I’ve always considered myself very blessed to have grown up surrounded by strong individuals. It has given me resilience, independence, stability, and many people to look up to as role models. I think about people who have impacted my life now and my heart swells. I am truly blessed to have been born into such loving, nurturing circumstances.
The past week and a half, the other interns and I have focused on getting ourselves acquainted with our partners in Mwanza and the projects we’ll be working on. Bob, the director of Western Heads East, has been in Mwanza since the weekend, meeting with project supervisors, institution heads, yogurt mamas, and old friends. I have tried my best to attend as many of these meetings and encounters as possible, to get a better sense of how Western Heads East works (and gain a better appreciation for it), but also to see innovative, resourceful, astounding people get together and talk about what is next. I have become obsessed with this.
I sit in an office, a workroom, a yogurt kitchen, and I watch.
I watch the Vice-Chancellor at SAUT ask Iris about business ideas for the yogurt kitchen we are hoping to establish, encouraging her to say her piece. I look on as the men we are meeting with, members of SAUT’s administration, tell us about their excitement to work with probiotic yogurt and their impressions of the yogurt kitchens they visited. They acknowledge the mamas and all that they have accomplished, and are committed to working with them and nurturing this initiative. They don’t have to take on any of this. But they want to. They would love to. They get it.
I sit in Bernard Makachia’s office, surrounded by graduation pictures and posters reading things like “Young mothers cannot do anything to change their yesterday, but we can help them change today to change their tomorrow” and “The hardest things to say are: I’m sorry, I love you, Help me.” I listen to him talk about starting a nursery for the young mothers that go to school at the EBLI centre, and how he would like to help with the yogurt program network but is stretched too thin. I watch as he describes his heart for young mothers who deserve a second chance, and smile nervously as he tells us interns that our mere presence will help these young mothers, giving them hope that they can better their futures too. I watch him speak of the upcoming graduation ceremony, and he swells with the pride of a father. Bernard carries himself with the wisdom of many years, the compassion of a man who has devoted his life to helping the least, the weariness of one who has seen much, and the determination of one who has overcome much. He is doing remarkable things, and acts as one who knows that there is still much to be done.
I watch Maimuna sit at her desk at the Mikono Yetu centre, with her big red laptop parked in front of her. I see her discuss solutions to milk supplies at SAUT and share with us her hopes for attracting people to an event for everyone in Tanzania and everyone outside of Tanzania. I look on as she regards the project that she has helped create, talking with Bob about the yogurt network and what us interns can accomplish this summer. She is a remarkable woman, one of Bob’s first contacts in Mwanza. She is a creator, and innovator, and still she plugs on. Her time of aiding the Mwanza region and showing women that they too have potential is far from over.
I observe Dr. Kavit, a friend of Bob’s that I have only just met, sit in the Mikono Yetu centre and excitedly pour out ideas. Between Maimuna, Bob, and Dr. Kavit, there is a triangle of innovation and opportunism. They only see potential, as they discuss the health benefits of moringa, social marketing strategies, and how far they have all come in the past eleven years. I can almost see Dr. Kavit’s mind working, the ideas turning like clockwork in his brain. It’s brilliant to see. Dr. Kavit runs a school for students going into the medical field, and now has 700 students.
I don’t know how to articulate any of this. I do not mean that these individuals are so much greater than I am. I do not mean that they are superhuman. But I do know that my words don’t give them justice. They are individuals that don’t stop where they are and think “I have made my mark, this is enough.” They keep going, not even stopping to assess their accomplishments. They are people that see the best in others and work to bring that out.
It’s amazing to see. I can’t get enough of watching these astounding people work.
The network that Western Heads East has helped bring together is something that happened because people like this gravitate towards each other. They are passionate and love to make broken things into something beyond recognition. As I saw them all meet, talk, and plan, and look to the future, I saw hope and opportunity. This is why they are still here. This is why us students come and ‘work’ for them.
They see potential in us too. And they want to bring that out.
I came to Mwanza not knowing what to expect. I still don’t know what to expect. But I’m excited to grow, learn, and continue watching these strong, amazing individuals do what they have done for years.