AS TOLD TO ORKEESWA
"YOU HAVE PLANTED A SEED THAT IS NOW FEEDING THE COMMUNITY."
Orkeeswa Alum, Saingorie, tells his story of growing into the leader he is today. Saingorie is the founder of the Women's Agro-Enviro Vision, working to empower women in marginalized communities by promoting environmental conservation, community health, and economic opportunities in rural Tanzania.
"My mother was the last wife among the 14 wives of my father. She has 6 children, and I am the 4th born. As I look at my mother’s story I get inspired because I know how my mom struggled in the life that she lived. Seeing the women that I work with now going through the same things my mom went through I feel even more motivated to support them.
"I received an opportunity to join Orkeeswa school in 2008. I was living with my grandmother after my grandfather passed away. I wasn’t sure if I could join secondary school because I had no support when I was in primary school. I thought I was very fortunate to get this opportunity. We were about 41 students at the beginning who were the pioneers of the school. Being a pioneer meant that people were looking up to us and I felt determined to be a role model.
"After I finished at Orkeeswa, I pursued a Bachelors of Science in Horticulture. After graduating university, I came to Orkeeswa School looking for a job opportunity and I am very grateful that I got an internship. I worked to improve the school environment and the garden. While I was there, I planted a lot of chaya which is the main source of school vegetables to date. I also organized workshops for the students, where the students learned about simple gardening skills and we planted more than 50 trees.
"After my internship, I went on to pursue my dreams that I had for many years. I spent a lot of time moving here and there to learn from other organizations. I started to mobilize groups of women from my village. I approached two women in the village, told them about my vision, and they gathered 11 other women. From there, my organization took off. We started with a general understanding of the environment and focused on three things: taking care of our environment, starting vegetable gardens, and economic empowerment.
We were able to get 300 trees and vegetable seeds donated and we gave them to the women to plant at their bomas and taught them how to take care of them. Later on, they were able to use the vegetables as part of their meals at home and sold the rest in the nearby markets to earn an income. The message got out and many women started reaching out to me.
"We were able to get some funds to invest in their entrepreneurship project and thereafter, these women had hopes for a brighter future. I was helping the women grow as a self-governing group, meaning they would have their own leadership. I wanted to prepare these women in a way that they will live their lives and work for themselves even without me.
Soon I had many women joining and we realized we needed to expand. We now have 5 groups of 40 or so women. These groups meet weekly and discuss the challenges they face, ways to improve them and what to do to make our mission sustainable. So far we were able to plant over 3,500 trees in the village.
"I expected it would be challenging at first, because I came from that village and I knew people would look at me and think to themselves, “What can he really offer us? He comes from a poor family.” And it’s true they said those things at first, but I pretended that I was blind and deaf to what they said about me. I was also worried about community collaboration since my projects started on a very small scale and planting trees was not seen as a need in the community. I had to think of ways to convince them to be part of the work. So I introduced a microfinance program where you needed to plant trees to be part of the program. I knew without this program, the tree planting project alone would not work.
Initially, our main challenge was that the men were not interested in supporting their wives. Our strategy now is to consult with the women’s husbands before registering them. We have noticed that if they agree together, the support for what we are doing comes very easy. This new strategy is working very well as we have been receiving calls from the women’s husbands acknowledging the success of the projects.
"Giving back to the community has always been an Orkeeswa anthem. I feel that I am fulfilling Orkeeswa’s mission because I know that the problem solvers in the communities are us and not those who started the school. All it takes for my community to thrive is education. That will create awareness and passion for people to do what they want. There is a lot that needs to be done. My ideal village is one in which a majority of women stand on their own and do what they are capable of. I can help to achieve that through partnership and collaboration."
"Since I started my organization I have been able to mentor some students from Orkeeswa. One alumni named Isaack contacted me saying he heard about what I do and he wanted to learn how to start an organization to help the community. We talked about a few things like how to create a constitution, having a clear vision and mission and so forth. I am very proud to mentor him as a fellow Orkeeswa alumni but also because I have experienced many challenges already and would be happy to see him navigate them smoothly. My message to Orkeeswa students is to keep on doing what you are doing with passion, vision and commitment and always be positive."
ORKEESWA IS MORE THAN A SCHOOL
We are re-inventing what it means to be a school and its relationship to the community it serves. The Orkeeswa model goes beyond high-quality secondary education. We are developing a network of community-driven innovators who can collaboratively address complex systemic challenges from a variety of disciplines and positions of influence.