Discovering the Spirit of Zanzibar

Posted by Cheryl Benton
September 15, 2010
Detail of a Painting by Kaiza Mohammed

About the Author: Cheryl Benton serves as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs.

I will never forget my visit to Zanzibar. The city is visually stunning -- some buildings there are ancient, possibly more than a thousand years old -- but what really sets it apart is the palpable spirit of harmony. My time in Zanzibar was made even more special by three individuals.

The U.S. Embassy's David Scott took me with him around town. As we walked down the street, people smiled, waved, and shouted, "Hello, David Scott!" And I thought to myself: this is what public affairs is all about! David drew upon his network of contacts to connect me with some incredible people in the city.

One woman I met was an American from Minnesota. Although she's lived in Zanzibar for some time now, her Minnesota accent is still very much with her. As a Midwesterner, I was pleased to hear her familiar accent. She works with a program called "The Radio Instruction to Strengthen Education" project, or RISE, which teaches Tanzanian children literacy, numeracy, HIV/AIDS prevention, and life skills via radio instruction that's interactive -- lessons are broadcast over Tanzania's national radio station network, and trained teachers also guide students through lessons. Wind-up and solar-powered radios allow participation in these daily radio education programs even in remote locations.

One of the most memorable people I met on all of my travels was Kaiza Mohammed. She has started an artists' cooperative, which allows women in Zanzibar to display and sell their artwork. Kaiza specializes in acrylic paintings, and intricate henna designs. To me, she embodied the spirit of Zanzibar, embracing me and welcoming me into the community. I will always remember the moment she handed me her business card, and said to me: "I feel so good to be a woman artist, and I want other women to see what other women can do."

I want others to hear about what Kaiza is doing, and what women like her are accomplishing around the world, and so that is why I share her story. Kaiza is strengthening her community by helping women around her build better lives for themselves and their families through economic opportunity. Kaiza truly embodies what Secretary Clinton has said, when you empower a woman, you empower a nation.

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