“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” ― Ghandi

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Three Years and Nine Trips Later.....

Greetings readers!

Kathy here, not Rebecca. It has been a long time since my last entry, almost three years actually. In that time I have traveled back and forth between my home in the US and Arusha, Tanzania nine times, spending about three months in each location before taking off again. To say that Tanzania has become my home away from home is very true, and in the very near future I will be residing in Arusha full time. But more on that later.

The last three years have been a series of trials and tribulations, with many hard lessons learned, my faith in humanity tested, and my perseverance challenged. I have leaned much about myself, and in the process discovered that I am stronger and more resilient than I ever gave myself credit for.

I have also learned that I can do without a lot of "stuff", that I appreciate a slower and more relaxed way of life, that too much emphasis in many cultures is placed on the acquisition of "things" while we miss out on the simplest forms of happiness and pleasure, and that "pole pole" (slowly slowly, in Swahili) takes on new meaning when living in Tanzania. I have learned that too often we take for granted much of what we have in our daily lives, things that people living outside of America (or any of the more developed countries in the world) simply do not have: like running water that flows out of a tap when you turn it, or reliable electricity and internet and phone service, decent medical care, reliable transportation, and even government assistance for those that need it most. And even though I can do without a lot of stuff, I still possess more "things" than most people here in Tanzania will ever own.

But what has been happening in the past three years that raised my awareness? Well, I attempted to start a safari tour business with someone I thought I could trust, a Tanzanian. I had the idea that after I graduated with my Bachelor in Social Work degree in May 2013 that I would come to Tanzania and put my social work background to use. But knowing that it would be hard, if not impossible, to find a paying job in the field of social work, in a country where I do not speak the common language, I decided to try running a business that would generate an income for me that would allow me to do my "heart work". The plan was solid - tourism in Tanzania is a driving force in the local economy, and who does not want to visit the Serengeti or climb Mount Kilimanjaro? There are about 300 registered tour companies, with possibly another 500-700 operating "illegally" (without business registrations and licenses, etc). 

Sadly, my choice of a business partner was a very bad one, one that cost me lots of money that was loaned to me, and also lost me a good friend (my US investor). My best friend. We established the business, bought a safari-equipped Land Cruiser with money loaned to me, and built a fabulous website. But one thing I learned, too late -- unless you live full time in Tanzania, it is very hard to run a business with a Tanzanian partner, because the poverty is too great, and the temptation to pocket cash, even from your own business, is too strong for some people to resist. And so my business partner conducted safaris when I was in the US and never reported the income. And when I found out, I told him I wanted out of the business, and then my problems really began in full.

The years 2013 and 2014 were the most challenging years of my life in a very long time. I desperately wanted to be in Tanzania doing the heart-work I feel called to to do here, but I spent most of that time starting the business, jumping through all the hundreds of legal hoops required to run a business here, learning of my business partner's shady dealings (summer of 2014), and now trying to extricate myself out of the business. In a country where corruption infiltrates every aspect of life, many people will do just about anything for a small amount of cash. I learned the hard way (isn't that how most life lessons are learned?) who my TRUE friends are, and who were just using me for the opportunities they thought I could provide them.

But patience and perseverance have paid off. And while I am still mired in the business, it seems likely it will be over soon, and I can find something else to do with a safari-equipped Toyota Land Cruiser. In the meantime, I have met dozens of like-minded people here in Arusha, foreign and locals alike, who all want to help the gracious people of Tanzania move out of the cycle of poverty - without creating a society where people live off of handouts. Our shared vision is one of creating sustainable programs that will assist people to change their own lives, whether through education, or vocational training, or just becoming aware of the possibilities that exist outside of one's own secluded village. 

And so here the story begins. After two years of waiting, struggling, head banging (yes, I get frustrated often!), and occasional doubt, a new adventure awaits me. One of those people I met along the way is a young woman from North Carolina, named Katherine Kelly. She spent the last two years building a pre-school in a village called Mateves, located outside of Arusha. She has graciously invited me to join her team as the Community Outreach Social Worker, and in January 2016, we will open our doors to the first students. In the meantime there is much work to do in the village, getting to know the local residents, determining their needs and how best we can assist them. Then we will start enrolling the 3-7 year olds in classes. In the afternoons, adults will come to our center to learn a trade, study English, learn how to start and run a small business, learn how to farm more efficiently, and any other subject they want to focus on. 

That's what is coming.....so stay tuned for regular updates, and a little more about what the last three years have taught me about living in a culture far different from that which I know. I hope to keep up this blog on a regular basis. For it is as true then as it is now...... Little By Little, A Little Becomes  A Lot.

You can also follow our project at African Community Empowerment Company Tanzania (there is a blog here too) and on our Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/acectz?pnref=lhc

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