Trading a Wall Street Life for Tanzania

Posted on July 26, 2012, by Lizzie Presser, Half the Sky Movement

When Dina Abu-jawdeh picked up Nicholas and Sheryl’s Half the Sky: Turning Oppression to Opportunity for Women Worldwide, she was working on Wall Street. But two days after she finished the book, she decided it was time for a change and quit her job. At 31 years old, she packed up her things and moved to a small village in Tanzania where she started working with a community of women affected by AIDS to help them build a chicken farm. Now, she has returned to New York where she works for the organization Self Help Africa.


Last week, I spoke with Dina to hear more about her experience in Moshi, Tanzania, and her new career path. Check out the Q & A below the slideshow.


Dina helps build a chicken coop in Moshi, Tanzania and visits women's groups supported by Self Help Africa. 



Q: After you read Half the Sky, you moved to Tanzania. Why Tanzania?


Dina: I am Lebanese myself, and I had spent some time in West Africa growing up. But I had never been to sub-Saharan Africa and I knew it was incredibly poor there. I also knew that the rate of AIDS was very high in Tanzania and it was women who were largely affected there.


Q: Who were you working with in Tanzania?


Dina: I wanted to work on sustainable development in women’s groups. So, I started working with a group of twenty women in a town called Moshi. These women had no shoes, nothing, and all of them had AIDS except one. Most of their husbands had died of AIDS and many of their kids had contracted the disease and were not going to school.


A woman who went by the name Mama Sarah was the only one who was not sick so she started [the Tunaishi Women's Group] and they were meeting for support. When I met with them I thought we could do something different. In the book, there were so many small ideas that had grown grander. So we started small and started buying vegetables.


Q: So you wanted to start a farm?


Dina: Well, after that first step, I realized I needed to raise money. I remember walking four miles to town to find a computer and that was my only communication to the U.S. because I had no phone. I started a fundraiser [on the Internet] with everyone I knew over the course of my life – I told the story of these women and I set up an account where they could help contribute to this project. I wanted to help fund a chicken farm. I ended up raising over $20,000 in only two months.


Then, we bought a real piece of land and we spent the next couple of months literally building a chicken cube – a farmhouse to store chicken. And then I would train the women on very, very basic finances.


Q: You make it sound like it was easy to start working with a small women’s group in a remote village. Was it?


Dina: Well, at first, some of the women weren’t very welcoming – I was this white woman from a big city they had heard of. But I was working with them, sweating with them, and when they felt that connection with me the boundaries of culture and wealth started to melt away and they started to take me in as part of their family. I had a very hard time leaving them.


Q: How is the group of women in Moshi doing now?


Dina: I still speak to the women I started the program with. They have chickens and a little income and many of them are sending their kids to school and they’re getting medicine. It was a dramatic make over.


Q: You’ve returned to Manhattan after four months in the field. Can you tell us a bit about your new job at Self Help Africa?


Dina: I started working at Self Help Africa in 2011. It is focused on women empowerment, sustainability and [economic] independence. We do work in eight countries in Africa and we don’t put westerners in the field.  We want to keep things local and keep the resources in the country. We do branding, fundraising, awareness, and campaigns. We basically bring Africa to New York.


Q: Do you miss working in the field in Tanzania?


Dina: I felt more at home walking through the muddy roads [of Moshi] than I ever did in my Manhattan life. It was incredibly eye opening to me. I felt like that was where I should be. And it was because of the women – we were all on the same page.


Now, I always encourage [supporters of] Self Help Africa to actually see the programs in the field. I go on trips and take people who are involved with me to see the work and to educate them on our projects. I still travel to Ethiopia and Malawi and Kenya. I’m hoping to go back with my hands soon and spend some more time working directly with the women.


Want to support Self Help Africa? Check out their website, like them on Facebook and follow them on Twitter. 

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