A group of Cal State Long Beach (CSULB) students traveled to Tanzania with Theatre Arts Department Chair Anne D’Zmura over the summer in a collaborative effort with the Karimu International Help Foundation.
In conjunction with the foundation’s new partner, Bridging the Gap Africa, D’Zmura and her students helped build a permanent suspension bridge to replace a wooden version that had been repeatedly destroyed every rainy season.
“It’s really rather dangerous walking over the makeshift wooden footbridge and when it is flooded out it can add hours to the villagers’ trips to get to school, the health clinic and work,” noted D’Zmura, a faculty member at CSULB since 2005. “This new bridge will contribute significantly to the villagers’ safety and ease of travel.”
The CSULB short-term study abroad class “Theatre Today” not only paired CSULB students with village volunteers to build the bridge and teachers’ houses but saw students and school children work together to create collaborative issue-driven, community-based arts projects. D’Zmura described “Theatre Today” as a very hands-on course combining service learning with training in community-based theater methodologies.
Actually, this was the third summer in a row that D’Zmura had taken a group of students to the African country. During the previous two trips, CSULB students worked to support the foundation’s infrastructure projects in the Tanzanian village of Bacho—raising funds for and building teacher housing, improving classrooms and adding sinks and toilets to the health clinic.
More than 30 CSULB students have participated in the Tanzanian experience in the three years since its founding, several of whom have gone more than once. Students who participated this year included film and electronic arts graduate Carmela Llamosa, who is working with D’Zmura on a project documentary; and theatre arts’ graduate Olivia Trevino, back for a second visit.
Also on board were educational technology’s Jennifer Lares, who helped to train Ayalagaya school educators in computers, along with health administration’s Jade Clarke, who assisted with educational workshops for the health clinic staff members and village midwives.
Each year, the CSULB contingent works with students from Ayalagaya Secondary School and from Ufani Primary School on devising issue-driven arts performances that are performed for the entire village and district leaders at the closing ceremony. D’Zmura said past performances were developed around the theme of becoming stewards for the physical environment and the power of education.
“This year we developed a piece with the Ufani children about the significance of the bridge for the community—beyond the obvious physical significance—and a piece with the Ayalagaya students about the need to balance the fast-moving wave of technology with a strong sense of educational values,” she recalled. “In order to reach all villagers and Karimu volunteers, we perform our pieces in English and Swahili, which requires a great deal of writing, translating and learning by the Tanzanian and CSULB students.”
D’Zmura and her students also worked with Dr. Susan Hugmanick to develop health-oriented performance pieces. The health piece this year focused on environmentally friendly cooking stoves (which Karimu provided to each village home two years ago) as a safe and effective alternative to cooking over open flames, which causes serious injuries, illnesses and deaths in the area.
A grant from the CSULB Center for Community Engagement this year also funded the purchase of two computers for teachers at the nearby Ayalagaya secondary school.
“As you can imagine, we were very busy during our time in Bacho,” she said. “Just to reach the Ayalagaya school means an hour’s hike uphill. Each day is filled with work on the build site, arts development workshops with the school children, our classes, time with health initiatives and this year training the teachers to use the computers. It was rewarding and we accomplished a lot.”
The CSULB students also provide donated school supplies and handmade clothes for the villagers.
D’Zmura believes her on-going work on the Tanzanian project has broadened her perspective as an educator and an artist.
“I am committed to continuing to develop and improve internationally-focused programs,” she said. “This is such important work. We built a bridge this summer and I feel one of my responsibilities, both leading this department and prior to this position, has been to nurture the development of a bridge for our students, faculty and staff members to connect more strongly with our community both locally and globally.”
She also is convinced the Karimu project is a life-altering experience for the students.
“For example, many of my students had never left California,” she said. “They find themselves living and working in a remote Tanzanian village. Because they are building and creating arts projects with the villagers, our students form lifelong relationships that dramatically shift their perspectives on what is important. They become advocates for proactive social development through their chosen discipline and life choices.”