Harnessing the Power of Storytelling: My Leadership Journey
Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”Nelson Mandela
I was raised by parents who were public servants: a teacher and a nurse. As a child, I had mixed feelings listening to the stories they shared with me after work. Sometimes, they were incredibly happy and proud of the impact they were making in the community, teaching and taking care of sick people. Sometimes, they were very frustrated with the challenges they faced in their workplace: poor infrastructure, lack of electricity, inadequate human resources, etc. At that moment, I did not understand why my parents chose to live and serve people from rural communities and small towns. They served in the public sector until they retired a few years ago. I also did not know how their dedication and passion to serve the community sharpened me into becoming the person I am today. Little did I know that the stories they shared with me have shaped me to become a passionate youth leader who has dedicated his efforts and resources to ensure equal access to education for every child by providing educational content regarding their wellbeing.
While at school, apart from my studies, I used to enjoy extracurricular activities such as sports and volunteering as a peer educator. At university, I spent most of my time working in different community engagement activities as a youth leader, where I got an opportunity to interact with like-minded young people who shared the same passion. We agreed to continue working together after graduation. In 2013, we officially launched an organization called Tai Tanzania.“Tai” is a Swahili word that means “eagle.” We chose this name for the organization after researching a name and symbol that was meaningful and inspirational to our team and community members. We love the characteristics of the eagle:
- Eagles have powerful vision.
- Eagles are fearless.
- Eagles are tenacious.
- Eagles are high fliers.
- Eagles nurture their young.
The eagle (Tai) for us symbolizes serving others; being visionary, bold, and purposeful; and embracing team spirit. These characteristics are also the values for the team and individuals. It has been a joy to work with young people from diverse backgrounds and nationalities.
Challenges for Youth in Education
The average school-leaving age of young people in Tanzania is 16 years, with only 2% of learners going all the way to the tertiary level. The result is that only 3% of young people of working age in Tanzania are of a high skill level, with over 84% considered to be of low skill.
As such, the young people who make up most of Tanzania’s population are the most affected by poverty due to low economic productivity, among other reasons. The factors leading to a low median school-leaving age include sexual and reproductive health challenges that have many young people dropping out of school due to teen pregnancy and related issues. Additionally, societal beliefs and practices that discriminate against specific groups of young people such as girls and young people with disabilities have affected these groups to an even higher degree.
Stakeholders in Action
Different initiatives and policies have been developed by different African governments to promote equal access to education. For example, the government of Tanzania provides free education to every child from primary to secondary school. It also provides educational scholarships for students who cannot afford the cost of higher learning institutions. International and local organizations have also been playing a key role in advancing equal access to education, and Tai Tanzania is playing its part.
Harnessing the Power of Creative Storytelling and Media Technology
After three years of trying to affect changes in students’ mindsets regarding making informed decisions about issues that affect their lives, we decided to go back to the drawing board. After a deep reflection of what positively affected our behaviors, we remembered the good stories we listened to from our elders when we were young. Every person in the room could recall an old story with a great lesson, humor, warning, or encouragement. We all agreed to turn our presentations into a story to capture the attention of the students.
Moreover, we agree that since we are in the world of technology, we must use it as a tool to deliver our stories. Fortunately, we knew a person who had animation skills, and decided to try animating the stories we collected from the students. It took us six months to produce a three-minute animation. When we went back to schools for dissemination, the turnout was beyond our expectations. Every student wanted to be part of it. My team got the motivation to produce more educational content. To be as inclusive as possible, we now produce the content in different formats including animation, radio drama, and comics.
We disseminate the content through digital platforms, community radios, and public buses, and through partnerships with organizations that have a network of computers in schools.
The Way Forward
It has been a joy being a storyteller in the age of digital technology. Technology has given us the ability to connect with our beneficiaries like never before. The impact we are making in the community drives me to do more and better meaningful work in the community. So, expect to see more educational content that is fun and engaging. Our goal is to transform Africa by shifting the mindset of young people. For beneficiaries to easily access our content, we developed a portal (www.tai.or.tz) with all content. We are open to collaborations with other stakeholders who would like to join us in this journey, either by joining efforts to produce more content or using our existing content in their communities. Together, we can make huge and meaningful difference in the community.
Written by Ian Tarimo, 2019 Fellowship Alumnus from Tanzania.
The Mandela Washington Fellowship is a program of the U.S. Department of State with funding provided by the U.S. Government and administered by IREX. The views expressed in this piece are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the U.S. Government.
Jok Abraham Thon
2018 Fellowship Alumnus, South Sudan