A Reflection of Hope

Amidst all that is currently going on in the world, now more than ever seems like a good time to reflect upon the experiences which have profoundly shaped me as a person. My time with The Foundation For Tomorrow is one such experience which I am immensely grateful for in shaping my life trajectory. I first got involved with TFFT during my junior year of high school when I applied for an internship with them in Tanzania over the summer. Even at age 16, I was incredibly impressed and inspired by TFFT’s work and wanted to be a part of their efforts in whatever way I could. My 3 weeks in Arusha working at Matonyok Children’s Home was a great learning experience and is really what inspired my continued involvement with the organization. As a high schooler – and to this day – it has been really amazing to have such an intelligent and driven female mentor, Meghann. I think that is one thing so unique and powerful to TFFT’s mission, is that it shows its supporters – young and old – the potential women have to be strong leaders and change the world. Over my senior year of high school, I decided to take a gap year. This was a controversial decision in my house and amongst my friends with the gap year culture not being as popular in the US, especially in the south. However, I will always say that taking a gap year was the best decision I have ever made for myself. I grew more than I could ever imagine and learned so much about the world outside of the Charlotte bubble I grew up in. It’s the reason I chose to go to college abroad and do something entirely different from each of my friends. I spent a semester working with TFFT – about 2 months in the Charlotte office and 4 in Arusha. My semester with TFFT was a beautiful experience. It presented me with many challenges, and at the same time the most love, peace and joy I have experienced. When I arrived back at Matonyok Children’s Home over my gap year I had naive expectations that I would somehow change the fate of the entire home and the lives of the children living there. I quickly learned that this was not possible, and my place there would rather teach and offer me more than I could offer anyone there. I remember speaking to Meghann about a week or so in, voicing my concerns. I will never forget the advice she gave me; advice which I also believe to be fundamental to any type of volunteer or development work. The first was to take on smaller projects and help where I could; things like organizing the classrooms, tutoring kids in reading after school, helping cook, drive sick kids to the hospital, take the kids to get their vaccinations so the teachers could stay back and prepare for class, etc. In doing these small things, I would make a difference. And Meghann was right, where I could help a lot was in helping make the teachers’ lives easier so that they could teach better, as well as using my resources to help in any way I could around the home. The second piece of advice Meghann gave me was to become comfortable with feeling lonely. This piece of advice and skill I have developed is something I carry with me every day now. In my 4 months in Arusha, I became my own best company and a stronger woman because of it. This is something TFFT teaches. It’s not just an organization that helps its students and those on the ground in Arusha, but one that also teaches those who support the organization from all across the world.

Fast forward four years, and I am currently studying for my Master’s in African Studies at the University of Oxford. My involvement with TFFT piqued my interest in this program, and I am so grateful for the opportunity I have had to study at such an exceptional university with esteemed professors and bright-minded peers. My dissertation this year was meant to use TFFT as a case study for studying the impacts of teacher training on teachers’ professional capabilities and knowledge. However, due to COVID-19, I had to cancel my research plans. I was meant to be in Tanzania right now conducting my fieldwork and it is something I have been looking forward to all year. But I think there is a silver lining here in reflecting upon my fieldwork preparations and time at Oxford. I am so grateful and proud to be a part of the community TFFT produces and encourages on a daily basis. The TFFT team was immediately willing and open to help facilitate my research and its preparations, and through this I was able to learn so much about the additional programs TFFT has implemented over the years. It is something beautiful to watch grow and is one thing I would like to close this blog post with. The community that TFFT has made and continues to build on – students, supporters and teachers included – is inspiring and a beacon of light amidst all of this chaos we are experiencing right now. It is a community that teaches and spreads peace, well-being, care and growth through the power of education, and I couldn’t be more grateful to be a part of their work.

Mary Hill during her time in Tanzania