In January, 2017, Tanzanian girls at risk of forced marriage, genital mutilation, domestic violence, sexual assault, and otherwise circumscribed futures will take imperative steps toward self-actualization when they begin secondary coursework at the newly built Kitenga School for Girls. It is a project GEC is infinitely proud and fortunate to be a part of.
But our being part of the project is the operative phrase in that sentiment. The Kitenga School is not ours, and its success is something we share in and take pride in, but we cannot and do not claim sole or even primary responsibility for it.
That’s because the Kitenga School for Girls is the hard-fought result of years of facilitated collaboration, with the honor of primary project ownership going to the Immaculate Heart Sisters of Africa. It is on their government-awarded land that the campus is situated. It is by way of their vision that the project came to fruition. And it was the Sisters’ relentless efforts, respect for and responsiveness to community-identified priorities, holistic approach to education, and dedication to the cause of lifting the people of Kitenga out of poverty through girls’ and women’s empowerment that inspired GEC to first become involved with the project in 2012.
In line with our operational model, that involvement has taken the form of partnership. That means GEC does not dictate the terms or direction of the project but acts as a portal through which the Sisters have access to resources and expertise that might otherwise be unavailable to them. Our concern is facilitating the relationships that help bring the Sisters’ and the community’s goals to fruition.
In practice, that has meant constant communication with the Sisters and collaborative idea sharing. It has meant regular trips to Tanzania to see and hear their triumphs and obstacles firsthand and to build the personal relationships and trust crucial to effective partnership. It has meant advocating for them and their cause on an international stage before government ministries, NGOs, charitable organizations, and concerned individuals. It has meant being ready to learn from and defer to their experience working with marginalized girls in a culture different from our own. And it has meant never assuming we—the outsiders—know the best way to achieve a desired end.
Our almost five years of partnership has resulted in tangible successes. GEC brought in the majority of the funds needed to build the student dormitory and helped ensure it was constructed to be a safer, more ergonomic structure than it might otherwise have been. We also connected the Sisters with an architect who rehabbed and phased out the school’s original master plan to deliver an overall more functional campus.
Our partnership also meant the actualization of the Alice Kryzan Memorial Library, the funds for which were raised through GEC by way of the late Alice Kryzan’s friends and family in tribute to her life’s work and passion for women’s rights. Once the funds were in place, it was GEC that pitched the Sisters with the idea of making the library the first green building on campus—an idea that fell in line with their vision for a cutting-edge, community-conscious school of excellence. They embraced it wholeheartedly, and then surprised us with the honor of asking GEC to project manage the library’s design and construction so they could focus on the teachers’ housing, dormitory, and classroom blocks. It was a gesture of utmost trust and a signaling of our deepened relationship. It cemented our belief that respectful collaboration is an effective means to change. We emphatically accepted the responsibility.
Since then, GEC also took the lead on building the Science Center, a complex containing physics, biology, and chemistry labs, making sure to consult with the Sisters every step of the way. We are also funding and managing the construction of a 4.5 km access road into the campus that will make traveling to school safe and reliable, especially during the rainy seasons, when the traditional dirt paths become impassable. And now we are putting the final touches on the guest residence, which is itself emblematic of our shared belief in the power of collaboration. A guest residence allows visiting teachers, health and technology specialists, donors, and other partners to stay on campus rather than an hour offsite at the next nearest accommodations. Once the school year opens, it will facilitate idea sharing and breed community and remove the negative dynamic of a foreign “stranger” daily inserting and then removing himself or herself from school grounds.
Neither we nor the Sisters could have anticipated that our partnership would prove to be so fruitful. But we cannot take all the credit. Critical to our success has been our relationships with numerous other partners, including Solar Liberty Foundation, Buffalo Sunrise Rotary, Bak USA, and Blue Table Chocolates, to name a few. These are relationships GEC leveraged to bring value to the project along the way.
Over the course of the weeks leading up to the official opening of the Kitenga School for Girls, we will be highlighting those relationships and the efforts made by our network of partners in the name of girls’ education. We hope you join us in giving them the accolades they rightfully deserve.