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D’Zmura, Students Assist In Building Bridges In Tanzania

Published: September 3, 2013

Theatre Arts Chair Anne D’Zmura traveled with CSULB students to Tanzania this summer for the third time in collaboration with the Karimu International Help Foundation.

In the past, CSULB students have 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. This year, in collaboration with the foundation’s new partner, Bridging the Gap Africa, D’Zmura’s students helped build a permanent suspension bridge to replace a wooden version that has 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. This new bridge will contribute significantly to the villagers’ safety and ease of travel,” said D’Zmura, a member of the university since 2005.

The CSULB short-term study abroad class “Theatre Today” not only paired CSULB students with village volunteers to build the bridge and teachers’ house 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.

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 graduate of Film and Electronic Arts 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 we work with students from Ayalagaya Secondary School and from Ufani Primary School on devising issue-driven arts performances which are performed for the entire village and district leaders at the closing ceremony. Past performances were developed around the theme of becoming stewards for the physical environment and the power of education,” said D’Zmura. “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. 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 funded the purchase of two computers for teachers at the nearby Ayalagaya secondary school. D’Zmura and Lares worked with Marty Brenner, COTA director of technology and media; and computer technician Peter Dinh on selecting the appropriate computers, and with Leslie Kennedy, director of Instructional Technology Support Services, to set up a BeachBoard account so that CSULB teachers and students can work with their Tanzanian counterparts.

“This initiative is extremely exciting for Ayalagaya and CSULB. We expect this will allow us to continue to develop long term remote learning programs and to deepen our curricular possibilities,” explained D’Zmura, who received her B.A. from Hampshire College in Amherst, Mass. and her MFA from Yale University. “This is a very forward-looking project and the training sessions went very well. We are eager to embark on the next steps.”

“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. I was as I always am, so very proud of our CSULB students’ ability to work with such grace, joy and drive.”

Theatre Arts’ Chair Anne D’Zmura in Tanzania
Headmistress of Ayalagaya Catherine Boay Buxay (l) and Anne D’Zmura

The CSULB students also provide donated school supplies and handmade clothes for the villagers.

“This year the students showed up at my house with five huge luggage bags filled with school supplies. Each time the doorbell rang more supplies arrived,” said D.Zmura. “I am always delighted and amazed by the generosity of our students who spend so much time and effort organizing and collecting donations for the Tanzanian students. “The clothes are made by the theater arts students who are in the costume skills class. Each outfit is presented with a picture of our student and their name on a label attached to the clothes,” D’Zmura said. The handmade clothes are part of a special class project which was developed by costume design theater faculty and staff members Gayle Baizer, Michael Pacciorini and Nancy Jo Smith.

D’Zmura feels 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. I work to support those marriages as well as develop the infrastructure that makes it possible for students to have these experiences.”

D’Zmura is convinced the Karimu connection reflects well on the Theater Arts Department and the university. “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.”

The Karimu International Help Foundation grew out of a vacation taken by educators Marianne Kent-Stoll and her husband, Don Stoll, in 2007. During a visit to the remote Tanzanian village of Bacho, they learned that Tanzania’s government had threatened to close Ufani Primary School. When the educators asked if they could help, Ufani’s teachers told them that the government demanded better toilet facilities. After Marianne and Don came up with a few hundred dollars and helped build a basic latrine and Ufani School remained open, the villagers invited them to return the following year with as many volunteers as they could find. Besides continuing the renovation and expansion of Ufani School, Karimu now pursues similar work at Ayalagaya secondary school as well as ongoing health care and water sanitation projects in Dareda Kati.