Since 2016, Dr. Linda Beck, Associate Dean of Experiential & Global Education at the University of Maine at Farmington (UMF), has taken groups of students to Tanzania on a short-term travel course to learn about sustainable tourism and environmental activism in Tanzania.
Linda lived in Tanzania with her husband, Dr. Mark Pires, and their two daughters in 2015 while on sabbatical, conducting research on environmental activism and tourism. This is when Linda and Mark first met Simon and started working with SENE.
As Mark remembers, “Friends of ours in the US who are partners with Simon Mtuy put us in touch. We worked with SENE on our ecotourism study abroad program and everything went really well. Simon is very charismatic and a wonderful human being. Getting to work with his company was very helpful in communicating the importance of environmentally-minded tourism, and gave us the opportunity to work with a company that is ethically-minded, socially responsible and owned by a Tanzanian.”
Five years in and they continue to work with SENE because, as Linda explains, “we continue to be impressed by what they do, and the collaboration that they have not only with their own staff members in the local community, but also the work they do with KPAP (Kilimanjaro Porters Assistance Project).”
Nik Peterson, a sophomore who traveled to Tanzania in January 2020, was excited to see sustainable tourism in action: “you think about making a difference as a simple thing, but a field experience like this where you get to see the significant impact your decisions can have on the lives of real people, not only changes their lives, it changes you in the process.”
Prior to leaving for Tanzania the students partake in a “survival Swahili” language course. During the three-week course, students experience the local cuisine, tour a school, pick coffee at a fair-trade cooperative and plant trees to combat deforestation on the hills of Kilimanjaro.
When asked what is one thing, she hopes the students take away from this experience, Linda wants “[her students] to become lifelong learners and lifelong ecotourists. I don’t care if they’re going around the corner or around the world, I just want them to think about the impact of their tourism, on the local economy, on the local people…The other thing I want them to [understand is how to] be global citizens and to be aware of the cultural diversities, the inequities, the social justice issues, to care at a very deep level. And what’s really kind of cool is that I find that the students really do internalize these experiences. One student became interested in the services for children who have special needs and another who just contacted me when the fire [on Kilimanjaro] happened, asked ‘what can we do to help out.’ That’s the kind of thing that I want to see coming out of this for my students.”
For Mark, he hopes that “the trip allows [the students] to see that they are connected to the world and learn a new appreciation for sustainable tourism so that when they go on their next trip or they have their own families and go on vacation that they think about what they are doing, who they engage and [ensure that] those companies are doing the right thing in the same way that SENE today is doing the right thing with an eye on keeping local communities employed and practicing environmental respect.”
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the UMF Alumni Trip to Tanzania planned for June 2020 had to be postponed until 2021. Thanks to SENE’s generosity, students, faculty and alumni who had already signed up for the trip were able to save $500 on the total trip cost by making a $1,000 deposit before June 30, 2020. The goal of this Alumni Trip is to provide UMF alumni and members of the Farmington, Maine community with a very affordable and ethical safari to four of Tanzanian’s national parks, including: Serengeti, Tarangire, Lake Manyara and Mount Meru. Other trip highlights include a day hike on Mount Kilimanjaro, visiting Ngorongoro Conservation Area, and an optional three-day trip to Zanzibar Stone Town.