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Sierra Pancoast

Sierra Pancoast is a student at Macalester College who climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro this winter to raise money for the non-profit organization Anza, which works to promote societal peace and equality in Tanzania. She got to interact with the organization leading up to and during her trip, and learned a lot about methods for making a difference in the world. She plans to continue working for global change throughout her life.
Interviewed by Anna Waltar, May 2015
For me, a peaceful society is one in which all people have equal access to education, health care, and employment opportunities, regardless of their gender, race, or socioeconomic standing. In such a society, people feel empowered to change their lives for the better, rather than feeling trapped in an endless cycle of poverty and injustice. They don’t have to rely on someone else to intervene to defend their rights because they know they are capable of standing up for themselves and making their voices heard in the community. If you want to work toward creating long-lasting, positive peace in the world, seek to empower the powerless and change the systems that are committing structural violence against them.

In my involvement with a non-profit called Anza that works to enable women and children in Tanzania to rise above poverty, I was really impressed with the way that this organization seeks to help these marginalized people groups without creating dependency. That touches on one of my key beliefs about peace: it has to come from the ground up. If the change is going to make a difference in the long-run, the community has to take personal responsibility for making that change happen. Anza provides an opportunity for this by giving seed money to poor women so that they can start their own self-sustaining businesses. The organization offers entrepreneurial training and the money initially needed to open the businesses, but the women will eventually pay back the loans they have received. In my eyes, this is a really wise system because it creates long-lasting change. This way, the women can take pride and ownership in the new lives they have created for themselves, and they are not at risk of becoming completely reliant on outside aid. In fact, because they have received training from the organization, they can now pass their new knowledge and skills on to other women, thus perpetuating the spread of self-empowerment.

One thing that I learned from my experience with Anza is that anyone can choose to make a difference for good in the world. In Tanzania, I got to meet the two sisters from the UK who founded the organization in 2010. They were both in their twenties or thirties, and had not had any proper training about how to start and run an international non-profit before they created Anza. However, they dared to believe that even as young, inexperienced women they could make a difference in the world, and the risk they took has paid off. Their organization has grown rapidly and has already created opportunities and equality for many women who could have never risen above poverty without the support of Anza.

I think a lot of times college students like myself think that they have to wait until later in life to start making an impact in the world. The main factor behind that rationale is money. They think that since they don’t have the finances to donate a lot to charity or to start an organization themselves that they can’t make a difference at all. When I first got interested in partnering with and raising money for Anza, I wasn’t sure that I could do very much individually. I was surprised, though, at the overwhelming response to my sponsorship letters. I don’t think that most college students realize the vast network of resources they have access to in the people that they know. I found that once I explained the important work that Anza does in Tanzania and described how I was going to summit Mt. Kilimanjaro to raise money for the organization, people got excited to donate. I think the key to raising the support you need to make a real difference in the world lies in finding a cause that you are passionate about and then helping the people that you know get passionate about it too. No matter your age or amount of financial resources, you can make a significant impact for peace as long as you take brave initiatives and gather a community of supporters behind you.

Obviously, my experience with Anza this year was only short-term, but I plan to continue working for peace and empowerment throughout my life. Through staying involved with Anza, I hope to continue to spread awareness about the good work that this organization is doing for the poor and underprivileged in Tanzania. Also, as a Psychology major with a concentration in Community and Global Health, I hope to explore the ways that oppression and structural violence damages the mental wellness of people, especially those in the developing world. Poverty causes so much suffering all over the globe, and I choose to stand alongside the poor and marginalized, and to give them hope for a brighter future. I challenge you to do the same.