine will receive a $100 gift certificate to P.F. Changs for a night of family fun!

This is such a great opportunity for you to (literally) shower our kids with love, and we really cannot wait to see what you create!!


Help spread the word about TFFT and help support TFFT by requesting small donations from your friends!

  • Set a goal of recruiting 10, 20, 50, 100 people you know to make a small donation to TFFT
  • Be creative about the amount you request–“kiss your latte goodbye,” for example
  • Set up your very own fundraising page on CROWDRISE
  • Share your Valentine Challenge with your social network
  • The person or family who recruits the most people to donate wins a $100 gift card to The Palm!

The main goal here is to harness the power in numbers and to make a BIG impact with many $1 $5, $10, $20.. donations!

Thank you all for reading this blog, being our cheerleaders, and going out and spreading TFFT’s story with the world!

Leave a comment or email with any thoughts/questions.

We must also give a big THANK YOU to Peggy Tuttle of Tuttle Design Studios who spent hours creating the custom illustrations you see above. Thank you, Peggy, for bringing our vision to life with your playful drawings!