About Us

Our Mission

Tanzania Development Support’s mission is to support community-identified educational improvements for youth, especially girls, in the Mara region as a way to escape poverty.

Our Vision

Communities in the Mara region support education as a way to overcome poverty and improve quality of life.

Why Tanzania?

Although it has roughly the same number of people as the combined populations of California and New York (57 million), Tanzania’s GDP is only $52 billion, about the same as 87,349 Americans. By comparison, the GDP per capita in the US is more than 60 times higher than Tanzania. Tanzanians are also moving to urban areas at four times the rate as Americans, however 75% still live in rural areas with limited access to education, health care, and economic opportunities. Half of the nation’s income comes from agriculture, which is limited by poor infrastructure and little access to markets and technology. Forty percent of Tanzanians are under the age of 15. The HIV infection rate is ten-times that of the U.S. and the number of people living with HIV/AIDS is 1.4 million, more than the entire state of Maine. (Sources: CIA World Factbook 2009, Global Footprint Network Footprint Factbook Africa 2009)

We have not chosen to devote ourselves and our resources to Tanzania simply because it is one of the poorest countries in the world, but because we recognize an opportunity. It is the strong connections we have developed and continue to develop that makes change possible. Our friends and partners in Tanzania are committed to the development of their own communities for the better, and we choose to support them.

Our Partners

TDS maintains and develops important strategic partnerships and encourages productive collaboration. Our past and present strategic partners include:

UMABU (Umoja wa Maendeleo ya Bukwaya)

Education Systems Center at Northern Illinois University

Nyegina Secondary School

Regional Office of Education in Musoma

Architecture for Humanity Chicago

Northern Illinois University Study Abroad Office

Northern Illinois University Engineers Without Borders

Northern Illinois University Division of Public Administration

Click to view report:

Organizational, Partner, and Community Updates

A House for Books

A House for Books

Former member of the TDS Board of Directors, Mark Biernacki, has published a book about his experiences traveling through Tanzania. Proceeds from sales of the book through June 1st are being donated towards our 2019 Kilimanjaro Climb goal of $75,000. A House for Books: Volunteering and Adventure in the Shadows of Kilimanjaro is available as both an e-book or paperback on Amazon or can be downloaded here.

About the Book

Mark Biernacki shares his experiences during his travels of cultural awareness and adventure while exploring northern Tanzania as part of TDS sponsored trips in 2013 and 2016. During his time away from volunteering to help build the Madaraka Nyerere Library and Community Resource Center, he immerses himself in the daily lives of the people, engages with a land teeming with wildlife while crossing the Serengeti, and embarks on an arduous climb in an attempt to summit Mount Kilimanjaro. During these adventures, he reflects on the impact he had become a part of in addressing the educational needs of the region’s children. He learns about himself as he undertakes meaningful volunteer work and gains the satisfaction that he is helping make a tangible difference for the people in this far corner of the world.

About Mark

Mark Biernacki worked for various local governments throughout the United States as an urban planner and, most recently, as the DeKalb city manager before retiring in June, 2013 after 33 years of public service. When not volunteering in his community, he and his wife, Mary Kay, travel the country and the world extensively. They currently reside in Elgin, Illinois.

TDS is Seeking New Board Members

TDS is seeking new board members to serve a three-year term. We are looking for a diverse pool of candidates who have the capacity and willingness to play an active role in supporting TDS’s mission. This is an extraordinary opportunity for an individual who is passionate about our mission and who has a track record of board or other civic leadership. You can find more information about this opportunity here. If you’re interested in this opportunity please contact us at bdsearch@tdsnfp.org and tell us why you would be a good candidate for this role.

Career Pathways Participant Quote

Career Pathways Participant Quote

We recently received a quote from a participant in the Career Pathways program. Here’s what Anna Masatu, a form three student (junior) at Mkirira Secondary School had to say about the program.

“The hands-on activities we’re learning in the career pathways after-school program are a fun way to learn science. In fact, my grades in science have improved since I joined the program. It’s been interesting to learn about the different career options in agriculture, and my family and I have enjoyed the vegetables that my classmates and I are growing in the school garden.”

TDS and Education Systems Center at NIU will be hosting a fundraising event to support our joint Career Pathways program on November 19, 2017 in Chicago. Learn more and buy tickets at tdsnfp.org/careerpathways.

President’s newsletter: UMABU melts change into tradition

From the President’s Desk…

Americans are geared toward efficiency in almost everything we do, and we want things done fast. After all, we created an industry of “fast food” so we could have meals handed to us through a car window in five minutes or less.

