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An armchair tour of Tanzania at Opportunity’s Spring Conference

By Ed Kashmarek

Opportunity’s Spring Conference, hosted last weekend by the Board of Governors in Scottsdale, Ariz., included a breakout session on Tanzania. Attendees were immediately transported to the country by a giant image of majestic Mount Kilimanjaro towering over bright yellow giraffes, accompanied by the soulful, seductive sounds of Tanzanian music. 

Young Ambassadors for Opportunity (YAO) founder Liesel Pritzker began the session with information on Tanzania, formerly known as Tanganyika. After the country achieved independence from British rule in 1961, the small neighboring island of Zanzibar achieved independence from Arab rule in 1963. The two countries then merged in 1964 to become the United Republic of Tanzania. Liesel said Tanzania is the only country in sub-Saharan Africa that has avoided civil war after independence. The main reason is that the country has followed a policy of unity, one people, all speaking Swahili. Despite the fact that Tanzania is home to many diverse tribes, the policy has helped to foster peace in a region of the world where war and violence are all too common. 

Next up was Anne Edwardson, YAO chapter leader in San Diego. Anne told us that Tanzania is home to 43 million people, 80 percent of whom live on less than $2 a day. Seventy percent of the population lives in rural areas with little or no access to financial services, and only 20 percent of the population has access to a bank within one hour of their village. Opportunity Tanzania provides Trust Group loans, business training and insurance for 4,400 clients. The average loan size is just $212. 

Most banks in Tanzania require an expensive identification card and minimum balances, which make it difficult for people living in poverty to open and maintain a savings account. As a result, they simply put their money in a tin can or under a mattress, where it is vulnerable to theft. Opportunity Tanzania has plans to open a deposit-taking bank in 2010 so that the poor will be able to put their money in a safe place and earn interest on it. 

YAO board member Brian Zakrocki showed a few pictures from YAO’s 2009 trip, as well as a video filmed by one of its youngest members in the streets of Arusha. Brian then shared with us the need to raise $2.4 million in 2010. This money will be combined with the $3.6 million raised thus far to build an Opportunity bank in Tanzania that provides a full range of financial services to the poor. Brian ended the session by encouraging the audience to sign up for YAO and to consider going on the upcoming trip to Tanzania in September 2010. It sounds like an incredible experience and I’m hoping to join them. For more information on how you can join, visit www.opportunity.org/yao.

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