**Dear Readers: Very often we think that being an Everyday Ambassador involves working in public health or education or finance, one of the ‘traditional’ fields of international development. Today I am delighted to showcase the work of Rebecca Corey, a woman who brings the values of EA to the field of music and cultural preservation in East Africa. Her story is particularly memorable, and I hope it inspires you to think about the forces that have influenced your own life, and how you can give back to the world through those channels. Enjoy! xo ko **
My name is Rebecca Corey and I serve as the Executive Director of the Tanzania Heritage Project, an organization working in partnership with the Tanzania Broadcasting Corporation to digitize the broadcast archive of Radio Tanzania Dar-es-Salaam and make the music available to the world.
I am honored to have been asked to write a guest post and excited to tell you more about what being an Everyday Ambassador means to me.
I believe that there are as many paths to service and fulfillment as there are people.
My personal journey stems from a mix of fate and chance that sometimes baffles me. Only in hindsight can I say it all makes perfect sense.
I first traveled to Tanzania in 2007 to volunteer at an orphanage. Why Tanzania? My reasons were vague, at best. I imagined Africa as a blank canvas on which to paint my dreams of adventure and impact. I wanted to make a difference in the world and I imagined Africa to be the best place to “help.”
Yet in the space of two months of “volun-tourism.” I was humbled, awakened, and challenged to re-think the simplistic narratives of aid I’d held the majority of my life. I returned to the U.S. determined to learn more about the complicated issues of development so that I could contribute to poverty alleviation in a more meaningful way.
After graduation in 2009, I returned to Tanzania to pursue a Master’s degree in International Development and to work as a Kiva Fellow at a local microfinance institution. Having disposed of my over-simplified assumptions, a complex, beautiful, contradictory, difficult reality emerged. I came to see that no “solution” imposed on a country by outside forces can work as well as change that comes from within. I learned about colonial oppression that bled into a new reality of neo-colonialist economic exploitation.
But before I had enough time to process all that I was learning, tragedy struck.
One night, I was hit by a car while riding a motorbike. Shattering all of the bones in my right leg, I barely made it out alive, and then endured nearly a year of surgeries, treatments, and physical therapy before I could walk again.
Just before I left Tanzania, a friend gave me several CDs of music from the “Radio Tanzania” era, and it is fair to say that the music got me through those long months of recovery. I spent the next two years learning more about the history of the music I had grown to love, as well as developing a plan for digitization.
In February of 2012, I returned to Dar-es-Salaam and spent six weeks speaking with musicians, archivists, and government officials about Radio Tanzania and the importance of preserving the archive. I, along with my Tanzanian partner Benson Rukantabula, put together a wonderful team of people from Tanzania, the United States, and the Netherlands to promote the project and raise awareness.
The beautiful thing about music is that it is a universal language. I once heard a Zimbabwean proverb that says, “If you can talk, you can sing. If you can walk, you can dance.” It is easy to fall into the trap of believing that people from foreign cultures are different than you, and therefore somehow less deserving of kindness or empathy or attention. But music unites people.
When a collection like the Radio Tanzania Dar-es-Salaam archive is in danger of being lost forever because it’s trapped in a decaying, obsolete medium, you see people from all over the world come together with a common goal: saving the music.
We believe that the digitization and promotion of the Radio Tanzania archive has the potential to revolutionize cultural preservation in the digital era, providing a sustainable and replicable model for revitalizing musical collections all around Africa and the world. By digitizing the material, releasing it online, and creating an open-source model for preservation, we will guarantee that the cultural heritage of Tanzania lives on and inspires others to embark on similar preservation projects.
When people ask me how I ended up doing what I do, the answer isn’t simple. I went to Tanzania the first time mostly as a matter of chance, but continue to work there because of choice. The relationships, skills, and insights I’ve gained there have shaped me into the person I am today, and I hope I can give back to the culture and community that has done so much for me, including helping to save my life.
For me, being an Everyday Ambassador is about being willing to make mistakes, honoring relationships and individuals, and always, always being grateful for the opportunities we are given to learn from others. I hope that whatever path you take, it will be full of wonder, surprise, and joy.
And if you go about life with an open mind and open arms, I guarantee it will.