Release Date: December 30, 2010
BUFFALO, N.Y. -- The driving forces of the university's Buffalo Tanzanian Education Project are on the move again as they return to a remote African village this weekend for a 12-day trip where they will continue their partnership with the Immaculate Heart Sisters of Africa working to give teenage girls alternatives from traditional cultural practices of early marriage.
The to-do list for this latest trip includes delivering 12 solar cookers to women in the Kitenga village, women who customarily spend several days a week gathering firewood to cook a meal for their families, a routine that leaves them vulnerable to violence and rape, as well as burns from cooking over an open fire.
"These solar cookers -- provided by Solar Liberty Foundation, a local solar energy foundation -- will allow women to spend more time in their villages," says Katie J. Biggie, program manager for UB's Center for Educational Collaboration's Civic Pathways, which has spearheaded a community-wide campaign to address the dramatic needs of girls whose harsh reality includes such substandard health practices as often-lethal female circumcision, forced marriages for girls as young as age 10 and one of the world's highest rates of HIV-AIDs.
"Having the cookers may also allow the women more time to possibly explore other options such as basket weaving or beadwork to sell at the local market and earn much-needed income," says Biggie.
Biggie, who returns for the fourth time to a region of Africa as beautiful and scenic as any movie set, but one mired in poverty and problems of a developing nation, will be one of seven people taking the trans-continental flight to Dar es Salaam. They then will fly to a small airport in the interior of Tanzania to Musoma, and visit the small rural village of Kitenga near Lake Victoria. Besides Biggie, the contingent includes Suzanne Tomkins, UB Law School; Gudiya Musu-Purks, UB staff; Ashley Crane, UB law student; Erin Hart, UB law student; Christine Biggie, community member; and John Study, community member.
Delivering the solar cookers is only one objective of their mission.
"It's also our latest step in involving and engaging local community members and university students, faculty and staff in the project," says Biggie. "Members have different interests – some are interested in domestic violence and law, and others in maternal health care. We are going to learn about the challenges in those areas but also about the opportunities and assets available like non-governmental organizations."
The Buffalo Tanzania Education Project aims to work within the culture in the region – including the nuns of the Immaculate Heart Sisters of Africa and the tribal elders who preside over the villages, Biggie says, continuing the "partnership" model UB's Center for Educational Collaboration prides itself on.
"This isn't UB going to Tanzania and telling them what they need and how they need to get there," says Biggie. "This is UB listening to another government and culture to understand their goals and initiatives, and then using UB's vast sources of partnerships and community to add value in ways that are meaningful for all those involved.
"In July 2009 during one of our previous visits, the leaders of the village of Kitenga said to us, 'Why can't you educate one girl now?' 'Can you take one girl from our village and educate her now?' They believe in the value of education and they want education for their children. And that is why this project will have lasting effects."
The Tanzania project is a partnership based on a foundation of trust, respect and understanding, according to Biggie, who has met face-to-face with young girls who are less likely to receive the benefits of education as their brothers. "And it is that foundation that will serve to have a tremendous impact on all those involved," Biggie says.
The grass roots project with global aspirations, which has spread throughout Western New York, began with a serendipitous encounter among Mara B. Huber, UB's special assistant to the president for educational initiatives, with Tanzanian nuns visiting her mother-in-law's Amherst home during a recent Christmas.
Biggie will be featured in an interview to air between 6 and 9 a.m. Monday on WBFO-FM on the group's latest mission. The blog site for the project is www.tanzaniacommunitytrips.wordpress.com. They will leave Sunday, Jan. 2.
The project has touched a chord among many in the community who recognize the urgent plight of the girls in the Kitenga region where education and basic health services often will determine very distinct directions for their lives. A December fundraiser raised over $4,000 for building a pre-primary school, over $500 for the solar cookers and over $200 for a village well project.
"More than 100 people attended that on a snowy night, which I think is a testament to how much this project resonates with people," says Biggie. "And we had a wonderful performance by the Miraculous Rhythms of Sankofa who donated their time for the event."
Biggie is just one who has been profoundly moved from the global discrepancies and the ability to change the lives of these girls with what seems like minimal intervention.
"The first trip was a study trip to learn about the challenges and opportunities," says Biggie. "I was curious, but intent on doing something to help. After our time there and speaking with the girls and the sisters, I just became determined to help in any way I could. I believe that we, as people, have to help those around us, whether it's in our local community, nationally or even on an international level.
"I don't think I'm different from the first time I was there. I think I'm more determined."
Biggie says she knows the project has resonated with many people who have found themselves compelled to devote their talents and energy to this mission.
"For me, being able to work with organizations to provide girls -- and eventually over 1,500 girls -- with the opportunity for an education and an independent future struck my core," she says. "I have always had the opportunity for an education simply because of where and when I was born. I'm working on a PhD currently, and feel strongly that every girl around the world should also have that opportunity. This project allows me to connect with several facets that touch my heart, women, their struggles and triumphs, and education."
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