NIU students gain new perspective from trip to Tanzania
An NIU study abroad trip to Tanzania brought together 10 students from various programs to unite for one cause while also enriching their own individual interests.
For four weeks this past summer, the study abroad group explored the role of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in developing countries, specifically in Nyegina, Tanzania.
The program is part of an ongoing development project called Tanzania Development Support (TDS), which was established by professor Kurt Thurmaier, director of the NIU Division of Public Administration.
In 2008, Thurmaier visited Nyegina. His experiences there inspired him to create change.
“I saw a real need to help transform a high school of 500 boys and girls with no computers, no library and 10 students for each textbook into a 21st century high school, where the graduates could compete and prosper in a 21st century global economy,” Thurmaier said.
Determined to bring his vision to life, Thurmaier developed the TDS program and made the inaugural study abroad trip to Tanzania the following year.
“I wanted to create an engaging study abroad opportunity where students not only learn what is going on, but actively engage with the people in the community to make their lives better, transforming the Tanzanians and, in the process, transforming themselves as NIU global students.”
Students this past summer spent their first week learning key elements of the local culture and etiquette, as well as the local language, Swahili. In the weeks following, the group attended seminars where they met with different types of NGOs and discussed Tanzanian development. Additionally, the group went on a 24-hour safari in Serengeti National Park and also visited with NGOs and local government experts in Zanzibar and in Dar es Salaam.
The students’ major collaborative project was to help lay a foundation for a new library at the Nyegina Secondary School.
“The focus of the study abroad program is on the role of NGOs in developing countries and, in contrast, the role of local governments, in promoting economic and community development that improves the lives of children, especially girls and their families and communities,” Thurmaier said.
Each student had his or her own individual motivation for participating in the trip.
“This was an awesome, life-changing experience,” said Matthew Simpson, a second-year student in the Masters of Public Administration program. “Getting the exposure to another perspective on life and seeing the struggles that people endure just to exist give you something to measure your life against.”
Simpson’s experiences in Tanzania deepened his understanding of the critically important role that NGOs play in developing countries through the services that they provide.
“The story of the people in Tanzania is not a sob story; it’s a story of strength, development and hope,” Simpson said.
Although this study abroad opportunity is based in the MPA program, it is not limited to MPA students, expanding its reach and application to various fields of study.
Nelisha Gray, a senior sociology major, conducted an independent study project during her visit to Tanzania. Gray spent time with a group of eight female students from the Nyegina Secondary School with the goal of gaining insight on career aspiration trends among female students.
“One major issue that people are unaware of is inequality in the treatment of boys versus girls in Tanzania,” Gray said. The inequality has had a lasting impact on the culture and motivated Grey to explore the effects that the continued development of women’s rights has had on the community and its young women.
Of the eight women interviewed, six aspire to be doctors, one seeks a career in nursing and one would like to be an author. “That’s progress. That’s a great testament to how women’s rights are improving there,” Gray said.
Rachel McBride, a first-year graduate student in the nutrition and dietetics program, went to Tanzania with the intent of focusing on the nutrition of students attending the secondary school. Better nutrition would help improve students’ learning and retention, and could help them gain admission into better high schools or colleges.
McBride was able to explore and pinpoint concerns for the students’ health by conducting a nutrition needs assessment, focusing on their daily meals. McBride said the students lack variety in their meals, but daily servings of red kidney beans provide nutritional value.
“The experience was very humbling,” McBride said. “The most rewarding aspect of the trip was interacting with local people because they’re so genuine.”
by Constance Ervins