Felicia is the founder and executive director of Brighter Tanzania Foundation. She resides in Madison, Wisconsin with her boyfriend, a neurotic dog, and a klutzy cat.
What do you do for Brighter Tanzania?
That’s sort of a long answer. As the executive director, my main focus is the overall strategy and operation of our programs, ensuring we’re adequately staffed, and seeing that we are achieving our mission. It’s my job to make adjustments to our strategies so we don’t stray from our original plan, or even adjusting the plan to better fit our needs. Because I have such a broad job definition and we’re such a small team, I end up wearing a LOT of hats, and do everything from writing facebook posts to planning events to devising funding strategies.
How did you decide to start BTF? What was the driving force behind your decision?
I knew for quite a while that I wanted to work in the nonprofit sector because it’s always been really important to me to help others and make their lives better. When I finished college I looked for non-profit jobs for quite a while, but I didn’t want to take just any job, I wanted to get a job where I would find meaning in my work. Unfortunately, I was under qualified for many of the positions I looked at. Some of my coworkers at the time had encouraged me to start my own organization, but I was against the idea because I knew it was a lot more work than most people realized.
After visiting Tanzania, however, things really changed. Knowing that Grace was so keen on helping her community was probably the biggest factor. And I loved the idea that I could have a job doing exactly what I wanted - something meaningful, something that would help people. After speaking to a couple of friends and family members who were totally behind me, my mind was pretty made up.
What interests you in Tanzania?
I think the better question is, what doesn’t interest me in Tanzania? I love everything about it! It started when I was a kid: my favorite animal for many years was the cheetah. I wanted so badly to go on safari so I could see them in person, and the idea just grew on me. As I got older, I became interested in human evolution, and one of the research sites I became most interested in was Olduvai, located in Tanzania. I figured if I wanted to make a career working in Olduvai, I should probably learn the local language - Swahili. After that, my love for Tanzania spiraled, and I became interested in not only the language, but the culture, the history, the food, and most importantly, the people themselves. Tanzania’s recent history is sad because it's very much a history of colonialism, but the upside is that so many cultures and traditions have been woven into the more traditional Tanzanian lifestyle. Today there is such a rich diversity of colorful cultures all over Tanzania; it’s just so interesting to experience it.
So you speak Swahili?
Kidogo tu. Which means, just a little. I took 3 semesters of Swahili in college, but I’m not very good at it! When I was teaching at Arusha Integrated School I spoke Swahili to a few of the students who I thought were not understanding the lesson because it was in English. They told all of their classmates, and the next class period, I was bombarded with “Speak Swahili!” In an attempt to satisfy them, I tried to tell them “I speak just a little Swahili, but poorly.” Instead, I managed to say, “I am talk Swahili very little, but bad.” Needless to say, this resulted in a lot of laughs from the students, and I mostly stuck with English for the rest of my stay.
What BTF project are you the most proud of?
I think I’m most proud of the Sponsorship Program. When we started planning it, I don’t think anyone realized just how big a project it was going to be, or that it would evolve so much as we developed it. I’m super happy with what we’ve ended up with, and I know there’s still room to improve it, so I’m really looking forward to that.
What is the most difficult or challenging part of your job?
Remaining focused! I’ve always got so many things going on at once, I have a tendency to jump from project to project. Everything is so interconnected that working on one thing makes me start thinking about something related, and eventually it’s like, “How did I end up working on writing this brochure? I was supposed to be researching grants!”
Where do you see the organization headed in the next five years?
We have a lot of goals for this organization, and we plan to implement quite a few programs to get there. I think in five years Saving Grace should be serving all primary grades, and our real-world learning program should be underway. We will then be providing for approximately 100 to 125 students, and we will likely be employing at least 5 Tanzanian teachers to achieve this.
We’re also currently working on developing a program for educating American youth on Tanzania and the problems of poverty and inadequate education. Through this program we hope to create partnerships with different schools. Some of our other programs currently in the works include parent assistance, continuing education grants for teachers, college scholarships for BTF-run school graduates, and a community education program to help adults develop basic skills for acquiring better jobs.
Although I don’t think all of these programs will be implemented within the next 5 years, we will do our best to lay the groundwork for all of these projects and more. We’ll just keep moving forward until we reach our goals.
What is the most rewarding part of working for BTF?
By far, the success stories I get from Grace. I love hearing about kids who come to our school and turn things around - grades, behavior, whatever. It lets me know that we’re succeeding in helping these kids, and I’m confident that they will go on to make something of themselves.