I spent almost 3 weeks in Tanzania in the summer of 2017 with 28 volunteers from Karimu — an NGO from Southern California — immersed with the villagers of Dareda and it was a life changing experience. Prior to my departure I had the impression — I bet many other people would have too — that I was going to land in a poor place and meet several people in desperate need for help and consequently unhappy. Moreover I would be bringing well-known solutions for their problems based on our bias Western way of seeing the world revolving around us. I was wrong and forever accepted 3 new philosophies of life:
Richness is not defined by nations’ economic power
Walking on the streets of rural Dareda and seeing people come out of their homes to meet and greet us, with big smiles on their faces, is a memory that will never leave my mind. Kids would also hold our volunteers’ hands and go miles and miles together chatting and playing. A simple gesture of love and human connection, which no longer seem to be part of who we are anymore. Still hard to understand it, let’s frankly ask ourselves how many of our loved ones we hugged during the past year. When was the last time we called a friend to say how much we love and admire him? Why we are not smiling more often? The answer is probably we are too busy or who cares about it. Mother Teresa once said well “the poverty in the West is a different kind of poverty — it is not only a poverty of loneliness but also of spirituality. There's a hunger for love” — and this is exactly where the villagers I met seem to be years ahead of us in progress and richness, a one of a kind we struggle to recognize — the intensity, power and deepness of human connections — that so subliminally and emotionally is displayed through a natural demonstration of care and respect for one another. The purity of every smile and touch of each word they used to say: “brothers and sisters we love you” is indescribable. Years of maturity and clear purpose in life, which can differ from person to person, unites itself in the belief that pursuit of happiness and its existence, is the real drive of a rich life, and that’s exactly what we all felt by living for a few days with them.
On the other hand, Tanzania is listed as part of the 19 unhappiest countries, whose ranking is based on GDP per capita, social support, life expectancy, freedom to make life choices, generosity, and freedom from corruption. Yes they do face those issues, but who said happiness cannot coexist and even supersede it? I have a deep degree of respect for the organizations issuing these studies, but the reality is that, in most cases, they are created according to our Western values and expectations. Furthermore they do not experience life inside of the communities, and, we all need to recognize it is hard, but delightfully simpler, transparent and fun. And oh yes they do have fun — they dance, sing and laugh — reason why we now invite you to leave your preconceived ideas behind and get out there to explore and learn. Next time you hear a country is rich or poor, stop and think about how much you actually know about it. Experience who they actually are, live their culture and feel the power of their human relationships. You may surprise yourself by finding the gold of joy where all seems to be darkly painted externally. Yet people in Tanzania and Africa can and must be helped. I am simply encouraging us to see their happiness and warmth, which could welcome many others to come and make a difference. Men and women do not mobilize themselves because they feel sorry about someone, but do because of the emotional connections made throughout a journey — my key learning from Marianne, who is Karimu’s president and founder and Nelson, a mentor, role model and a key person responsible for this unique experience we have been through. As volunteers we thought we would get out there to help, but Tanzanians actually gave us more back in the form of love, care and appreciation. They polished some of our rough edges, opened our minds to a world we did not know could exist. A world where richness is defined by a measure of love and tenderness; not economic power.
Accepting our measures of success are not universal
Karimu’s operating process differs from most NGOs as its donations flow straight to the projects supporting the villagers of Dareda, who are also the ones defining where the priorities are and what is needed the most. Our bias for action can sometimes unintentionally make us destitute listeners and aspire to do things in a continent like Africa that won't be sustainable, or dangerously threat the strong sense of community that reins locally, and so intrinsically define who they are. This is how the symbioses between Karimu and the local villagers has made a difference over a decade. Their collective understanding what success means — progress that preserves the values and roots of the local people — has paid off.
Injecting money and resources like most nonprofits do is the easiest thing for us ( Westerners ) to do, and it also makes us feel good and rewarded. However it may create more problems than help and this why Karimu’s operating model hits the bullseye when it comes to viable philanthropy:
Ideas, requests for new projects come from the community, Karimu, volunteers, village council, midwives, etc.
Selection, prioritization of projects happens jointly between Karimu and the village councils.
The community must work closely with the government — district and local officials — to gain their support. They also pay approximately 10% of the total cost of any given project — for construction projects this usually pays for all bricks.
Locals drive a phase of the project on their own — e.g., clearing the land, pouring buildings’ foundation, maintain and run them once completed.
Above all you need the partnership with the locals, and its strength is an imperative victory to be aimed and a key takeaway when trying to advance the oldest inhabited continent in the world.
We must go back again
The vivid sound of several of the locals like Beru and Clemente saying “you are now part of our family” — as a deep and honest gratitude for what we did and accomplished together as a team — is a unique sentiment whose words I barely find to describe. It's a magical and mysterious feeling that construes this drive inside of all “Karimuers” willingness to go back there every year. Hearing their voices and seeing their smile is one the best well kept secrets of true humanity — we were lucky enough to find out, experience and enjoy it. A simple and sacred love with an unintentional immaculateness able to transform the lives of those traveling there. We got amazed by the spirit and motivation, the brave people of Tanzania have to wake up every day with a beam of light in their faces, in spite of their economic challenges and difficulties, hidden by a community thriving to make the lives of its people prosper based on fairness, kindness and desire to see their brothers and sisters advance, no matter which tribe they come from. To our new family of Tanzania, thanks for adopting and making us feel part of your clan.
To all my friends, brothers and sisters of Tanzania, Asante Sana. You made us more humble, sharpened our saw and adopted us like no other people did. Your presence in our lives showed how rich you actually are.
How do you define richness? Do you think success equals happiness? I also want to learn from you. Please leave your comments in the section below.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Vinicius David is a tech executive, a passionate for talent development and fanatic to drive innovation.