BenJee Cascio

We need to continue to dream big, to scale up and to reach more people. 1

BenJee Cascio is TATU Project new General Manager. It will be a daunting task to replace Rebecca Light who was with TATU Project until last summer, but BenJee feels he is up for the task. We introduce him to you via this blog post.

– Born in the state of Wisconsin, USA – 13/10/1984
Studies: Masters in International Development at the University of Minnesota
-Worked abroad for ten year in China, Chile, Jamaica, Nigeria, Uganda, Spain and Tanzania for various NGO’s
– Married with a lovely wife from Madrid, Spain
– Speaks: English, Spanish, Swahili, Mandarin Chinese, Jamaican Creole, German,and Iko (Nigeria)
– Three years in Moshi, arriving in the fall of 2013, for an organization working with street children. After this he worked for an NGO in health services before TATU Project.
– Hobbies: reading, being informed on politics, playing musician: guitar, piano, drums and ‘birding’
“I love the outdoors and to bird watch. Birding gives me an excuse to stay outside. What I like about it is the challenge of identifying birds. I like the puzzle of figuring out which sort of bird I see based on its shape, its colour, its behaviour and so on.”

Why Development Cooperation?

As an undergraduate I did a research project in Ghana about ethno-musicology, which is looking at culture and music basically. It was my first time in Africa and I was really enthusiastic about the topic. Yet when I arrived in Ghana I was shocked, I just wasn’t prepared for the poverty I saw. I felt my research was not necessary, there were a lot of other things that were more useful to be done instead of looking at the issue of music and how it influences the culture. Also I found that people were not looking at that, there were not a lot of musicians because people could not afford instruments or they simply didn’t have time to practice.

Shaking off this feeling when I returned home was very difficult. I really felt lucky for the opportunities I had while growing up, which was something I did not realise during my youth. So I decided to use my work to try to create those opportunities for other people, because music was something I could always do for fun.

Why Tanzania?

What I love about Tanzania is the fact there is a lot of culture and a lot of ethnic groups that have their own beliefs and their own history. There is always a lot to learn from the people you work with and from your friends. It is great because it reminds you of differences and how people conceptualize things differently…

At this moment BenJee glazed off and paused, while looking at the sky. The birding hobby was clearly not a joke.

… Because of globalization and technology it appears that we are all more or less the same, but if you dig deeper you can find these interesting differences that affect the way you work. This is part of the challenge that I like, that is to fit my skills and my work into the context of Tanzania.
What is disappointing about Tanzania is to still see the low level of development. You look at the resources this country has and still you see the poverty and the lack of opportunities. It is not that this is like Western Sahara, which is just desert. There are resources, there a products, there are services. So it is really disappointing that these are concentrated with a small group of people and that the vast majority of the population has no access to these opportunities.

That does not mean there are no opportunities out there, on the contrary, the medium just has to be created for people to seize these opportunities.

The NGO world

The problem is that there are a lot of things that cannot be easily measured in dollars and cents, which can be frustrating because you need to be in it for the long run. First you need to understand the people and the local context. You can have a plan to arrive from A to Z, but if the people you work with write in Arabic, you will never get there.
I think development cooperation requires a lot of time and effort and is this time and age people want results, they want to see quickly where the money goes to in quantified ways which puts a lot of pressure on NGO’s.

It can be really challenging and discouraging. Therefore it is important to celebrate the successes you experience and the successes of other partner organizations. If it would be easy, the problem would be solved. It is not easy, but we should all be learning from the mistakes of others and adapt on their successes. This will help the sector to grow and to push forward.

First impressions

The Monday morning I started at TATU Project I noticed a positive energy in the group. Everybody is very passionate about their work, which is a cliché thing to say about NGO employees, but it is something that can be lost in the challenges, you can become very discouraged even while working for an NGO.

What impressed me in Msitu wa Tembo is the relationship TATU Project has with the different stakeholders. From the local governance structure to the kids in the schools, people received me, in associating with TATU Project, very warmly, very genuinely and I really felt like wow, TATU Project is true to the vision of working with the community.

You could tell that when you talk to people in the community about the work TATU Project has done. When you see how they approach you and when you look at the conversations you have, you can feel this history and this relationship. This is something which should not be underestimated. It is what allows us to continue the good work.

What is significant about this relationship is that it is maintained. Whether it takes one year or ten years, the trust can be very easily eroded by misunderstandings, mismanagement or basically any number of things. So to maintain the relationship through ups and downs and to still be in that position that everybody feels very comfortable, that really sticks out. It is really a partnership and both sides can speak and learn from each other. That means a lot to me.

The women’s group was also something that I really enjoyed. Having lived in Tanzania for three years I know that in a village, women traditionally do not have much of a voice. So it is rewarding to see a group of women who not only have a platform (that is the group), but they also literally have a voice. Because you can set up the structures of a group, but if nobody feels comfortable, no one will speak out.

So it was really cool to see and hear what they said and how the group works. It was nice to see them as a group, sharing opinions where everybody was respected. It was also very nice to see that different ethnic groups were present.

The challenge for TATU Project in the future is to maintain this relationship with the community and to make sure that expectations are managed. We should make sure that we still respond to their needs and to not become comfortable because we have been successful in the past. We need to continue to dream big, to scale up and to reach more people.

In my opinion, the objective is to reach more beneficiaries in agriculture, education and so on. Subjects that TATU Project has in its ethos, but has not touched on yet because we did not have the time or the capacity.

What I would like to see in the long run is that the model of TATU Project, the way the NGO works with the community, will be recreated by others. The same way we get our inspiration from other NGO’s doing great things. Hopefully others will copy the TATU Project model in the future.

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One thought on “We need to continue to dream big, to scale up and to reach more people.

  • Gaudissart Pierre and Imelda

    Having spent two months at TATU in 2015 we very deeply empathize with all the points you are emphasizing about the organisation. We do not have the wide experience of Africa and NGO work you are enjoying. We feel that you are sensitive to the wide community feeling that pervades TATU. We do hope that you will be able to support it and make it grow. We are deeply impressed by the lively group of women leaders who emerged from the TATU original group.
    You are absolutely right about perseverance. Nothing worthwhile can be achieved overnight. We learn more from our failures than from our apparent successes. Good luck to you !
    PS : we miss on your message the most important part of your picture : the upper half of your face !
    Pierre and Imelda