“Why are you going to Africa?” and other FAQs regarding my summer

Next Wednesday, I depart for Dar es Salaam, Tanzania to begin my “Post-graduate Adventure.” This generic phrase (inspired by my parents, who cannot understand why I’d go to Africa, except for adventure) will serve as temporary title for this next chapter of my life. Once I live this upcoming chapter, find its end, and discover its meaning, I aspire to summarize it all with a better, more clever title. Bear with me until then. (And bear with me while I figure this whole blog thing out :)

“So…what exactly are you doing in Tanzania?”

I’m traveling to Dar for many reasons, the chief of which is interning at Ubongo Kids, a fast-moving social enterprise that produces science and math edutainment for children 7–12. Ubongo Kids began 2015 as the #2 show in Tanzania, and it’s watched by one million households in five different countries. Moreover, 1/4 of Ubongo Kids’s audience do not have access to regular schooling, and the show helps to provide an alternative education. I’m blown away by the work that the awesome team at Ubongo Kids has done so far, and I can’t wait to learn from them. Below, you can view their startup Story (produced by the company’s CEO, Nisha Ligon, who will also be my manager this summer!).

I’m funded by Stanford’s African Service Fellowship, and I’m living with a friend of my professor’s. I’ve prepared myself, in some ways, by learning about African urbanism through Stanford’s Anthropology department. I’m so grateful for the mentors, professors, and institutions that made this opportunity possible.

“But…why?”

I cannot recall the exact moment that I decided to work in Africa. Over the past seven years, my curiosity about the Southern and Eastern regions of the continent has slowly emerged. It’s been fueled by policy debates in high school, late night readings of Paul Collier, development economics courses at Stanford, and retrospectively offensive media campaigns viewed over my lifetime. (See Makau Mutua’s “Savages, Victims and Saviors: The Metaphor of Human Rights” for greater detail.) Truth be told, I continue to ponder the ethics and implications of my work in Tanzania. Questions excerpted from my fellowship learning plan:

“What place do I have to work with a community that is not my own? As a foreigner to the city, how am I accepted or rejected by Dar’s local residents? Knowing that Western conceptions of international service are problematic, how can I serve with good intentions and humility?”

I hope to grab glimpses of these questions’ answers throughout this summer.

Similarly, I cannot recall the exact moment that I decided to work in social entrepreneurship. I first learned of the term when I came to Stanford. “Social Entrepreneurship” framed public service as fast-paced, meaningful, and sexy; it was the perfect way to serve while also participating in Silicon Valley’s allure. Like many others in non-profit, I’ve developed a complicated relationship with the term…more on that later. But I am excited about social entrepreneurs whose organizations are well served by business models. I firmly believe that Ubongo — with its low production costs, potential to scale, and otherwise unreached audience — is one of them.

“What is Dar like?”

Dar is Tanzania’s largest and richest city. In the late 1990’s, Dar experienced “one of Africa’s fastest urbanizations,” Dar continues to grow quickly today and is the third fastest growing city in Africa — in 2005, its population was 2.46 million; in 2012, Dar had 4.36 million residents. Unlike other types of city layouts (which are more circular in nature), Dar’s is “finger-like” — shaped by the transportation opportunities provided by its highways. With its terrible traffic and beautiful coasts, Dar is often compared to Los Angeles. (I wrote an essay exploring Dar’s layout and transportation systems — maybe I’ll post that next.) I’m excited to see how walking, breathing, and living the city contrasts with what expectations I have now.

“So…I read your blog like you said. Now what?”

As I embark on this “Post-graduate Adventure” of mine, I invite you to read my blog, if you like, and provide me feedback, if you have any. I’d love to hear your advice as I struggle, your criticism as I misstep, and your encouragement as I move forward. Thanks for reading my first post!