01 June 2015

what to expect when you're expecting.

Living in Tanzania for one and a half years has taught me to expect the unexpected, or better yet, to do away with expectations all together. We are taught that "expectation is the mother of all disappointment" and that is just as true in Tanzania as it is in the United States.

I just finished up three consecutive weeks of business skills training, teaching a group of 50 young Tanzanian mothers who dropped out of secondary school due to pregnancy the basics of entrepreneurship and the process of starting and running their own small group enterprises. (A general apology to all of them for putting up with my Kiswahili every single day.)

Peer facilitator (greenish-blue), Zabibu, fields a question from one of the young mothers.

Going into the training, I was filled with expectations about their level of motivation and ability to grasp the material, bond with their peers, and hit the ground running with their future businesses. As life goes, some of that played out to my expectations, some of that did not.

I really expected that, having taught business skills to Tanzanians for the past year, my local language skills and methodology would be perfected by now. However, it seems that no matter how much I work to simplify the material so that it is easily understood by my audience, these young mothers still struggle to do what I deem to be the most basic of exercises or to understand the simplest of concepts. This is certainly not a reflection of their innate ability, but rather exemplary of just how limited their education is, and how poor of an education they have received.

Ashley and I have written now and then on this blog about various experiences in Tanzania that really put things into perspective for us. These latest business seminars did just that for me. No doubt countless students go to school in the United States (and the world over) begrudgingly, complaining about the monotony of the routine and extent of the homework, but when I am teaching these young mothers it really puts into perspective the value of a good education. There is no substitute for being taught how to think critically, use your imagination and pursue your dreams. I find the young people of Tanzania starved of that kind of education, and these past three weeks it really broke my heart and, quite frankly, made me angry.

I was angry, not at the Tanzanians or even the Tanzanian government and its crummy education system, but at poverty and how much it still grips and limits the life of people. These young mothers I work with were born into a life of poverty. I was born into a world having poverty, but I lived apart from it. Having intentionally removed myself from a life of privilege and immersed myself into the reality of the life of the poor, it necessarily alters my perspective on many things, and for that I am thankful.

Young mother (yellow), Fatuma, speaks to the group about her skills and how they can be used in a potential business. Turns out she can cook, draw, sew and emcee like nobody's business. 

At the end of the business skills training, I always ask the young mothers to complete a short evaluation so that I can continue to improve the approach to better meet their needs. I tell you it can be tough to read these young mothers during the training - to really know what the heck is going on in their heads. Half the time I am teaching I am debating if they are about to fall over dead out of boredom or just total lack of understanding. Nevertheless I was reading through the group's overwhelmingly positive feedback when I came across this:

Tunamshukuru kaka Michael kwa upendo wake wa dhati kwetu na kwa kutufundisha kwa ukarimu na busara pia. "We appreciate our brother, Michael, for his genuine love for us and for teaching us generously and also with wisdom."

It took me a year to finish it, but I finally had the 160+ page Entrepreneurship and Group Enterprise facilitator's manual that I wrote in Kiswahili printed and bound for use, which felt like an accomplishment. 

Maybe they don't always comprehend my Kiswahili (heck I'm sure the day of perfect, mutual understanding will never come) but I hope at least they can see how much I do care for them, and how much I desire to help them escape poverty, how much I want to see them achieve their goals - not as I want them to be achieved, but as they do.

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  1. That is quite an achievement, my friend. Bravo. Especially the book - it adds a level of weight and credibility to the scale of what you've done there that is quite impressive.

    I am curious, how common is it for women to start businesses in Tanzania? What kind of businesses do they start? How many of your students do you think might start businesses in the next 3 years? And, when you get back to the states, can you teach a similar class for Americans like me? :-)

    1. Many Tanzanian women run small, informal businesses cooking food on the side of the road under a makeshift roof or out of their home. Seamstresses are also incredibly common. Several of my students have already started their own small businesses of a similar nature, but I am still investing a lot of time into helping them scale up and start some slightly more significant group businesses. Of course, you and I can sit down and go through the Swahili-only manual together on how to start and run your own business.

  2. Dear Michael,

    My name is Joe Pinzone and I'm casting an international travel show about expats moving abroad. We'd love to film in Tanzania and wanted to know if you could help us find expats who have moved there within the last 15 months or have been there for 3-4 years, but recently moved into a new home. The show documents their move to a new country and will place the country in fabulous light. The contributors on the show would also receive monetary compensation if they are filmed. If you'd like more information, please give me a call at 212-231-7716 or skype me at joefromnyc. You can also email me at joepinzone@leopardusa.com. Looking forward to hearing from you.

    Joe Pinzone
    Casting Producer
    P: 212-231-7716
    Skype: Joefromnyc


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