Foundation founder shares her experiences in community education
6:22 p.m., April 25, 2014--Tanzania is a country known for its mining, agriculture, vast game reserves and tourism. What may be less known is that women in Tanzania face many challenges regarding education and health.
One woman committed to addressing these challenges visited the University of Delaware this week to share her message with students, faculty, staff and friends.
Making Delaware home
Maggie Duncan Simbeye is the founder of Dare Women’s Foundation (DWF), an NGO focused on education for women and children regarding feminine hygiene, wildlife conservation, and nutrition.
During her UD visit, Simbeye lectured in women's studies, leadership and sociology classes. She also co-presented at a talk with Jon Cox, assistant professor of art, on the book he co-authored, Hadzabe, By the Light of a Million Fires.
In addition, Simbeye spent an afternoon at Longwood Gardens to meet with the continuing education department, attended a brown bag lunch discussion at the Institute for Global Studies (IGS), went early morning birding at Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge in Delaware and reunited with the study abroad students she met this winter.
One of only five female guides in Tanzania, Simbeye began a relationship with UD five years ago when she served as guide for a study abroad program led by Cox and Jacob Bowman, chairperson of the Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology.
“She is an amazing connection within the community. Without her we would just drive by and wave,” said Cox, explaining that Simbeye helped students meet the locals and experience the culture.
Her work as a guide and leader in community education inspired UD students Lindsay Yeager, Claire Lieber and Rebecca La Placa to create a short film about DWF while studying abroad. Their film won second place in the DENIN Environmental Film Festival held on campus this winter.
Yeager, who is the director of visual art for DWF, accompanied Simbeye to many UD events during her visit. This year, Yeager received a $250 fellowship from the Office of Service Learning (OSL) to fund her work with Simbeye, including printing business cards and brochures.
“[Prof. Cox and Dr. Bowman] are both amazing and none of this could have happened without them teaching me the importance of giving back,” Yeager said.
Thoughts Into action
At a young age, Simbeye said she knew she could be an agent of change, especially for her family. Coming from a middle-class family with six children, she sensed that her parents would struggle to send them to school. Her instinct told her that she could do more to help and provide opportunities for her siblings.
“I thought, it’s time for me to help and find a solution,” Simbeye said.
She chose to enroll in cooking classes for pragmatic reasons -- the classes were short and would enable her to make connections in the tourist industry where she hoped to find work. Simbeye’s plan succeeded, and with her earnings, she was able to pay for her siblings’ college tuition.
While attending school, Simbeye had an epiphany that led her to create DWF. The lengthy walk to and from school, often carrying water and firewood, was a challenge for Simbeye, as it was for most students. Adding to that was the monthly arrival of her menstrual cycle, for which Simbeye had only a cloth as protection. The lack of proper hygienic products made her feel uncomfortable, polarized and distracted. Noting that a high percentage of young girls in Tanzania abandon school once they reach puberty, Simbeye realized that a lack of awareness about proper feminine hygiene might be the major reason why.
She immersed herself in local communities throughout Tanzania and found that her hypothesis was true. Once she understood the problem, Simbeye acknowledged that she needed to provide an answer. “I said to myself, I have to handle this, if I run who will take care of this?”
Simbeye and her organization now focus on providing feminine hygiene education and products to Tanzanian women to improve their quality of life and keep them in the classroom. Women who complete their studies are better able to attain careers and contribute to the local economy.
Hospitality careers are available in the country due to the extraordinary landscape and wildlife that draw tourists. Tanzanian education is largely focused on the environment, and by helping women stay in school they gain the tools to become environmental leaders in their country. DWF educates women and children, including orphans, about the national parks, natural resources and how to respect and conserve wildlife.
The third educational component to DWF is nutrition. A large portion of the Tanzanian diet includes carbohydrates such as potatoes, rice and corn. The foundation works to provide education about incorporating fresh fruits and vegetables into meals, supporting a healthier lifestyle.
At the Institute for Global Studies, Colin Miller, a limited term researcher, is focusing on building collaborative relationships and strengthening connections in his native South Africa. Citing the importance of UD’s involvement in such organizations as DWF, Miller said, “External partners can play a significant role in bringing local partners together.”
To learn more about the Dare Women’s Foundation, visit its website.
The Institute for Global Studies was created in 2009 to enhance the international dimensions of teaching, research and outreach at the University of Delaware. IGS provides leadership and support for programs and experiences that contribute to the education of informed, skilled, open-minded citizens of the world.
Best known for coordinating the University’s study abroad program, IGS also awards scholarships and grants to faculty and students for global travel and research, administers internationally-recognized programs such as the MEPI (Middle East Partnership Initiative) Student Leaders Institute, and sponsors such signature events as International Education Week each fall and country-specific celebrations each spring. IGS also partners with other global partners on campus, including the Office for International Students and Scholars, the Confucius Institute and the Center for Global and Area Studies.
Article and photos by Elizabeth Adams