Hi there, I’m Claire, a 35 year old, half French, half English woman with a slight addiction to cheese and sunshine, who also happens to be Executive Director of Cedar Tanzania. After 8 years of working in London, I came to Mwanza for a break from the big city and to experience something different.
Claire what is your role at Cedar Tanzania?
I began working at Cedar Tanzania as Operations and Funding Manager back in November 2014 before assuming the role of Executive Director in January 2018.
What inspired you to take a position with Cedar Tanzania?
If I’m honest, meeting the founder and Country Director of Cedar Tanzania, Mark O’Sullivan, was what initially inspired me to join the organisation. Mark’s story of successfully establishing The Cedar Foundation in Bulgaria to cater for the needs of children with disabilities was heart-warming. What was even more impressive was hearing about how he and his team overcame multiple challenges and persevered relentlessly until they reached their goal and vision. Now Cedar Foundation Bulgaria is a well renowned, well respected organisation that provides world-class care for thousands of young people.
When Mark told me he wanted to set something up here in Tanzania, I felt compelled to join him and our small team on this new journey, and privileged to have the opportunity to do so.
Like in many small organisations that are just establishing themselves, my role was at first varied and wide ranging. Helping define and communicate our vision, mission and values and strategic priorities in the fields of Health, Education, Community Empowerment and Entrepreneurship was a first step. After this, I supported the field team in the implementation of our first few projects, developing new systems and processes through which we could operate effectively. The other part of my role was identifying ways in which we could grow in terms of people and projects, which of course meant looking for more financial support.
Now, as Executive Director, I am honoured to be able to support a larger Cedar team and to represent them to the board of Cedar Tanzania, to our funders, Friends of Cedar Switzerland and to our stakeholders. Developing ways, both internally and externally, in which we can continue and expand our work with the people of the Nyamatongo ward to improve health and education and promote equality and life prospects in a sustainable way is what I work towards daily.
What things have you found surprising living and working here in Mwanza?
Not a day goes by here in Mwanza without its surprises. The culture here is so different to what I was used to in Europe, I am almost always in a state of amazement and wonder. Why are the majority of people who live on the shores of Lake Victoria unable to swim? How have people from so many different religions learnt to live so peacefully side by side, with no hint of ghettoisation or societal separation? Why do people here approach noise, time and personal space so differently to me? Where does the idea of collectivism, a principle deeply entrenched in Tanzanian communities, come from? How do women manage to dress in their beautiful, brightly colours dresses in the searing heat, proudly balancing a basket of twelve pineapples on their heads? These are just some of the things I find myself pondering about on a daily basis – all of which leaves me with one over-riding question: what can I learn from all of this?
What things have you enjoyed whilst working with Cedar Tanzania?
Working for Cedar Tanzannia has always been a pleasure, mainly because of the people and the culture of the organisation. My team mates are a vibrant, hard-working and passionate group of people who are committed to working with the Nyamatongo community to improve quality of life. We are an eclectic group, each with different personalities, backgrounds and beliefs but it works, and keeps life interesting! We face challenges and reach resolutions together, try to keep a sense of humour throughout, and always remember to mark the successes!
I have also hugely enjoyed being involved in our health centre project from the very start through to it becoming operational. This has been very rewarding and I have learnt a lot, from how to manage a construction project to how to manage a health centre. Being able to offer health care to the people who had none previously at Kamanga Health Centre is an honour.
What things have challenged you so far working with Cedar Tanzania?
I think that perhaps one of the biggest challenges of working here is the difference in culture. I often find myself needing to take a step back to readjust my expectations and perceptions so that I’m looking at a situation through a different lens. This takes patience which, I have to admit, I struggle with occasionally when there are pressing deadlines and urgent priorities ahead of me. This is not helped by the fact that communication is not always easy given that most people speak Kiswahili and that mine is far from fluent, despite my best efforts. However, if I’m really struggling, I usually turn to the Cedar Tanzania team and they explain things to me in a way that I can understand and work with.
What Cedar Tanzania projects do you like the most, and why?
I am particularly excited by one of our latest projects, the Tackle Africa HIV Education project. This is pilot project in partnership with an organisation called Tackle Africa, which raises awareness amongst young people about sexual health, women empowerment and HIV through football. The messages on these topics are integrated within and demonstrated by a number of football drills which are then delivered to teams of young people by football coaches from the Nyamatongo community. I find this project inspiring because it engages people easily on difficult topics through something they already love – football is a very popular sport here. Through this project, we are also able to link to our Health Centre, and we will hopefully see an increase in the number of people who get tested and treated for HIV, which ultimately will save lives. Who doesn’t get excited about that?
And finally Claire, what is your favourite imoji?
There are so many to choose from! Looking at my most recently used, I would say the ‘thumbs up’ and the person crying with laughter features most commonly, which I hope is a positive thing!