Mentor. Public Speaker. Advocate for Girls’ and Women’s Rights. Sociologist. Fashionista. Sister. Leader.
There are many words to describe Kisa Project Manager, Hadija Hassan. One thing is for sure – she is not one dimensional. She is as comfortable in hiking boots or running shoes as she is in the most stylish African attire. She is university educated and a role model to many.
Hadija was hired as a Mentor by AfricAid TZ (now called Girls Livelihood and Mentorship Initiative, or GLAMI) in 2014 and was quickly promoted to a management position. She currently supervises 4 Mentors for the Kisa Project who coach 573 girls in leadership skills at 10 Partner Schools through GLAMI’s Arusha, Tanzania office. She trains the junior staff and guides them in organizing major events for the organization, such as Career Day and Health Symposium. She is regularly invited to speak at conferences and meetings.
We are delighted for you to get to know Hadija through this interview conducted in March, 2020.
Why do you think it is important for women and girls to be empowered and leaders in society?
Tanzanian society has given women a very low position: they cannot be leaders, instead they are followers. In reality, women are the ones highly contributing to the social, political, and economic development of many communities. But due to the culture, their contribution is not seen to have value. Empowering women and girls will help their contributions to be recognized, giving them confidence to step out of their comfort zone and fight against cultural practices and beliefs that hinder their ability to participate fully in all levels of development (starting with personal development.) Empowered women leaders act as representatives for other women in decisions that have to be made in the community. They have the ability and self-assurance to initiate different projects aimed at solving community challenges. I have been raised to believe in a Swahili saying, which states that “Umoja ni nguvu, utengano ni udhaifu.” In English, this means “unity is strength, disunity is weakness.” In this context, it means all community members need to join forces in building a better world – no one should be left behind.
What do you do as Kisa Project Manager and what do you like best about your job?
In general, my work involves creating a clear path for my team for the effective execution of the planned tasks inside and outside of the office, while maintaining the positive image of the organization. Each week is busy with lots of planning and evaluation of the effectiveness of all weekly activities. This involves listening to Mentors’ Kisa Class experiences and challenges and helping them to generate solutions. It also includes communicating with stakeholders the organization works closely with, to share about both the progress and the obstacles to our work, and to collaborate to make our work even more impactful to the community. Personally, my job has made me become a role model, flexible, resilient, someone who leads by example and creates more leaders within the team. That’s the reason why my love for my job grows day after day.
I am super proud to be part of a group that empowers the next generation of women leaders. We mentor thousands of girls a year, but that number is still limited. So, I sometimes use my free time to speak and share my story with the girls who are not in the program. I want to inspire, motivate, and encourage them to stay focused and be positive about what they want to attain in life.
How has the organization changed since you joined in 2014?
A lot of structural and operational changes have happened since I joined the organization six years ago. These have helped us to be more efficient, effective, and enhance the work experience for our employees. We have expanded all of our programs and events and added more Mentors to reach more girls. In addition to coaching upper level secondary school girls in leadership through the Kisa Project, we now teach life skills to lower level secondary girls with Binti Shupavu. We created a Monitoring, Evaluation & Learning department to have clear and accurate measures of our work. The NGO has matured, thoroughly trained and built trust with its employees, and as a result, a lot of promotion has occurred within the organization. I myself was promoted from Junior Mentor to a Kisa Program Manager in 2016, after just two years with the team.
The organization has also gained popularity locally and internationally, due to the work that is being done by our beneficiaries. In particular, Kisa Scholars have implemented a variety of projects to address community challenges, from environmental issues to social, political, and economic concerns, to personal development. The steadily increasing number of Kisa Alumnae are also making a name for themselves (and for us) at their universities and in the workplace.
What are your proudest moments (inside or outside of your job)?
I will always be proud of being at the top of Mount Kilimanjaro (the roof of Africa!) in 2016. Daring to climb the mountain has inspired a lot of my female friends who never had the courage to do it and thought it was a male thing. Seven days of ascending and descending taught me tolerance, determination, focus, courage, and above all, the power of a daring woman. I will always remember the man who became my inspiration, Mr. Curtis Harris. It was his 4th time climbing the mountain and his story made me feel “all is going to be well and everything is possible.”
I am also proud of being born in a family that consists of five daughters only. (Read Hadija’s tribute to her mother.) We have all proved to our community that educating a girl child is not a waste of resources, rather it is educating the whole society. My sisters and I are now regarded as role models – parents are taking their girls to school, believing it is possible for them to complete their education without becoming pregnant and dropping out.
See Hadija’s expedition up Mount Kilimanjaro in this slide show and read her account of her time on the mountain.
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What did you dream of becoming when you were a girl? How does what you are doing today compare to that dream?
The only careers I knew of as I was growing up were doctor, teacher, and journalist. My mom’s desire was for me to become either a doctor or journalist and I started to develop an interest in journalism when I was in secondary school. I used to be a school news presenter and everyone thought I was going to study journalism in college. My interest in journalism was strong, but deep inside I had a long-time passion for working with the community. While an A-Level student, I heard about sociology from my sister who was already in college and I decided to pursue that degree. I am glad that I chose to pursue a BA in sociology from University of Dodoma as it increased my understanding and engagement with people and their communities. Knowing about people’s behavior and culture has enhanced my interactions with Kisa Scholars, stakeholders, and colleagues in the office, and has been a key to my work success.
Did you enjoy school as a girl? What was your favorite subject or teacher?
I did enjoy school! I don’t remember my parents ever forcing me to wake up – I was always up early to prepare. I used to wash my school uniforms everyday by myself since I was very a young girl. Our primary school would give scarves to the most smart looking and clean student as a way to motivate everyone to be tidy and organized. I was awarded that scarf and did not pass it to another student for three consecutive years.
My favorite subject was Kiswahili and I also liked the teacher, Mr. Ngoma (I used to call him “Babu,” which means grandpa.) I admired him because he had a very close relationship with almost every student and his way of teaching was different – he made every student in his class participate. My favorite part of class was when we read poems aloud in Kiswahili. I always made sure to stand up and read one. My love for Kiswahili and my teacher made me score an “A” on that subject in my Form Six national exams.
Did you have a mentor(s) who helped you along the way? Do you still have a mentor today?
No, I did not have a mentor growing up – I wasn’t even familiar with the word! I was introduced to the concept and gained mentoring skills when I joined the organization and started to mentor other girls. I now have a mentor with whom I share and discuss my career goals and life in general. I always tell Kisa girls that they are the luckiest ones – I really wish I could have had that person in my life when I was young.
What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
I like watching women’s empowerment TV programs. There are two shows that are from Nigeria called “I Remember Me” and “Leading Women” that we are able to see here in Tanzania. The stories and the work of women in their communities inspire me and help me create my own daring spirit. I also like watching comedies, documentaries, and lifestyle shows. The latter, especially, lets me explore and become familiar with other people’s culture.
What are you most looking forward to seeing or doing when you visit the US?
This will be my first time visiting the US and I look forward to sharing my work experience and life in Tanzania. I plan to talk about the status of women in our country, the power of educated and empowered girls, and success stories of girls who have been positively impacted by our work. I am excited to learn the culture of America, try new experiences, and visit new places. Remember, I am a daring woman!
AfricAid mentors secondary school girls in Tanzania to complete their education, develop into confident leaders, and transform their own lives and their communities. We equip girls to overcome challenges and reach their full potential because educated girls create lasting positive change. The outcome is proactive, resilient, and socially-responsible girls who secure better jobs, raise healthier families and increase the standing of women in society.
Girls Livelihood and Mentorship Initiative (GLAMI) is AfricAid’s program implementation partner in Tanzania.