The Heart of CWS Africa: It’s Staff

Mariana Gama | March 12, 2024

CWS and Africa team members with U.S. based staff on recent program visit trip in Tanzania and Kenya

There’s a somewhat magical aspect of remote work that occurs every now and then when you finally get to meet your coworkers in person. A name from an email gets a face, a face from a weekly team call gets a personality. I recently experienced an intensified version of this last month when I traveled to Kenya and Tanzania and met members of the incredible CWS Africa team.

The moment we arrived at the airport in Dar es Salaam, we were welcomed after a nearly 30-hour trip from the U.S. by the friendly faces and palpable warmth of staff members, who said, “Welcome! Karibu! You are in great hands.”

For the entirety of our trip, we remained in these safe and welcoming hands and were in awe of the CWS Africa staff. Each day a team member would debrief us on the programs we were about to see with a profound knowledge and expertise of their work. In the field, it was clear that not only did each staff member have an impressive understanding of the programs they managed, but also a deep and personal passion for the work that they do.

At the Nyargusu refugee camp, we met program participant Penda and her baby Hemedi, who shared a name with our colleague and leader for the day, Hemedi Msofe. Hemedi, who is an Agriculturalist and Program Manager, oversees our gardening program in the camp, which he visits multiple times a week. In each home we visited, you could see that Hemedi was not a stranger to anyone, and at times, little children would take his hand and lead their friend inside. After seeing this, we were not surprised that a program participant seemingly had named their baby after the kind and compassionate CWS leader, Hemedi.

The leadership and devotion we saw in Hemedi were present in every single CWS staff member we met. Grace Waiharo, Resettlement Support Center Senior Program Manager, accompanied us nearly every day and was our personal, radiant, confident and charismatic CWS Tanzania encyclopedia, explaining each program to us down to the detail. Zawadi Mammba, Project Officer for Food Security and Livelihoods, guided us from bees to pigs, which CWS distributes to individuals and families in the community, and revealed the way each program has gone beyond what we see on the surface. Reagan Shao, Finance and Administration Manager, shared not only the details of each program but also invited us to understand the history of the country and how it intertwined with our work. Leading the charge of this fantastic team was Tanzania Country Representative, Enzo Vecchio, whose dedication to the work was seen in both his professionalism and personal care for his staff. And, of course, how could I forget our “personal bodyguard” as we lovingly called him, Petro Jengela, Regional Security Manager, who made sure we mzungus (foreigners) were well taken care of anywhere we went.

In Kenya, we were joined by the one and only Mary Obiero, who on the field is respectfully known as “Madame Director” by the program participants. It only takes one interaction with Mary to see the true powerhouse and leader that she is. We were also joined by Program Officer, Liz Sisenda who, like the Tanzanian staff, added a stream of knowledge and context to the programs we visited. As we left one of the program visits, Liz was stopped by a program participant who had an urgent question for her. With a kind smile, Liz reminded him that he had her personal phone number and could contact her at any time to answer any question. She then turned to me and said, “These are my people. This is more than just a job for me, this is my community.”

To be able to say, “This is more than a job for me” is a gift. But the greater gift is to be a part of an organization where so many people feel this way and to know that each person in our programs is in great hands.

Note: This blog spotlights the staff member who guided us on our visit in Tanzania and Kenya but there are many more field staff not mentioned as well as Nairobi-based staff who accompanied us including Wycliffe Ochieng, John Marshall and Tom Taurus. This blog also does not include the staff that joined the other visiting team in Kenya who are equally incredible and deserving of praise. Thank you CWS Africa team for welcoming us and showing us the life-changing work that you do.

To learn more about the work we do in our programs in Africa click here.

Mariana Gama is CWS’ Program Communications Specialist.