Australian volunteer mentoring young women in Tanzania

4 April 2017

Twende Innovation Centre is a small not-for-profit organisation that aims to empower Tanzanians to design, develop, and disseminate life-improving technology solutions for the challenges they and their communities face. The organisation incubates social innovations by providing space, tools, mentorship, funding opportunities and teaching practical skills.

Australian volunteer Liz Reece is halfway through her 12-month assignment at Twende in Tanzania. Liz brings design and business experience to her Business Mentor role and recently had the opportunity to mentor two local women to pursue their employment goals. Liz’s assignment is part of the Australian Volunteers for International Development (AVID) program, an Australian Government initiative. This is her story:

After a few months working in Arusha, Tanzania, I became more aware of the impacts of gender inequality. I saw that a girl growing up in my neighbourhood has expectations put upon her – women work hard from an early age carrying water, clothing or vegetables on their heads and young women have a strong sense of responsibility to home duties that come before their own advancement.

I also found that Twende Innovation Centre struggles to get girls equally represented in their programs, despite extra effort to market our courses, provide transport and ensure our location is a place where women feel welcome and legitimate. The young women who do participate in Twende programs are equally passionate, but accept the fact that they have to leave their work punctually to get home to do household chores.

A male colleague was in a team with several female interns. I asked him if was it the first time he had worked in a team where the majority was female. “Yes, and the dynamic is different, women are no less capable, but they have to get permission to speak up, they need more confidence before they suggest solutions,” he replied.

After realising her heart was in jewellery and fashion, I began to talk to Glory about the next step in her career. She had been running an online business, selling local Maasai jewellery through Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, and had built a strong following. I introduced her to the website of a local colleague who ran a beading business. Glory was immediately interested and impressed, and instantly had a role model. Her timidness was overshadowed by her determination and she agreed to write a letter and complete her CV to send to my colleague.

Glory was a quiet achiever, learnt so much and grew in confidence during her time as a Twende intern. She keeps in touch and attends my weekly business drop-in classes when she can, that is, in between the work my colleague gives her and managing her own business.

According to Glory, her internship at Twende was “a golden, once in a lifetime opportunity.”

Twende saw the value an intern-manager relationship can bring to the young women of Arusha to pursue employment opportunities, and I was asked to find and mentor another young woman for the remainder of my assignment.

I am now mentoring another young Tanzanian woman, Reda, the eldest of six children, who grew up in a village in the far north western corner of Tanzania. She attended school in other towns but was familiar with being abruptly taken out of school for missing fee payments. Reda last attended school late in 2015 but she didn’t graduate.

Meeting one of Twende’s Innovators, Frank, in a pub in Arusha was sheer luck – Reda’s decision to speak English to Frank was not luck but design. Speaking English fluently is a huge advantage in Tanzania. Reda has become fluent in English, by watching films, listening to foreigners and practicing with English speakers whenever she can.

Her tenacity and story made me want to mentor her to help her achieve her training and employment goals. We agreed to start the middle of following week so she could give notice to her current employer. Later, she explained that she was sacked on her return for attending the interview, despite requesting the time off. Whether Reda attempted to negotiate, or made a good case for final fair work and payment settlement, raises an interesting point about empowerment and gender roles. She quietly accepted the fact that she was sacked.

As a Twende intern, Reda is now looking ahead, energised and on a new journey. We are both on a journey! Introducing her to a computer and a laptop was exciting for both of us. We set her up with an email account and now she checks her account daily and has professional email communication in English. She has discovered the power of the internet to enhance her knowledge.

Together we have developed a test garden plot, where the beetroot, chives, onions and strawberries are living because of Reda’s green thumb (and sometimes her mother’s advice). She impresses visitors when explaining her drip irrigation kit trial vegetable plot work.

Reda is learning about all areas of business and training by helping to prepare our weekly drop-in classes. She translates business course materials and translates during classes to assist participants’ understanding. Reda’s aspiration to be a trainer is equalled by her desire to be a businesswoman.

I am impressed by Reda’s ability to learn quickly and rise to every challenge. I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know Reda, and helping her reach her potential is one of the great privileges of my volunteer assignment.

Reda is proud of her achievements and knows more challenges are coming, and that’s why she shows up every day.

Liz’s volunteer assignment is part of the Australian Volunteers for International Development (AVID) program, an Australian Government initiative. 

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Last Updated: 4 April 2017
Presentation to group of people in classroom
Reda giving her first presentation at Twende.

Reda using a laptop at desk
Twende intern Reda using her new Excel skills.

Glory showing her brightly coloured beaded necklace and bracelets
Glory modelling her jewellery designs.