A Deep and Lasting Friendship

I believe in giving back. I am a long time donor to many organizations spanning disaster recovery to social justice to community empowerment. Since retirement, I had been wanting to get more involved and volunteer with an organization that gave me the opportunity to have more personal interactions and impact. A friend introduced me to Karimu International Help Foundation. Karimu is a small non-profit that works in the Manyara region of Tanzania. Their mission is to alleviate poverty. I began volunteering a year ago and joined them on a volunteer trip last summer. With 30 other volunteers we helped to build school classrooms, inspire teachers and students, teach first aid, support midwives, treat patients, assess healthcare needs, develop processes for maintaining completed projects, introduce a new project for improving financial security, and discuss priorities with community leaders. All these projects are making significant and lasting impacts within the community: school attendance and test scores are up, more families are sending their girls to school, health and healthcare are improving,… It is deeply touching to see first hand and know with certainty that your contribution is having such an impact. But is equally satisfying to experience the relationship that Karimu maintains with the community.

My area of focus with Karimu is financial security. People living in poverty do not typically have access to traditional financial services. They lack the collateral for loans. A proven strategy to offer financial services to impoverished areas is the formation of savings groups. Members of a savings group save money together, offer loans to members from the group savings, and collect insurance for emergency situations. I visited many groups while there and heard stories of the value and challenges of the savings groups. The savings groups help them to afford the school fees and uniforms needed for their children’s education, for buying seasonal supplies for growing crops, for taking out small loans to buy equipment or raw materials for a business, and for providing emergency funds for families in crisis. The biggest challenge that the savings groups face is insufficient capital to meet all the members needs and it is this challenge that Karimu’s financial services program will address. Their savings are meager compared to western standards, but even so, we were greeted warmly and generously. Many even offered us soft drinks, a luxury item, that they paid for from their emergency fund. I was touched by their hospitality and generosity. It is clear that the long relationship the community has had with Karimu imbues these interactions with friendship, hope, and trust.

Karimu’s model focuses on community partnership - that is the local community identifies candidate projects that benefit the whole community, sets the project priorities, participates in delivering the projects, and maintains the projects. Karimu trusts that the community knows best what they need. Our role is in listening to and understanding their challenges, respecting their culture and choices, gathering resources, managing projects, and ensuring that the investments made are maintained and become self-sustaining.