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Itanisa Mbise | ​Tanzania

What do you do in your home country and what do you hope to do upon your return? In particular, with the integration of your experiences here?


I work for an organization called Sema. We give children platforms to speak out. We want to improve societies acceptance of children in terms of their voices by listening to them and then voicing their concerns to communities, their parents and schools. We have opinion boxes as well as a phone line for children. The reason we do this is because back home most children don't have phones. Then lastly we have a children's magazine called Sema, it means Speak in Swahili. I am the managing editor for the magazine. We collect stories and drawings. Some of them write fiction. Some write about people who inspire them. We do as minimal editing as possible because we want it to be their voices. We also talk about what we encounter that we think is important for them. For example, some cases from the helpline, it’s not stories from them but its stories about children who called. This helps them know the different reasons children call us and how we can help them. We also try to find people who are inspiring. Sometimes its other children sometimes it's adults. Roots and Shoots is an organization we work with to cultivate an environmental mindset from a young age so they can go and be the change in their communities. The magazine is quarterly and is distributed in schools. It is also the income generating wing of our organization. We ask parents to subscribe. We also get people who want to advertise, some bigger NGOs who put their work in our magazines.

What I do is data and communication for the organization. I also lead the social media communications. We are really keen about telling stories about parenting to parents. Positive parenting, vaccines, nutrition advice. Parents can reach out to us with questions about parenting. Then we also share stories from the helpline so people know the helpline exists and that there is a safe anonymous place to report abuse or ask questions. We work with two media houses. We write parenting articles weekly, one in English and one in Swahili.

I have learned quite a few things during my time here. A lot of them have been reminders and refreshers. On a more personal level, I learned about some of the mistakes I've fallen into due to the routine I have. I was initially a good team player but now I realize maybe I am too controlling or I don't share my ideas with people but I just do it. I've also learned quite a bit about seemingly simple ways that organizations work with the communities. The side by side classes. For me it sounds that if I get a willing person who is willing to work with the community and a few people from the community who want to learn that is something I can coordinate. It is really simple. You’ve got a simple way of creating value for people and listening to them. Outside of my work, I do want to engage more with young people. Not necessarily children but others who want to start their own movements back home. Bringing change about without necessarily feeling that it is an exclusive opportunity.

What is your favorite thing about your home country? How about Philadelphia?

I like how we come together and be there for people. During ceremonies and stuff. If there is a wedding or a funeral, everyone in the community swoops down to help that family and just be there. There are challenges that come with that, someone who can really cook will take care of the kitchen area. Everyone gives their time and energy to comfort the family, or to celebrate for a wedding. Some people say we don't have a willing or giving culture, but when you go back to the roots, it very communal.

From day one in Philly, I loved seeing the murals, those really stood out, they are very colorful. It is interesting to see how they just randomly pop out at you. Back home we don't really have that. And I like feeling safe on the sidewalk and knowing that as a pedestrian you don't have to fight for space on the sidewalk.

Do you have any hobbies or an interesting fact you wish to share about yourself?

I do love to read novels. Our perception of hobbies is very different back home. I do blog in my free time. I have a blog with my best friend called ‘Here's the Story’. We share our point of views on almost anything, we do have a special interest in women. We had an entire series called Pressing for Progress featuring different women and the work they do.

If I were to come to your home country, what is the first thing I should eat?

Mtori. It's like plantain soup. That's the closest way to describe it. Either that or normal soup with Chapati. For lunch I would go with Zege or Chips yey. Chips fried with eggs and it becomes an omelet. You have to buy it on the street because it tastes better than in hotels.