Women Building Tanzania (WBT) Project Makes Progress

By Jennifer Bruen, Assistant Director, CCED

WBT is a partnership between the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) at the University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania, MSU’s Center for Community and Economic Development (CCED), MSU Construction Management, MSU Engineering, and Spartan Global Development, along with other non-academic Tanzanian and USA organizations, including NIA Hope for Youth Organization, Society of Women Engineers, and Estim Construction (Tanzanian operated). The WBT team also engages students majoring in gender studies, finance, international development, and construction management. 

WBT is an ambitious initiative striving to provide a unique and innovative approach to encouraging females to pursue higher education degrees and careers in STEM – science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Over the years, MSU has engaged in numerous projects in Tanzania to improve infrastructure, although as far as we are aware, none of these projects has offered STEM education and training to the female students at primary schools. WBT seeks to spark young women’s minds, while also giving back to the community by addressing and improving critical health and sanitation issues that inhibit a young women’s full academic progression. The impact of WBT is intended to improve the lives of female students, but the longer-term impact of this project is in the transformation of educational institutions, breaking down barriers to equity in female academics in science research and mentorship.

In January 2019, WBT received a second round of funding from the MSU Network for Global Civic Engagement (NGCE), bringing the total support to $22,000, including CCED’s cash match. This support allowed partners from across the MSU campus, who were already forming an interdisciplinary team, to further cultivate their relationships across organizations and academic constructs. 

The NGCE support also allowed representatives from MSU Center for Community and Economic Development, MSU Construction Management, and University of Dar es Salaam to travel and meet with leadership at Kiparang’anda Primary school, located in the Pwani region of Tanzania. The May 2019 trip allowed WBT to witness and recognize the school’s dire needs, particularly in infrastructure and education upgrades. The school’s nine poorly functioning and deteriorating latrines were observably inadequate for 1,800 students. Latrine and sanitation problems were recognized at Kiparang’anda Primary and it appears these may be disproportionally affecting the education of the female students at the school. Many of them drop out of school before moving onto the secondary program, especially with the onset of menstruation.

In the summer of 2019, WBT forged a new partnership with junior and senior engineering faculty at MSU, which resulted in outreach to Engineers Without Borders. WBT team members are now assisting the Kiparang’anda community in the development of an EWB application. If the community is selected, the EWB and WBT teams will work together to identify physical infrastructure areas of concern at Kiparang’anda and work with local tradesmen and experts to complete the new construction necessary.

During the summer of 2020, WBT also forged a new partnership with Estim Construction in Tanzania. This led to a significant upgrade to the school’s drinking water system. Estim, in collaboration with MSU Construction Management faculty, installed an additional water tank, extended the electrical capacity, and completed a pump replacement. The project was funded by Estim’s nonprofit arm and a partnering organization called Dhow Natural Foods

Since WBT’s 2019 Tanzania visit, MSU CCED, NIHOPU, and the University of Dar es Salaam have continued to build a strategy to encourage STEM occupations with the girls and women at the school. On November 25th, WBT began to work with ProjeKt Inspire, a science education NGO in Tanzania. WBT is discussing entry-level construction, engineering, and science concepts with leadership at ProjeKt Inspire. As a part of the training and education, WBT will also begin to work with Berkley High School in Michigan to look for ways to incorporate age-appropriate training in Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to build skills in field observation and measurement at Kiparang’anda.

Eventually the team hopes to be able to offer mentorship and business development. Once it is safe to travel, a few members of the research team plan to travel to Tanzania to engage with the business college faculty at the University of Dar es Salaam. They will work with local partners and stakeholders to further explore areas of mutual interest, exchange ideas, and lay foundations for future business development start-up creation around micro finance, to be led by faculty, staff, and students with the Spartan Global Development Fund.

The WBT team will begin to move into a research phase of the project this fall. Thus far, the WBT team has been focused on physical change and interventions at Kiparang’anda; however, they are beginning to seek additional funding to pursue research in cultural beliefs and practices, health and wellness, water, sanitation, energy infrastructure, gender issues, technology, and education. If successful, WBT will be able to draft a preliminary research plan and begin the initial steps in observation, measuring and gathering community input towards a full community assessment.

The WBT team has is focused on leveraging intellectual assets at both universities to improve the lives of women in Tanzania and in Michigan.To learn more about this project visit https://ced.msu.edu/programs/women-building-tanzaniaor to get involved contact Jennifer Bruen at bruenjen@msu.edu .

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