Insight on Business: An Interview with Phil Latessa

Executive Director Phil Latessa was featured on Insight on Business. Listen HERE.

“If you have never heard of Tanzania it’s not much of a surprise to us. Tasmania yes. Tanzania, not so much. That is about to change. Meet Phil Latessa the Executive Director of a non-profit called Empower Tanzania. Here you will learn more about this very poor nation in east Africa, what this organization does with and for the people, how Phil works with village leaders, tribal leaders and government officials to assist with medical care, education and economic development. Why Tanzania? We asked and got an answer and think you should know more.”

Meet Habiba

Children: Husein (20), Fatuma (17), Paulina (14), Abdallah (12), Juma (11)

“My husband died and his family didn’t help us. They chased me from their family, so I started a new life with my children. Nothing helped and I was discouraged and I felt that I was inferior. Then I went to Empower Tanzania and attended their seminars and counseling. The counseling helped me become confident; I know that I can do more. Empower Tanzania taught me skills and I have started a small business and now I can feed my family. I am energetic because of Empower Tanzania and I no longer feel inferior.”

This is Part III of a three-part series on our BEYOND Gender Based Violence program. Click HERE to view Part I and HERE to view Part II.  Learn more about the program by clicking HERE.

Meet Bahati

Children: Halima (18), Mwajuma (15), Omari (12), Rashid (9), Sahahda (6)

“I am married and my husband was a drunkard who beat me. But after I joined the Empower Tanzania (ETI) support group, he stopped drinking and beating me. We are still together. He knows what Empower Tanzania is doing for me and he wants a program like this for men. The economic activities can lead to a good life. We now have money for the kids to go to school. We have a healthy family life. I learned saving and budgeting from ETI. I am in a small business and sell soap and vegetables in the market all because of education by ETI. ETI opened my mind and put cash in my pocket. We are thankful.”

This is Part II of a three-part series on our BEYOND Gender Based Violence program. Click HERE to view Part I and check back on the blog for more stories of incredible women like Bahati. Learn more about the program by clicking HERE.

Meet Rahema

Children: Calvin (15), Frederick (12), Ntiwe (8), Stephen (5)

“I was married and lived in Arusha where I had a small business. My husband would take all the money and get drunk. Then he would come home and beat me. I was married for 14 years before I divorced him. I came back to Hedaru to start a new life, but I was depressed and stressed worrying about my children and didn’t know what to do . I joined the Empower Tanzania Gender Based Violence support group. I had group and individual counseling and learned new skills. I am comfortable now and have new friends. I have a new life. I had nothing, but I am now capable of earning money to buy a house and land. I will do this by next year. Empower Tanzania has helped me to a much better life.”

This is Part I of a three-part series on our BEYOND Gender Based Violence program. Check back on the blog for more stories of incredible women like Rahema. Learn more about the program by clicking HERE.

Empowerment is…

The founders Empower Tanzania chose the two words of its name deliberately and after long discussion. It was important to focus our efforts—and the funds donated to us—on people, not buildings or equipment. Our target was the marginalized people in Tanzania—the poor, the uneducated, the rural, and across all these categories, the women.

As in many developing countries, women are virtually powerless. The traditional culture relegates them to homemaking and subsistence farming. Education is secondary to their roles of fetching water and firewood, bearing and raising children, and tilling the kitchen garden.

Oftentimes, they are victims of domestic violence and sexual assault, and when widowed, their land and even their children can be taken from them. The authorities ignore these atrocities because the culture permits it. It is not surprising that even a large minority of women support the idea that beatings by their husbands is acceptable.

Within this context, Empower Tanzania has developed programs that seek to empower women. Key components of each program include what we believe will facilitate empowerment within the context of this male dominated culture.

First, women need self- confidence. They must believe that they deserve gender equality. They must recognize their potential as members of a just, egalitarian society.

Second, they must believe that it is possible for them to achieve gender equality, overcoming the oppressive, exploitive cultural norms.

Thirdly, they must begin to have economic independence. They need ways to earn money and the respect that comes with it.

Fourthly, they need role models who show that it is possible to be successful and respected in their society.

All of Empower Tanzania’s programs encompass these components. We do not give women chickens or sewing machines and tell them to go and become empowered. All our programs focus on education, targeted information that teaches useful skills—training as providers of first aid in remote communities, educators who teach health promotion, the know how to operate a small business. This training is provided by Tanzanian women who are educated and respected in their positions in government, education, religion and business. They demonstrate that empowerment is possible.

