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TANZANIA: Bringing Hope To Tanzanian Village

Mara Huber spent some time during Christmas in 2006 chatting with the Immaculate Heart Sisters of Africa while they were visiting her mother-in-law.

   Huber, director of UB's Center for Educational Research, learned a lot during this conservation. She learned of the desperate plight of women and young girls in Africa, specifically in Tanzania, who are denied education and subjected to violence on an almost daily basis.

   In Tanzania, violence against women and girls, including domestic violence, rape, sexual harassment, female genital mutilation and sex trafficking, is a considerable problem. Females are harshly limited in what they can do day-to-day.

   School and social life ultimately do not exist for females in Tanzania. Rather than a school, girls are taught in a log in the middle of a field.

   Upon learning of the conditions that they were living in, Huber knew that she had to take action.

"I shared their vision for starting a school for the girls," she said. "I became very engaged and interested so I began informal meetings with community members."

   Huber decided to help by building a school for Tanzanian girls, many of which are desperate to learn. She began to gather a group of colleagues to brainstorm ways to bring education to the girls in the small village of Musoma, located in the Mara region of Tanzania.

   "People here take their right to education for granted," said Katie Biggie, educational outreach coordinator for the Center for Educational Collaboration, and one of the coordinators of the project. "What people don't realize is there is no right to education in Tanzania, and we want to help change that."

   Eventually, Huber gained support for the project from UB President John B. Simpson and began contacting other faculty and staff.

   "It gained a following around the community very quickly," Huber said. "The project resonates with different people for different reasons and it has a lot of support."

   So far, a preliminary meeting has been set up for late July in Tanzania. A group of community members from UB and the Buffalo community will travel to the coastal African nation to meet with the local government to see what kinds of materials, money, and workforce they would have on hand in the small village.

   In addition to Huber and Biggie, the group includes Mary Gresham, dean of the Graduate School of Education; Brian Carter, dean of the School of Architecture and Planning; Catherine Dulmus, director of the Buffalo Center for Social Research; Hodan Isse, assistant professor in the School of Management; and Brenda McDuffie, president and CEO of the Buffalo Urban League.

   The group will travel through Tanzania for nine days, beginning in its largest city and former capital, Dar es Salaam. In order to get to Musoma, the group must then travel three hours by commuter plane to a rural airport and another three hours by truck across the Serengeti. When they finally arrive, they will work with locals to begin planning a school to help educate about 1,500 girls per year.

   Tanzania is a developing country with an economy based largely on agriculture, according to Huber. The culture is still heavily based on tribal customs and many still partake practices such as female circumcision and forced marriage for girls as young as 10 years old. Tanzania also suffers from a very high rate of HIV and AIDS.

   The group from UB is on a mission to bring some happiness into the lives of these girls who have to deal with strife and fear everyday. They created a partnership with Buffalo Public Schools to create a school with a strong foundation of respect, understanding and research through mobilizing available Tanzanian resources.

   According to Huber, there is an urgency to get an actual physical structure built but the group is taking it one step at a time.

   "The meeting in July is just preliminary," Carter said. "It's exciting not knowing what we're doing quite yet. We're going to go and observe the area and see what kind of local materials and resources we have to work with. We're going to relate the design to local materials."

   Huber and her crew will work with the Immaculate Heart Sisters of Africa (IHSA) to create this school. The IHSA was founded in 1950 and includes over 140 Catholic nuns, all of whom will be involved directly in the school and with the girls on a daily basis. The Sisters have already received a 1,000-acre land grant from the Tanzanian government to build the school.

   The best part of the project is that it not only positively affects the community in Tanzania, but the Buffalo community as well, Biggie said.

   "So far three local schools have been fundraising and working on writing letters to the girls," she said. "The kids can reflect on what education really means, and they can use this service model to change things in their own community."

   The group hopes to build at least two functioning classrooms for the girls by the summer of 2010.

SOURCE: The Spectrum

AUTHOR: Caitlin Tremblay

USB: Click here

DATE: 30/06/2009

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