We also carry these core social values into most aspects of our lives. When we donate money to charities, we want quick results and efficient work. Our core social values do not drive other cultures, according to Sarah Lanier, whose excellent book Foreign to Familiar explains how “hot climate” cultures differ from “cold climate” cultures in many important ways, including:

  • Relationship versus task orientation
  • Different concepts of time and planning
  • Direct versus indirect communication
  • Individualism versus group identity
  • Inclusion versus privacy

Tanzania Development Support (TDS) was founded to help our friends in Tanzania accomplish their goals and fulfill their aspirations to alleviate poverty with emphasis on educating their girls and boys. When our partners needed a dormitory for girls, our generous donors raised the funds to build a facility. When they needed a library, teacher resource center, and computer lab, our donors raised money for its construction, too.

This has been a transition year for our main Tanzanian partner organization UMABU. They went through an extensive process of rewriting their constitution to create a diverse governing board that includes minimum quotas of women and youth and represent a wide range of community interests in the Nyegina/Bukwaya area. Lanier’s book explains why it can take “hot climate” cultures longer to make changes; they are very focused on relationships over tasks, carefully holding numerous discussions in the member villages so men and women, young people and old, can voice their opinions about the new and improved UMABU. Their culture of indirect communication requires long hours of meetings whereas Americans would have tried to finish in 60 minutes or less!

The good news is UMABU has a new set of leaders, many of them young and eager to move forward with the economic development of their villages, especially the education of their children. With the new executive board in place, they can appoint a permanent steering committee for the Nyerere Library and Community Resource Center and finalize their priorities for the types of books TDS will purchase for the library and neighboring schools.

TDS also has been making changes while we awaited UMABU’s new governance team. We bade goodbye to our Master of Public Administration intern Taylor Adolphson, who graduated from NIU in May. We also welcomed Leah Nicolini, a 2016 NIU study abroad participant, as our new volunteer newsletter editor.

Asante sana tena. Thank you again for your continued support and patience towards TDS projects that will help lift Tanzanian girls and boys out of poverty with a better education than they could ever have imagined.


Dr. Kurt Thurmaier, President



Newsletter to publish monthly

Hi, my name is Leah Nicolini, and I will be writing Tanzania Development Support’s (TDS) monthly newsletter. The newsletter will publish the first Monday of each month and serve as an update on TDS’s projects to better keep our donors in the loop.

To tell you a little about myself, my involvement with TDS started in 2016 when I left the country for the first time to experience life in Tanzania while working towards my political science degree at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, Ill. Going on the study abroad trip was the best experience of my life as I got to spend one month in a beautiful country with friendly people and eat amazing food (fresh chicken and fries every day). I also learned about what a third world country is and began to understand why Tanzanians couldn’t have more successful and more “Western” lives.

Our study abroad group met with educational groups and community leaders, including UMABU, TDS’s main partner organization, to understand the barriers Tanzanians face in education and community improvement. Poverty is one of the largest barriers but the challenge it poses motivates me to give back to the people who gave me so much joy through their cultural values and natural hospitality. So I stayed involved with TDS upon my return from the study abroad trip in hopes of helping improve the quality of life in youth, especially girls, through the development of education along with other community-identified priorities. I want to give the Tanzanians I met more opportunities and volunteering for TDS is a way I can do that. 

This past year, I volunteered at TDS’s Yard Sale, helped organize the Water Walk fundraiser in April and began writing blogs and posting on our social media accounts. I will continue to volunteer at these events and develop my communications role at the nonprofit. Thank you for your time, and I look forward to learning more about the nonprofit and its donors! Look for the next newsletter Monday, Sept. 4, and if you’re not signed up to receive newsletters each month, scroll to the bottom right corner on our home page to sign up.

The 2016 TDS study abroad group poses for a photo in Tanzania. Leah Nicolini (rightmost) will be publishing newsletters monthly updating donors on projects.

Last Week: from Haki Elimu to Iftar Dinner on Zanzibar (27-28 June)

Monday in Dar included a meeting at Haki Elimu, the premier education policy NGO in Tanzania, and a delicious, relaxing dinner at the home of Judge Steven Bwana and his wife Angelika. Haki Elimu is a prominent voice for education reform in Tanzania, and it has many publications evaluating the progress (or lack there of) in education performance in Tanzania. Director John Kalage and his staff provided background on Haki Elimu and answered lots of questions from the students, including about the challenges of switching languages of instruction from primary to secondary levels. It is a controversial, complicated topic the students have been exploring, and one which Haki has not (yet) taken a position.

