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Lessons for My Future Work in Tanzania

I am an American citizen who is very much committed to the progress of Tanzania. My family moved to that country when I was nine years old and I have come to call it home. My career goals are to assist local NGOs in eastern Africa with capacity building and with spatial planning, and as part of my Ph.D. work in geography I recently took a class at the University of Minnesota called “PA 5920 The Role of the Citizen: Organizing for a Public Life.?

RU-entrance.jpg Students at Ruaha Secondary School in Iringa, Tanzania

More than any other, this class has given me a new perception of how to enact change in my professional world.

First, I came away with a new conception of what it means to be a citizen – an empowering conception that moves away from thinking of service provision by the state towards recognizing the importance of individual action. This conception closely matches ideas I already had, but the class helped me to clarify and value these ideas to a greater degree.

Second, I have a new tool for building networks: the "relational meeting." This is a method for talking to others with whom you feel you can work to achieve mutual goals. My own temperament is to be quite focused on one goal, and in the process of trying to achieve this goal, I often shoot myself in the foot by not taking the necessary time to develop personal relationships with others. In Tanzania, where the entire culture is geared towards relational interactions, jumping right into business simply does not work. I have vaguely been aware of this personal stumbling block for many years, and this class has brought it into sharp focus. The real way to get things done is to build relationships and a great method for doing this is to hold relational meetings where your goal is simply to develop an understanding of the motivations of the other person, and to test whether a continued relationship will further your own goals.

Third, I better recognize the importance of self-awareness and the limitations of selflessness. I have been brought up to value selflessness, humility, kindness and so forth. The class didn’t change this, but it did help me to think in a new way about myself. We need to understand our motivations - our “self-interest? – and this is not necessarily selfish. We have talents and capacities that we need to develop if we are going to feel fulfilled and if we are going to contribute to our full potential. Being self-aware is really a pre-requisite for taking action.

And finally, during the course of this class, I learned about the Public Achievement youth organizing model. My parents run a secondary school with 600 students in Iringa, Tanzania, where the overarching goal is to empower students and staff to become contributing members and agents of positive change in their communities and to arise to the challenge of world citizenship. The school has initiated several programs aimed towards the practical application of knowledge for community development, such as a youth empowerment program that is about the power of speech, and a moral education program that is developed in seven spheres including environmental responsibility and appreciation for cultural diversity. I am very excited to introduce Public Achievement to them, and look for ways it might be used at the school.

Editor's note: To learn more about organizing in an African context, read about Nomthi Skohosana's visit to Minnesota in February and her work as an organizer in South Africa, or visit the web site of IDASA, "an independent public interest organisation committed to promoting sustainable democracy based on active citizenship, democratic institutions, and social justice." IDASA is based in South Africa, and in recent years has begun to expand its work to other parts of sub-Saharan Africa.

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Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs