I recently visited the nation of Tanzania with my husband and a group of Rotarians who wanted both to experience the adventure of an African Photographic Safari and to support the School of St. Jude, which provides a free education to some of Tanzania’s poorest and brightest children. Travel is special to me because it’s such a fun way to gain new insights and broaden my perspective. Our trip did not disappoint, as I learned from the people and the animals of Tanzania.
What did I learn? I learned that a generous thank you gift from the family of a sponsored child at the School of St. Jude was often a live chicken. We were blessed with live chickens from both the family my husband and I sponsored as well as the family our local club supported. No, we didn’t take them home with us. We were able to pass them on to needy families from the school.
More importantly, I learned that it’s possible for a nation with more than 120 ethnic, linguistic, and religious groups to construct a national identity that unites them. They’ve found strength in their diverse customs and traditions. But unity doesn’t just happen, it requires strength training.
Tanzanians have problems, like people of all nations do. They struggle with issues like poverty, climate change, international relationships, resource management, corruption, injustice. Tanzanians, like Americans, have all the human instinctual emotions that make it hard for us to get along: fear, greed, envy, anger, and the list goes on. Unity is difficult.
Christianity is the largest religion in Tanzania, but there are substantial Muslim and animist minorities. The current president of Tanzania, Samia Suluhu Hassan, is a Muslim woman who took office March 17, 2021. She, like Tanzania’s first president, Julius Nyerere, has emphasized unity both within Tanzania and with neighboring countries. On taking office she said, “This is the time to stand together and get connected. It’s time to bury our differences, show love to one another, and look forward with confidence.”
The people of Tanzania faced the challenge of creating a new nation in December of 1961 when they became independent from Great Britain. The territory of Tanganyika and the Zanzibar archipelago were combined to create Tanzania in 1964. The first president of Tanzania, Julius Nyerere, believed that unity was the key to the future and focused his efforts on establishing a national identity and language, deemphasizing ethnicity and divisions that could have torn his country apart. He said:
Cooperation and conflict are two sides of the same coin; both arise out of man’s relationship with his fellows. The larger the group, the greater the possibility of development through cooperation, and the greater the possibility of conflict.
Our Rotary group benefited from the efforts made by the Tanzanian people to create a harmonious, friendly nation. We were welcomed as American tourists and felt safe and respected throughout our travels. We visited public schools where children of different religions and tribes intermingled peacefully with their classmates. Tanzanian youth, like those everywhere, enjoyed getting their photos taken and posing with us for selfies.
St. Jude’s is a private school with a Christian base but welcomes children from all religious and ethnic backgrounds. Diversity is accepted and respected as a norm. But that hasn’t happened without a determined effort. For example, the student my husband and I sponsor wrote us that she was preparing for the school’s Cultural Day. She said, “There will be many groups that are presenting their cultures and our theme is ‘My Culture in a Modern Way.’ It’s all about how I can present my culture to the society and other people in a modern way.”
Sharing cultural information creates understanding and trust. Without trust, we construct elaborate defense systems. Our energy goes towards attacking the “other,” whom we see as an enemy, not a neighbor with needs and fears much like our own.
The United States is, as our name declares, supposed to be united, but we’ve been having a hard time of it. It seems we don’t really want to be united – to listen and learn from each other in all our splendid diversity. We want to be divided so that we can prove that our side, our group, is the superior one. Could it be that deep down we believe equality and cooperation are way overrated?
We’re proud to be Americans and like to think of ourselves as exceptional – a first-world nation – better than second or third-world ones. But Proverbs 16:18 reminds us that “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.” The United States is a rich nation when it comes to GNP (gross national product), but there are many ways to be rich.
The founders of our United States were starting a new nation and knew compromise was necessary to create unity. We idolize the framers of our Constitution who provided a foundation for our democracy, and if I were having a discussion with them today, I believe they’d say, “The Constitution is a living document meant to adapt to the times. Listen to the diverse stories of all Americans and refrain from self-righteousness. Work toward unity – not maintaining power and proving one side is better than the other.”
Psychologist Carl Jung is credited with a quote he never actually said: “Thinking is difficult, that’s why most people judge.” If we want to refrain from blaming and shaming each other, we need to think about how to create unity and then act.
At the School of St. Jude, graduates are encouraged to use their education to help their families, community, and nation. Their motto is, “Fighting poverty through education.” The father of the student we sponsored said, “I’m so proud of my daughter. She will get an education and come back and help us.”
The School of St. Jude’s goal is not to educate students so they can become wealthy and live somewhere with a higher standard of living – to propel themselves from the “third world” to the “first world.” It’s to educate them so they can help others. A sign in the school emphasized their focus on kindness and read as follows:
We believe that compassion, support, empathy, and a friendly smile can go a long way in showing care for others. We strive to approach each new day with hope and positivity, knowing that we are working together and fighting poverty through education.
The animals of Tanzania also demonstrated to me the importance of unity. At least the herbivores did. One of my favorite sites on our safari was when we passed what I called a colorful party. There were areas where we saw zebras, wildebeests, giraffes, elephants, impalas, ostriches, cape buffalo and more, all in one spot. Why were they partying together?
Our safari guide said one reason the animals like to hang out together is, “They all have different strengths when it comes to defending themselves from predators and finding food. For example, some have good hearing, others great eyesight. Some feel vibrations, others smell trouble.” I like to think they also enjoy being together and appreciate a party with interesting guests that aren’t just like them.
If we want unity, we will need to do some strength training. It’s not easy to appreciate differences. But like the animals, we humans, if unified, can protect each other from the dangers of natural disasters, diseases, environmental degradation, and more, instead of wasting our energy battling each other.
But unity means inviting everyone to the party.