SAN JOSE, California — In 1998, Anna Taft, the founder of The Tandana Foundation, taught English for four months in Panecillo, Ecuador. There, she developed friendships with local residents and maintained contact with them after her English teaching.
While working with The Travelling School based in the United States, Taft directed her students from the U.S. to participate in the community of Agualongo, Ecuador, while also installing water pipes. After recognizing the opportunity to give local Ecuadorian students, akin to the ones she taught in Panecillo, an opportunity to further their education after finishing elementary school, Taft subsequently capitalized on this opportunity by raising funds in the U.S. for these children. Feeling “[h]umbled by the love she was shown by friends in the communities, she wanted to support them in achieving their goals,” leading to the founding of The Tandana Foundation in 2004 and the acquisition of 501(c)(3) nonprofit status in 2006.
Tandana Foundation’s Theory of Change
Many organizations and nonprofits have a theory of change generally detailing the necessary steps and interventions needed to achieve a long-term goal or social change. The Tandana Foundation’s theory of change is unique in the fact that many of its means are also its end. On the organization’s website, The Tandana Foundation says its theory of change is based on “how [the organization]interact[s]and on the intercultural relationships that are both the foundation of [the organization’s]work and an end in themselves.”
One way The Tandana Foundation actively works to promote this theory of change is through its intercultural volunteer programs. Every year, “Tandana hosts approximately 15 volunteer groups, providing unique learning experiences to over 200 participants.” To participate, the volunteers will pay a fee for purchasing materials, covering housing, facilitating transportation and buying other necessities. These volunteers work to support projects local residents propose and engage in cultural activities with locals. Furthermore, while some volunteers stay at hotels and hostels, local residents house others. The relationships developed between volunteers and local residents foster a greater cultural understanding.
Impact of COVID-19
While The Tandana Foundation is successful in its local community development initiatives, the COVID-19 pandemic introduced setbacks that have greatly stimied volunteer and community development operations. The intercultural volunteer programs are on pause due to the impact of the pandemic. However, The Tandana Foundation created virtual programs to offset the losses from the intercultural volunteer program.
Initially, The Tandana Foundation supported infrastructure and construction where it identified tangible goals within certain timeframes. While The Tandana Foundation still develops infrastructure, Taft noted in an interview with The Borgen Project that today, “community initiatives fall into the broad categories of not only infrastructure but also food security, water resources, education, environmental conservation, health and income generation.”
According to UNICEF, more than 2 million people in Mali between ages 5 and 17 are out of school, and as of 2018, Mali has a literacy rate of 35.5% among those aged 15 or older. To address Mali’s relatively poor state of education, The Tandana Foundation has helped schools in Mali by acquiring furniture and recruiting teachers.
The Tandana Foundation operates literacy and numeracy programs in 30 areas of Mali to address Mali’s low literacy rate. Another way The Tandana Foundation goes on to improve Mali’s education is through a scholarship program. The scholarship program covers 50% of tuition for 12 months while the student’s family is responsible for the other half. To further increase the number of skilled laborers in Mali, scholarship recipients engage in community service in rural areas to pass on the skills they learn to others.
Developing School and Community Gardens
As of 2020, 4.3 million people in Mali require humanitarian aid and 30.4% of children younger than 5 suffer from stunting. These issues arise from food insecurity. To address the demand for food, The Tandana Foundation supports initiatives to develop school gardens all across Mali.
Daniel Dolo, director of Kori-Maounde’s local school, proposed a project to create a community garden where students can simultaneously gain skills in agriculture and sell food to afford more school supplies. The school is in a location where the livestock often ravages greenery, which prompted The Tandana Foundation to invest funds to construct a fence around the garden.
Another example of The Tandana Foundation’s work would be when “Kaleb Poudiougou, director of the Second Cycle (7th-9th grades) in De, Mali, wanted his students to learn about gardening and also realize that they could earn money for school supplies they need.” The Tandana Foundation proceeded to provide tools, assistance and seeds to teachers, students and parents. This garden now grows vegetables including but not limited to lettuce, squash and eggplants.
Poverty Reduction Impacts
A core element of the visions of both The Borgen Project and The Tandana Foundation is poverty reduction. The literacy and numeracy programs from The Tandana Foundation allow local Malians to read scales and demand fairer treatment in market environments. Taft brings up the example of The Tandana Foundation’s work in developing Mali’s women’s associations, which empowers women to “create businesses that provide communal purchasing power and the ability to circumvent abusive credit policies and dishonest traders.” Moreover, The Tandana Foundation’s education and scholarship programs create more skilled laborers that can provide services to their community and lift families out of poverty.
While The Tandana Foundation has many ongoing projects, it is also seeking to expand and explore future initiatives. Taft told The Borgen Project about potential Tandana Foundation environmental initiatives in Mali. “We also want to help the Olouguelemo Environmental Association sign an agreement with the Malian Forestry Service to have legal management rights over the natural resources in its area and to help the association extend its important trainings in erosion control, assisted natural regeneration and the fabrication of improved cookstoves to more villages.”
In all its efforts, The Tandana Foundation aims to end poverty by “support[ing]the achievement of community goals and address[ing]global inequalities through caring intercultural relationships that embody mutual respect and responsibility.”
– Alexander Richter