Unity is Strength/Utengano Ni Udhaifu, a photo reflection by Helen Liu

In this photo, two students from The School of St. Jude near Usa River, Tanzania, pose for a photograph to illustrate the Swahili proverb, “Unity is strength.” The photo was taken for a project on Swahili proverbs we led in order to teach secondary school students about LTP in the first few weeks of DukeEngage.


I chose this photo for the happy, tired smiles of the secondary school girls, but certainly I could have chosen many others for the same proverb – it’s a popular one in Tanzania. While working with my group of students, it was both the first and most common proverb they brought up, which at first I saw as simply a reflection of the rote memorization methods used in education here, but soon I realized the proverb really was that popular. That was an interesting realization, that unity was so highly valued in Tanzania.


Throughout my many classes at Duke covering world culture, I’ve learned about how the United States values an individualistic culture, whereas many other cultures tend to be collectivistic. In other words, success, achievement, and identity are based around the individual in the United States much more often than they are in Tanzania. This proverb serves as a reminder of this cultural difference. For instance, in Tanzania, respect is often based on age. This shows how family and community relationships are championed. Individual identity is certainly important, but it is not nearly as evident in daily life as it is in the United States. For instance, in this photo, the girls have matching plaid uniforms, a symbol of the community fostered at St. Jude’s. On a broader scale, the girls’ uniforms are both short-sleeved polo shirts and long skirts (cut off in the photograph), popular to many school uniforms we’ve seen while teaching – a symbol of the grander Tanzanian education community.


Many of the student groups we taught at St. Jude’s chose this collectivist proverb as the inspiration for their photographs, pointing to a strong value in unity in Tanzania as a whole. Outside schools, unity continues to be valued. I am reminded of the photo of Tanzania’s founding president Julius Nyerere, popularly hung in various office buildings around the region. I think that if I ever found Obama’s face peeking out at me from a professional’s office – unless they worked in the White House, and even maybe then, I’d be thoroughly confused. Nevertheless, this is just another example of unity – how common heroic figures pull a community together, shape its identity.


Also in the photograph, the soft afternoon light seeps through hunter green trees and a well-formed stone hedge. Various shades of green color plants in the background neatly surround a brick building. Collectivist culture aside, the photo could easily have been somewhere in United States to someone who hadn’t been present during the taking. Simply put, the surroundings are manicured, and the materials used are expensive – bricks instead of cement, handrails for the stairs, stone hedge where one was not necessary. It reminds me that St. Jude’s provides a high quality and free education to students who might otherwise end up at less resourced schools. The wide gap between resources at private and international schools versus government schools in Tanzania is an issue that still needs to be addressed.


Overall, I chose this photo not only because I loved working at St. Jude’s but also because it speaks to the culture and issues existent in Arusha and Tanzanian education.

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