Our Beyond Gender Based Violence program provided counseling to 100 women in 10 support groups. They overcame the hellish experiences that brought them to the support groups and our tests and observations showed marked improvement in their self-esteem and confidence. The groups now want to be identified as entrepreneurs and they are operating small businesses.

Our Community Hospital Improvement Program trained 21 women from remote Maasai villages to provide first aid and referrals to hospitals when necessary. Even in one of the most traditional cultures in the country, these women gained the respect of their communities, became the source of knowledge about health problems, and educators of basic health practices that are saving lives. Their husbands are supporting them and helping them with their responsibilities. Their roles are changing from servant to partners.

Women participating in these programs have become active in their communities. They meet regularly with local officials to describe problems and possible solutions. Two have been elected as Ward Councilors. Over half of them are now serving on local government committees. They have succeeded in generating incomes for their families and using this money to educate their children and improve their living conditions.

Of course, there has been resistance to these changes in women’s roles—changes that empower them. However, we have minimized backlash by moving slowly, encouraging our women to be respectful of their husbands, and by convincing men that empowering women benefits everyone, including men. Despite these efforts, there are still occasional outbursts of resistance. We found champions among men who supported these programs and we used them and their status to resolve these occasional spasms of resistance.

It would be naïve to think that our programs will lead directly to the empowerment of women in Tanzania or that gender equality will soon result. Women will need to become politically active and mobilize to achieve this goal. But, if they have developed confidence and are convinced that they can be equal, the chances for successful mobilization efforts are greatly enhanced.

Our goal is to create the conditions under which women are individually empowered and who believe that they can successfully mobilize to gain gender equality and social justice. Without the former, achieving the latter is much more difficult.

Women’s Empowerment Event is a Huge Success!

On a cool summer in August, over one hundred Empower Tanzania supporters  gathered at Vivian’s Diner & Drinks in Des Moines to celebrate the work we’ve done and to help launch us into an even better, more ambitious tomorrow. Board members, staff members, volunteers, founders, and friends all gathered to share stories, bid on silent auction items, drink sangria, and eat a fabulous dinner curated by Vivian’s staff. Not only were we given the privilege of the sharing  stories of the people we serve in Tanzania, but together we raised over $10,000 for our women’s empowerment projects in rural Tanzania!! We are so grateful to all who attended and all who donated. So often we spend our time looking ahead to what we’ve yet to do, but the Women’s Empowerment Event allowed us to pause and celebrate the work our teams in the states and in Tanzania has done so faithfully over the years. To view an alum of photos from the event, click HERE.

Our incredible volunteers made this night happen:

Before sitting down to dinner, guests enjoyed appetizers, sangria, and a new video produced by ETI highlighting our work towards women’s empowerment in Tanzania:

Dinner was outstanding and as people finished their dessert, we were thrilled for the opportunity to thank our honorary hosts, Dr. Jeff and Ali Carithers:

Dear Friends (A Letter from Tanzania)

Dear Friends,

Today I have decided to share with you some few stories and experiences about our beloved students in the Same Learning Center (SLC).

We have been working with our students for about two months. I have learned a lot from them. The fact is that these children are from very vulnerable families and have a long history for their short lifetime. I have used a lot of my time to get to know them individually and try to understand the details of their life. Continue reading

Cell Phones In Tanzania


Tanzania is one of the poorest countries in the world, with incomes averaging about $2 per day. Poverty is ever present with a population that has electricity in only 10% of homes, with over 40% of children so malnourished that they are stunted physically and mentally, and with only 40% of homes able to access to safe water. Millions of dollars in aid go to Tanzania from governments, non- governmental organizations, and private donations.

Yet when you visit and observe, it seems as though everyone is using a cell phone. Isn’t this an unnecessary luxury in such a poor country? This is a question we get asked a lot. Our response? In a word, no.

Continue reading

10 Steps to Water at Pangaro

Clean water solutions are incredibly complex and require intense planning, organization, management, and fundraising. Here’s a brief primer on how we delivered on our promise of clean water in the village of Pangaro:

1. Acknowledge request from the community for a clean water source. After learning about the need, Empower Tanzania made a commitment to the people of Pangaro and asked that the community form a water committee.

Click on the photo to watch a video explaining the need.

Continue reading