Fellow: Wanjiru Carolyne Kamau
I officially reported to my internship on the 1st of June 2002 after traveling by bus from Nairobi to Dar es Salaam. One of the staff of the TGNP had helped me locate accommodation and my new landlord was happy to pick me up….
I was able to share the house with another intern also from Minnesota and a young Tanzanian woman who was related to another TGNP staff member. My first day at the office was uneventful. I was presented with tons of reading material so as to catch up with the organization, its running and current programs. There wasn’t much of an orientation given and that proved to be quite a challenge as far as making connections with other staff members and figuring out exactly what I was to be doing within the organization and what was expected of me. Instead I spent the first week of the internship at a desk reading and trying to make friends with the staff members on my own.
I had warned my bosses that I had an international conference to attend in Zimbabwe during the summer so I took some time off. The conference theme actually tied into some of the work that the TGNP was doing on Land-redistribution and women’s access to land. The theme was “the commons in an age of globalization” and the meetings focused on how to manage natural resources that belong to the community be it the tribe or the country. I was able to bring back some material that directly related to land and land use and women’s ongoing efforts to constitutionally guarantee land rights across the African continent.
I changed the dates of my travel back to Tanzania and missed two days of work, which left my superiors confused as to whether I was intent on coming back to work for them. I did not realize it before hand but my changing the dates of my travel caused a bit of stress with my supervisors.
At the same time I received an excellent offer to intern for the Zimbabwean equivalent of the organization I was with in Tanzania but at the end I decided to go ahead and complete my contract with the TGNP. Still, I appreciated the opportunity to look into the workings of another women’s NGO and its campaigns and the experience made me better able to engage with the TGNP back in Tanzania.
When I returned to Dar es Salaam I got together with my bosses for my first orientation. This was frustrating because I had to wait so long before finally getting formally introduced into the organization. We also had to seriously re-think my planned project and whether it was feasible for me to get it done in the weeks I had left. I must say that this was the most stressful time of my stay with TGNP because I did not know where and how I fit into the organization. My superiors were not sure I could complete my project on time and thought I should spend the remaining weeks as a kind of roving ambassador without a specific project. On the other hand I really wanted to at least try working on the paper and I promised to work double time to get the project done since I was quite interested in documenting the history of the coalition that they had been working within. I finally managed to convince them to let me keep trying at it and did actually spend the rest of my time, including available weekends working to complete the project.
I am pleased that by the end of my internship, I presented the TGNP with a 40 page document detailing the history and politics behind the FemAct coalition, which the TGNP helped found and still works hard to maintain. Working on the project allowed me to meet and interview the women who have been at the forefront of Tanzanian women’s activism over the years. It also gave me a relatively clear picture of some of the challenges facing the women’s movement in Tanzania as well as Africa as whole.
Also, as a part of my internship, got to travel to neighboring Uganda for
the “Women’s World Congress” somewhat as a representative of the organization
even though I am not part of the permanent staff. This was an international
meeting of over 2000 women from 93 different countries discussing issues affecting
women around the world. I was able to learn an incredible amount, meet and
make connections I had only dreamed about before. This was the first time
that the congress has ever been held in Africa and it was so refreshing to
see the world turn its attention to issues affecting African women and come
in dialogue to discuss these challenges. It was also a good opportunity to
meet up with old friends and fellow feminist activists that I met on previous
trips to Uganda and who were beating a path to Kampala from other corners
of the continent. At the end of the week I was able to take back to the
TGNP additional materials to its growing library and to share with my co-workers
some of the presentations and new ideas that I had picked up.
My task, as per the original agreement was to document the history of the
FemAct coalition. This is a coalition of about 30 NGOs in Tanzania, which
fight for women’s rights or whose activism takes gender issues seriously.
The project was pretty much independent so I was able to structure my time
and pace (which was breakneck at times). I had to rely heavily on interviews
with former and present coalition members in addition to spending a lot of
time reading up in the background to the individual organizations.
I was frustrated at not getting my initial orientation to the organization until very late into my internship. I think some of that had to do with the expectation that because I’m Kenyan and have worked with numerous other NGOs I should have figured it out by myself well enough. I had a hard time getting information that I needed to do my history writing work from some of the staff members. Everyone all around was always really busy and I felt bad about taking them from their work to ask them questions. I was raked by feelings that the work I was doing all summer long was in the long run not going to be helpful to anybody and my efforts were just a meaningless drop in the bucket.
Overall though, my work did match my expectations and despite the kinks, I had a fabulous summer and learnt a lot. Working on this project has already given me materials for three of my seminar papers as well as a possible dissertation topic so my trip was well worth it. In addition, I made contacts with women that I will hopefully be working with in the next years.
I also wrote up this simple poem/prose and submitted it for publication in AMANITARE, a newsletter for African feminists working on health issues. The magazine had a special issue on how to bring young feminists into the fold.
Girl Seeking Older Woman:
Young, 24 Y.O. African female seeking Older African feminist mentor to nurture and support through the turbulent times of this globalizing, racist world. Must be willing to spend few moments a month away from the grueling task of everyday activism to encourage and give direction to this aspiring feminist. Should be kind, take time to listen, and even to chat and share ideas. Must be able to lay aside the mask and shield that protect you from daily disrespect and embrace the shy, and desperately insecure and still easily discouraged young one. Do you still remember your own early days, before publications and conference invitations became the order of the day? Can you still remember how much you appreciated talking to those older and wiser and more seasoned feminists (or how much you wished you had access to them!)? Can you also untangle your ego from the class and age privilege you now enjoy and allow me access to your marvelous and awe-inspiring world? Would you be willing to introduce me to those activists and authors whose work I’ve read but who I’m too scared to approach in person? I’m seeking a mother and a nurturer. But more than that, I’m seeking a friend and a sister. By Wanjiru Kamau.