How does someone develop a passion for empowering girls in Tanzanian society? For Asimwe Suedi, Binti Shupavu Project Manager, the answer lies in her life experience. While she is incredibly confident today leading her team of Mentors and speaking in front of a class of Scholars (or a group of their parents or teachers), it wasn’t always that way. Read the story of her early school years, and you will see why she has a soft spot for helping a shy girl to blossom.
Please share some memories from your childhood.
I grew up in a single parent family home as the only child, so I have many vivid memories of my mom, Janath Juma Salum, doing her best for all of us. Her “words of wisdom” were non-stop! Back then, I used to not like these talks and say to myself, “Can’t she give me a break? Must she have a word of advice about everything?” Of course, I enjoyed all the moments that she bought me new clothes, cooked me good food (especially on my birthday) and all the small gifts she gave me. Now that I am older, I so appreciate her amazing job with my upbringing.
I remember the house where I grew up. It looked exactly like a slum house. My mother uttered this sentence to me so many times:‘’I wouldn’t want you to spend the rest of your life living this lifestyle and there is nothing I can offer you but an education.’’ At home, I spent more time with young married women than I did with other kids. I grew up seeing a lot of abuse of women, although at the time I did not comprehend what I was seeing. Now, I know how sad it was.
How about some early school memories?
I remember my school friends who I loved spending time with walking to school and at school. School for me was a good place to play as much as I liked. I had friends who could climb trees and try other daring things. I was unlike them; I was quiet and scared to be in trouble. My fellow pupils and some teachers called me ‘’Madeko,’’which means a weak, delicate or spoiled child. No child likes to be called this.
I remember this mixed (good and sad) memory from my childhood. One of the female teachers observed me as a child lacking confidence and was willing to help. She suggested that I should be a class leader as a means for boosting my self-esteem and becoming more social. One day, a male teacher became very angry because I was not taking down names of noisy kids. He came to the classroom shouting that I was not a leader at all. He made me resign publicly (and tearfully) in front of the laughing class and, what was worse, he insisted that I say loudly to everyone that “I am not a leader and I cannot lead.” Instead of boosting my self-assurance, this experience stripped me of the confidence I was building.
I think back on this experience when I am with a group of Binti Shupavu Scholars because it is the opposite of what we are trying to achieve at AfricAid. There are outgoing girls, as well as quiet ones – ALL can be taught the skills to be effective leaders and ALL have unique gifts they can contribute to their communities.
What did you dream of becoming when you were a child?
To be honest, as a typical Tanzanian girl, I did not really have awareness for different career options when I was a child. I remember as child dreaming about studying at the university level. As children we were told that we would become wealthy, respected and admired if we could make it to university. (This is why AfricAid’s Career Day, where Scholars are exposed to all sorts of different careers, is such an eye opening experience.)
Where did you go to school and what did you study? Did you enjoy school?
At primary level I enjoyed school because of all the friends I could play with and the fact that it was a way for me to escape some domestic chores. Back then, playing with friends was more fun than listening to a teacher. I remember my mom teaching me simple mathematics tricks in very fun way and it was helpful. My favorite subject at primary level was math because I became very good at it. When you are good at a subject you automatically like it.
I went to Boniconsilii Girls Secondary School for lower secondary school (2002-2006). When it was time to specialize in fewer subjects, I chose arts subjects because I wasn’t quite sure of what I wanted. Many of my peers chose the same thing and I was influenced by them.
I progressed to Mawenzi Secondary School for upper secondary school (2007-2009). This was a girls’ boarding school and I enjoyed it more because I made friends from different places and got to hear stories of places and things that were new to me. Based on the outcome of my Form 4 examinations, my combination was History, Geography and English. These were my favorite subjects and my teachers were really good.
I attended Dodoma University for my bachelor’s degree (2009-2012). My major was Project Planning Management and Community Development. I actually had the idea I would purse a degree in Procurement because I heard that it led to good job opportunities. My best friend’s mother suggested that I should try Project Management, telling me that it would be marketable. She thought I would be suited for Project Management and I am so glad I made the switch because it serves me very well in my job today.
Did you have a favorite teacher or one that had the most influence on you?
My favorite teacher’s name is Madam Amina and she was my tutor for extra classes for four years in a row between ages 10 and 13. She really believed in my abilities and intelligence. Whenever she talked to someone else about me in my presence, I heard only positive feedback. It felt so good to have her trust in me, especially when other people focused on blaming me for my mistakes and weaknesses. For some reason, being quiet and not a very social child in class was judged as a sign of not being a strong candidate for future opportunities. Even back then Madam Amina used to say,‘’Believe me Asimwe will make it to University.”
What are your proudest moments?
My proudest moments are when my family and community refer me as a good role model. When I go back home during holidays, some parents ask me to provide guidance to their daughters. My uncles want their daughters who are still in school to use me as their inspiration.
I always feel proud when I have an open discussion with less fortunate people and get to hear what they think and share what I know. Together we come to a better understanding. One good example of this is during AfricAid’s Parent Engagement Events. I often meet parents and guardians who don’t have access to information regarding parenting, dealing with adolescence and girls’ challenges in Tanzania. I feel proud that my knowledge and experience is benefiting many others.
Of course, standing on top of Mount Kilimanjaro in January, 2016 was a very proud moment too!
What three words might others use to describe you?
I asked my coworkers for suggestions and here are the words they came up with. It was then put to a vote by Devotha (AfricAid Program Director) and Eligrania (former AfricAid staff, now a friend), two who have known me the longest, and they chose the three that are highlighted.
- Grateful *
- Humble *
- Sister *
What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
I am an inquisitive person and I spend my time satisfying that my desire to learn new things. My curiosity depends on what is happening or what interests me, which could be a culture, an idea, or research. For instance, now that I know that I will be traveling to the US soon, I have been enjoying spending a lot of my free time on the internet looking at the airports that I will be passing through, as well as listening to people’s experiences on the airlines I am traveling with.
How did you get your job at AfricAid?
In 2014, I heard about a Kisa Mentor position with AfricAid from one of the former Mentors. I interviewed for the job and was accepted, but decided to take a job with a different organization. That job was short-lived as the organization was disbanded. Luckily, in 2015, Kisa Mentor interviews were held again and I was again offered the position. After two years as a Kisa Mentor, I transitioned to management with the pilot of the Binti Shupavu program for younger girls who are more vulnerable to dropping out of school. What I initially viewed as simply a job has become a true passion and how I want to spend the rest of my life.
Why do you think it is important for women and girls to be empowered and leaders in society?
Any human being feels better when they have access to social, economic, political and spiritual rights of their choice. This of course includes women! It is important for women and girls to be empowered so that they can also have access to all these rights without limitations.
Most of the time, mothers have proven to the world to be the best leaders. I believe in girls’ and women’s capabilities in leadership. It is important for women and girls to be leaders in society so that they can utilize their potential in bringing positive changes to communities. How are they going to do so? Only if they are empowered.
What are you most looking forward to seeing or doing when you visit the US?
I am looking forward to meeting and personally thanking many of AfricAid’s supporters, who have been playing a huge part in making a difference in so many girls’ lives in my community. I am looking forward to learning so many new things and can’t wait to experience a flight for the first time.
Want even more Asimwe? Here’s a video where she shares about Binti Shupavu and her excitement to meet everyone in the US!
Learn more about Asimwe’s role as Binti Shupavu Project Manager in this blog!