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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!


Busy Wednesday + a Video

28 Mar

Hello! Today is a busy day for us in Charlotte. We have a meeting at 9am with two very talented individuals (with enormous hearts) who are going to make big things happen for TFFT. One is in New Zealand. One is in Texas. We’re meeting on Google+ to begin a collaboration that has us bursting with excitement. We cannot wait to share the details with you as soon as we’re able!

We are also looking forward to the women’s luncheon we are hosting at The Foundation For The Carolinas this afternoon. We plan to show this video clip, and we thought we should share it with you here as well!


Then we’ll end the day at Navigating the Future, Wake Forest University’s Symposium for Nonprofit Organizations. Should be a very interesting day… we’ll be sure to report back. We hope your Wednesday is filled with inspiration!

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!

The Bianucci Family

28 Feb

To many people, Tanzania may feel out of reach. It is, after all, more than a hop, skip, and jump away. In a life so busy that scheduling a trip to the grocery store is a challenge, tossing in a trip to a developing country may (understandably!) seem unthinkable. However, today I would like to introduce you to Henri and Susan Bianucci and their girls, Miller and Macon. Over the past six years, Henri and Susan have prioritized coupling travel and service as a way to shape Miller and Macon’s worldviews, minds, and characters.

The Bianucci family first traveled to East Africa to go on safari, and during their stay they fell in love with the culture, land, animals, and people of Tanzania. They returned home with a strong desire to return to volunteer. When they did, they quickly grew attached to the children at Nkoaranga Orphanage (one of TFFT’s Partner Orphanages), and they felt helpless as they witnessed the children’s many needs.

As first year student at Saint Andrew’s University, Miller reflects:

I can never begin to explain the overwhelming chaos that greeted us the first day when we walked through the orphanage gate. Screaming and crying children climbing up our legs, smiling ‘mamas’ who immediately handed us beautiful  babies—we were blown away by the life that was spilling over into every corner of this orphanage.

Miller at Nkoaranga Orphanage, summer 2011

Macon, now a junior in high school, recalls, “I knew I wanted to help these children, but did not know where to begin. I struggled with singling out one certain area of their lives to which I could dedicate my efforts.” She adds:

By chance, one day when we were driving down the orphanage hill, our driver picked up two young American men. We started a conversation with them and found out they were working for a woman from the United States who had started a foundation helping Tanzanian children. My mom got their card and stuck it in her back pocket, and we didn’t think about it again for the next couple of months. Some point when we got home my mom came across that card, and curious, decided to give the person a call. This phone call led us to Meghann Gunderman, a wonderful friendship, and most importantly a safe way to offer help and education to the orphans.

Macon helping with the babies, summer 2011

Susan says:

Meghann has served as an example by making a promise and keeping it and by helping others. TFFT is on ground in country and sees the kids every day. They are there after school every day loving and protecting these vulnerable children who have no one else. That is what I like most about TFFT, their commitment on the ground and their everyday presence, and that when you donate to TFFT, you know exactly where your money is going.

Susan at USA River Academy, where TFFT's Scholarship Students gave the riders a joyful sendoff, RIDETZ 2010

Susan at Nkoaranga Orphanage, summer 2011

People often wonder why Susan and Henri make the journey year after year instead of just writing a check. To which Susan responds, “I don’t just do this for orphaned and abandoned children. I do this for my children as well. They are different children for having been there.” Henri adds, “Whatever we have given to these efforts, we have received tenfold in the positive way these experiences have shaped our girls minds and characters.”

Henri elaborates by explaining that:

The experiences the girls have had in Tanzania, with the orphanage and with TFFT, have provided them a unique educational and growing experience. It has opened their eyes to the privilege with which they have been blessed and their power to make a meaningful and lasting difference for those less fortunate.  In a narcissistic world dominated by things like Facebook and the Kardashians, these experiences have opened their eyes to the truly rewarding nature of service to others.

Henri playing with TFFT Scholarship Students before RIDETZ 2010

Macon proves Henri’s point:

After learning about TFFT I immediately knew where my responsibility towards these children lay. TFFT taught me that the most sustainable way I could help them was by seeing that they received the best education possible. In the future, I hope to continue my support of TFFT, as my passion and love for these children remains the most important thing in my life. The children of Nkoaranga orphanage changed my life, so I hope to help TFFT change theirs.

Thank you Susan, Henri, Miller, and Macon for the inspiring way you have chosen to make a difference! TFFT is so lucky to have you as part of our team.

Are you and your family looking for ways to personally connect with a cause? TFFT would love for you to join our team, and you don’t have to board a plane to Tanzania to do so! Just leave a comment or email us or join our mailing list to get started!

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.

Back to School!

11 Jan

Written By: Fratern Tarimo, Managing Director

I can’t believe how time speeds by… Seems like yesterday when we took kids back home after the end of the third term at Usa River Academy (URA) and second term at Star High School (SHS) and here I am already blogging about taking them back to school to start a new term. On Saturday we took 8 of our students who were accepted to start Form One at SHS. Their faces mirror the excitement as well as the uncertainty that usually come with starting a new chapter in one’s life. These eight kids are starting secondary level in a new school—new environment, new teachers, new classmates.

This term we were fortunate to have Board Member Denise McFadden from the US join us and help throughout the process. The TFFT team was very happy to have extra helping hand at one of our busiest activities of the year. The appreciation did not just end with the staff but extends to the kids themselves. Kids who were picked up by Denise couldn’t stop calling attention to the fact that they came with “Mama Denise”!

The following day, January 8th, was URA students’ turn to be picked up and ferried back to school. Checking kids in at URA has never been easy but this time we were surprised at how organized the school was. Tables were arranged all around the main campus with teachers at each table to do registration. Students were greeted cheerfully by the teachers and welcomed back while the process of checking items continued. One could easily tell that this time around a new management was in place.

This year we are also excited to welcome seven new kids in our scholarship program. Of the seven kids, three from Nkoaranga Orphanage have already arrived at school ready to start classes while arrangements are being made for the other 4 students to start school soon. With these additional students, TFFT now supports over 80 kids in our scholarship program.

Many thanks to the TFFT team, including Denise McFadden for helping out with the process. Special thanks to Joshua Nassari, TFFT Scholarship Program Director, who spent his birthday ferrying kids to school. We are also very grateful for the parents, guardians, and foster families for helping with preparing the kids for school. Last but not least, we are very thankful to our sponsors for making it possible for these kids to get a quality education.