If there was any song that had the motivational willpower for you to go out and bring some good into the world, Michael Jackson was on point with Heal the World.
With that said, I wanted to add depth to how I was experiencing the world; I wanted to give back. For so long, I took and took the generosity that had been bestowed upon me during my time of travels that it was time for me to give to the wider world and pay it forward.
I decided to go East Africa and found myself next to the ‘Roof of Africa,’ Kilimanjaro. I volunteered with the woman’s organization, Jiendeleze Women’s Organization (JWO) in Moshi, Tanzania through the volunteer program run by Hostel Hoff.
What’s in a name?
The name of the organization is powerful itself as Jiendeleze is a Swahili word that means ‘to develop oneself.’ The name couldn’t have been more appropriate as unfortunately in Tanzania, many rural and uneducated women face discrimination and oppression. The objective of JWO is to provide a supportive environment where these women can overcome isolation and work together, receive training and establish small businesses initiatives that will generate their own independent funds. In other words – to empower themselves to achieve great things #girlpower
Throughout these small, rural communities, members of the organization are seen as role models. They are the real example of what stands in front of them of how with great determination and commitment, they can stand tall and take ownership to inflict change for the better for themselves and their loved ones.
How I came to arrive at Jiendeleze Women’s Organization
I was a guinea pig to Hostel Hoff’s newest volunteer partnership programme with the women’s project, JWO. This project appealed to me as it was about helping these women to take control of their own lives through education and developing business skills to help finance themselves and support their families.
I had never done something like this before so as new as some of the skills were to them, it would also be a learning experience for me also. I was to do volunteer alongside an Austrian woman of similar age, Nadja who was really on the ball on creating a school curriculum.
Stepping into the shoes of a teacher
The first time I visited the classroom I was in for a shock. This stand-alone ‘classroom’ can be best described as a rundown pastel-yellow, dilapidated room that could barely fit a king-size bed or swing a cat. Looks can be deceiving however as this small building it managed to fit 20 seated ladies on whatever they could plonk their bottoms on – benches, stools and plastic seats – eager to learn English. The class lasted for two hours a day and of course, it was not compulsory as these ladies had families to look after, farms to tend to.
Despite it being now a place for learning, there was nothing classroom-like about it. It was only after our first day of teaching that we managed to transform it from a shabby room to a classroom into one with the purchase of a white board, school supplies (textbooks and pens) and with Nadja’s handiwork, home drawn educational posters on the wall.
It was important to create an environment for these ladies to learn, to reflect back on what was being taught and to inspire them to want to know more.
The road to learning
Everyday, I would travel with Nadja to the rural village of Rau, just 20 minutes outside of Moshi by either scooter (or as the locals like to call it, ‘boda boda’). Some days we would also catch the local bus which was essentially a mini-van, usually jam packed with people and would leave your sweltering afterwards.
Becoming an English teacher was certainly a new role for me – sometimes I joke I can barely speak the English language! Australian’s like to butcher the language with a whole lot of abbreviations but here I was teaching these ladies how to speak it.
Each class started out with a song and I felt silly doing it. It was the ‘If you are happy and you know it, clap your hands’ etc song.
I do seem like an idiot looking back footage of it, desperately in vain trying to get the ladies into it. But by the end of it, all were on their feet singing the song and copying the actions. I know it was the best part of their school day.
We encouraged these ladies to get up in front of the class and practise their writing, to repeat to everyone what we had told them – Rope-learning. We were teaching basic English – days of the week, body parts, maths. I could only imagine how overwhelming it was for these ladies to take it all in.
One thing I didn’t consider until I was at the front of the class is realising that some of these ladies did not even know how to write. Each day was always going to be a big challenge for the ladies but everyday, they came back, eager to learn more and evening creating homework for themselves!
I commend these ladies pushing themselves to learn and their determination and eagerness to better their skills for future work.
It’s business time
It was in a long discussion with the head of the organization Jesca that we both realised the extent of what needed to be done in terms of kick-starting the ladies’ sewing business. After each class, the ladies would have an hour sewing class.
It became apparent after speaking with Jesca that their idea verus our idea of establishing the sewing business were very different.
Nadja and I first questioned if we were seen as walking money bags as there seemed to be the misconception that we would just pour money into their business. Of course, we were not here to be the investor rather to guide them the way.
They needed to do it for themselves. They needed to be taught lessons on budgeting, accounting, networking for new business ventures and research what products the market would buy. This of course, was not going to happen overnight but they needed to learn how to make their business sustainable and profitable.
To enable these ladies to have money to play with, I got them to create products for myself that I would purchase.
Something hard hitting was getting the ladies to break down the cost of really much each item is to make from materials to labour. To my astonishment, this thought process had not been considered. This needed to change.
We conducted our research, what was out in the market, what products would we sell, what was the designs were going to be. We worked out how time intensive each product was to create.
With this in mind, we went to local businesses and tourist shops in the area to see what products they would be interested in and if they were willing to support these ladies – all at price that would make this business venture sustainable and profitable.
Both Nadja and I are no longer in Moshi however we continue to work to guide these ladies on how to better their business. Happy to report that their business has now flourished in the local area.
Now for the corniness factor – we were both teachers but I feel we were the students. From my stint of working with these ladies, I learnt resilience. That age has no barrier when it comes to bettering yourself and to achieving new goals you didn’t think possible. That you can either choose to wait on hand outs or work hard and that is what the ladies choose to do – to further their education to learn how to support themselves and their families.
These ladies are living proof of what it takes to be strong and I can only commend them for it and I think we can all learn from their journey of creating opportunities for themselves.
To keep up to date with how the ladies’ are going, please visit their page: Jiendeleze Women’s Organization
Thank you Hostel Hoff for providing affordable volunteer programs that support grassroots initiatives.