Pictured are Cameron Pukas (left) and Desiree Anthony (right), third year BSN students at College of the Rockies, who are spearheading an initiative that aims to help women in Tanzania gain access to education, find employment and start their own businesses. (Submitted file)

Pictured are Cameron Pukas (left) and Desiree Anthony (right), third year BSN students at College of the Rockies, who are spearheading an initiative that aims to help women in Tanzania gain access to education, find employment and start their own businesses. (Submitted file)

COTR nursing students helping Tanzanian women gain access to education, resources

The new partnership will help bridge cultural barriers through technology and mentorship

College of the Rockies nursing students in Cranbrook have started a new endeavour with the goal of empowering women in Tanzania to complete their education, find employment and start their own businesses.

Third-year students in COTR’s Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) program are developing a partnership with Flaviana Matata Foundation (FMF), a college partner in Tanzania. The foundation works to ensure girls and women in Tanzania have the resources and opportunities they need to fulfill their dreams.

BSN students are raising funds to contribute to the costs of providing young women in Tanzania with the electronic devices they need to access education, while also providing a virtual platform to connect with other women.

Desiree Anthony and Cameron Pukas are two of the students helping to lead the new partnership.

The students say that their initial research of the FMF indicated that women in Tanzania undergo many adversities in their lives, including gender inequality.

“We found young Tanzanian girls and women are often not educated and are forced into gender specific roles of subservience. This type of oppression is difficult for us to accept as nursing students who have spent years studying health equity,” the duo explained. “This is why we engaged FMF, as their mission is to ensure girls and young women have the resources and opportunities they need to complete their education, find employment, and/or start their own businesses – ultimately becoming professional leaders within their communities.”

They say that the ultimate goal is to flip the historical narrative and become part of empowering women to access education, creating health equities for themselves.

“This obviously involves a high level of trust, which is not easy considering the barriers of communication. However, over the last few months we have managed to establish a community partnership that is 100 per cent virtual, student-led, and culturally safe,” said Anthony.

BSN students hope to gain a sponsored internship to visit FMF in Tanzania once COVID-19 travel restrictions are lifted, hopefully in 2022 they say, to take part in humanitarian aid work.

“While we would have been prime candidates for such a prestigious opportunity, we have aged out of the 19-30 parameters. We have had to adapt our learning to a virtual platform this year, and we were curious if we could use technology to our benefit in developing a global networking initiative through peer-based relationships with these women,” explained Anthony and Pukas.

“It is obviously not feasible or realistic to send full cohorts of students to slow developing nations such as Tanzania to experience internationalization first hand, and those opportunities are certainly not reciprocated for our partners to be sent on a full scholarship to Canada.”

So, they aim to bridge that gap with technology and directly communicate with their clients in Tanzania, which they say is something that has never been accomplished before from COTR.

Pukas explained that they are currently in the process of pitching this project to become part of the semester six BSN curriculum at the College.

“We have also been accepted as part of the lineup for the BCCIE (British Columbia Council for International Education) summer conference which will raise considerable awareness for this initiative,” said Pukas. “Our hope is for the partnership to become a legacy project that a pair of third year BSN students can step into and make it their own each year, with plenty of room for expansion.”

Their long-term goals include reducing barriers to education, improving gender equality and creating a scholarship for the women in Tanzania.

As for right now, Pukas and Anthony say that access to laptops are a major asset to FMF scholars. BSN students are hoping to raise a minimum of $2,500 to purchase laptops in order to connect women during isolation that is brought on because of the pandemic.

“Moreover, the decision was made to source local to them laptops, in order to stimulate their economy and reduce shipping barriers,” said Anthony. “At our last count, we are very close to raising enough for three new devices for the scholars of FMF. This process of micro-financing has helped us to connect with our partners in a deeper, more meaningful manner.”

Pukas says there is a lot for both BSN students and their FMF partners and clients to gain from this initiative.

“In the ever-globalizing world of work and play, there always seems to be a disconnect between differing cultures. This partnership is our attempt to form organic relationships between people, while attempting to avoid perpetuating further colonization on our partners in Africa with our western ideologies,” Pukas said. “Instead, the hope is to make space for the development of organic relationships consisting of the mutual exchange of knowledge, learning about the barriers to education, and lived experiences regarding culture, family and purpose.”

Both Anthony and Pukas explained that this gives COTR students the opportunity to gain awareness of unearned privileges.

They say that there is a tendency for the Western world to insert lived experiences and learning objectives into what they think and perceive the needs of others to be, including health priorities and interventions.

“By the women from FMF sharing what their health needs are each year, and our students adapting our fundraising efforts to meet those goals, we can create impactful change while working in culturally safe care,” said Anthony and Pukas. “From here, true learning can begin and it will hopefully be constructed by the mixture of worldly views from all parties of the relationships. It’s interesting, we entered this space thinking we would be the role of educators, but it is in that deep self-reflection that you are becoming educated of the power imbalances that exist in the world.”

Pukas and Anthony encourage you to take a look at their website, and donate to the project if you are able to.

“We want to thank our field guide Kerry Brinkert for all the wisdom and guidance in helping us develop this partnership, and the support and encouragement from the BSN program at COTR in its entirety,” they said. “Please take a look at our website for more information, and see our community partners website in their ongoing project developments if you wish to get involved directly with the Flaviana Matata Foundation. We thank you for all your support.”


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