The social network

When I signed up for Facebook three or four years ago, I was torn between guilt and exhilaration—maybe a little like the minister who goes to a party where he knows that some people will be doing lines of coke. I was a high school teacher and my friends were high school teachers, and three or four years ago the received wisdom in that club was that Facebook was where our students said the things to each other which they did not want their teachers to hear.

Guilt and exhilaration are nervous feelings, so I was definitely nervous when I signed up. I did it anyway, though, in the vague hope that, as long as I could avoid the lines of coke, the party would somehow be worth going to. But by this past summer, Facebook no longer seemed like a party to me. The guilt and exhilaration were long gone, supplanted by boredom. If there was a party in that house, then it was a huge house and the party was going on in rooms I could never find. I could barely hear the music, and I wondered why I had showed up.

It turns out that I had showed up to talk to some of my Tanzanian friends. In July, Karimu volunteers worked hard to set up Internet service for Ayalagaya Secondary School. One year of Internet was paid for by donations from the volunteers, who also paid for a full year of electricity for the school. One of the Ayalagaya teachers, whose name is Constancia, reports that the Internet works most of the time. But she has not told me much more than that, and I haven’t received a word from any of the other Ayalagaya teachers.

This is disappointing, since planning more projects to improve the school depends on communication with the teachers. Although Marianne and I think that using e-mail may be, in some way, nonintuitive for them, that’s only a guess. We have started to worry that we won’t understand the problem until we return to Dareda Kati Village next July, by which time the opportunity for several months of project-planning will have been lost.

However, if it’s true that e-mail is nonintuitive for our friends in the village, this is not the case with Facebook. In particular, one of the villagers, Yusuphu Sulley, who has taken to using his flip phone to get on Facebook regularly, now exchanges messages with me two or three times a week. Yusuphu does not often make the long walk to the part of the village where Ayalagaya Secondary School is. But, ever since Karimu’s annual visit to Dareda Kati ended, three months ago, he has become my reliable go-between for discussions with the teachers at Ufani Primary School. This is doubly useful because the Ufani Agriculture Organization (UFAGRO), a microcredit group of forty-seven villagers, holds its monthly meetings in the Ufani classroom where Daniel Amma teaches; Daniel is the UFAGRO Treasurer.

The constant back-and-forth with Yusuphu (along with pretty frequent Facebook contact with another Ufani School teacher, a young woman named Ramla Msati) is a big help to Karimu’s attempt to decentralize both our communication with the village, and how we distribute our funds there. In past years, all communication and all funds have passed through our Tanzanian Board member, Joas Kahembe. Joas remains crucial to Karimu. But he lives half an hour’s drive away, in Babati, where he has a big family and many business interests to look after. As Karimu’s projects have multiplied in complexity as well as in number, we have been reluctant to ask Joas to keep up with everything. Now we don’t need to.

Just last week, there was a disagreement among some of the villagers about how a relatively small amount of Karimu money—$1,000—ought to be spent. It’s the kind of thing that, in the past, has sometimes created hard feelings that festered for months. This time, a simple Facebook message from Daniel, by way of Yusuphu, and a simple response from Marianne and me cleared up the dispute in a single day.

I’m glad that I tried to find the party.

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About Don Stoll

Don and his wife, Marianne Kent-Stoll, are co-founders of the Karimu International Help Foundation. They established Karimu in 2008 at the request of the people of Dareda Kati Village, in the Manyara Region of northeastern Tanzania. Karimu is devoted to working with the residents of Dareda Kati in order to satisfy their development needs, as defined by the villagers themselves.
This entry was posted in Africa, development, poverty, Tanzania, volunteering and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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