The dinner at the Bwana home Monday night has become a regular feature of the NIU Tanzania study abroad program, and the students had a great time, dining under the stars, with great conversations bubbling around the tables because (almost) the entire Bwana family (sons, daughters, brothers) tries to attend, and they all lead very interesting lives in a variety of professions.

Tuesday morning we boarded our bus for the ferry at 5:40 in the morning, amazed to see thousands of people on the streets already scurrying here and there before sunrise (at 6:30). ZanziFerryBoardingDar2016We arrived to the ferry and boarded through the long process of screening bags, checking passports, etc. We are staying at the Zenji Hotel, and the staff welcomed us and got us into our rooms as soon as they were cleaned. After our rooftop lunch, we had an excellent tour of Stonetown with Duad, our guide, and learned quite a lot about Zanzibar’s history and development, more than just about the East Africa slave market and homage to David Livingstone and his abolitionist efforts.

iftarDin2016aThe evening concluded with a delicious Iftar dinner at the home of Abiba and her son Jaffar. The picture shows her answering questions from the students about Iftar meals, life in Stonetown, and other subjects. We toured their home with a peak at what lies behind all of the beautiful Arabic and Indian doors that Zanzibar is famous for. Embracing Ramadan on Zanzibar was a terrific opportunity for all of us to learn more about this important cultural feature of  Zanzibar.



New Levels of Poverty: Lake Victoria Islands of Irigia and Rukuba

DSC02585Yesterday we toured the Lake Victoria islands of Irigia and Rukuba. The welcome we received from the core communities on both islands was very warm. They don’t receive many visitors, especially Americans, and they were eager to show their progress. In fact, there are now some permanent structures on Irigia (a few shops and a church), although most housing is still reed walls and plastic roofs.

Catch of the Day, Nile Perch at Irigia IslandThe most startling aspect of the tour for students and volunteers is the level of poverty on the islands. Our seminar discussion in the evening revealed that group members are realizing that there are strata of poverty, even among the bottom billion poorest people. Among those making less than $2/day are families living on much less than $2/day. Another troubling aspect of the visits is that there are so many young children who are living in abject poverty on the islands. Some of the children did not know how old they were (even when asked by Fr. Kazeri, who they know).

We are all challenged to discern how we, as individuals and as a country, can make a difference in the lives of these children and their parents. The solutions are not clear.
Mixing with Irigia Island residents

Kili Volunteers Learn about Mwangaza Center Programs

imageTDS Kili Climb volunteers (R-L) Mark Biernacki, Natalie Hoffman, and Tricia DeBoo, listen as one of the Mwangaza Center managers, Salome, explains programming to improve teacher education. John Kavishe, also a center manager, listens (left). The Mwangaza Center in Arusha is pioneering continuing education for Tanzanian teachers. TDS and UMABU are working with Mwangaza to develop collaborations that can include the teacher resource center in the Nyegina Library and Community Resource Center. The computer lab wing that will be built with the Kili Climb donations is an essential step to providing this programming. Thank you John and Salome for taking Saturday afternoon to brief the TDS volunteers about your wonderful work.

The Stratifications and Competition in Microfinance

Wednesday, June 10, focused on the stratifications and competition in microfinance for small business development in the Musoma area. We visited three microfinance lenders in the morning: FINCA (a pioneering international nonprofit), Tujijenge (recent for-profit microfinance lender partnered with KIVA.org), and Musoma SACCOS (a Tanzanian credit union with offices nationwide). We were able to compare the different types of clients and loans across the platforms and see how competition among the lenders is benefitting borrowers. For example, FINCA has moved from weekly payback to monthly payback periods to allow borrowers more time to use the funds to purchase goods and then resell with profit to repay the loan. In the afternoon we met with 4 different borrowers in the Nyegina area who borrowed from AFREDA (another lender in Musoma area) and Musome SACCOS. They are using the loans to buy in bulk at wholesale prices and sell at retail to make profits that cover loan repayments and pay school fees. They look forward to further business management training from the new Madaraka Nyerere Library and Community Resource Center in Nyegina, which will be easier to access for many people than going all the way to Musoma.

UMABU and Nyegina Secondary School Boards meet with NIU Students and TDS Volunteers

UMABU Board School Board

Monday, June 8,  NIU students and TDS Board members and volunteers engaged in conversations with the UMABU Board and Nyegina Secondary School Board, discussing issues of sustainability and mission drift. The students enjoyed having the opportunity to gain perspective and insight into development and the education system in Musoma. The day ended with the students reflecting on the cultural challenges of development.