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UB group to provide aid to women in Tanzania

Katie J. Biggie of Kenmore is passionate about creating and expanding educational opportunities for girls and young women, even if it's halfway around the world.

A University at Buffalo doctoral student, Biggie will be joining six others in carrying out that mission as part of UB's Buffalo Tanzanian Education Project, which is working to give teenage girls in the East African nation alternatives to early marriage. The project works in partnership with the Immaculate Heart Sisters of Africa.

"I have a basic right to an education by virtue of where and when I was born, but there are girls around the world who don't have that opportunity," Biggie, 31, said in a phone interview.

She and six other people affiliated with the Buffalo Tanzanian Education Project will travel to Tanzania on Sunday for a 12-day trip that will include the delivery of 12 solar cookers to women in the Kitenga village near Lake Victoria.

Women in Kitenga spend two to three days a week collecting firewood used to cook the one meal a day that feeds their families, Biggie said. The solar cookers, donated by Kate Paige Mecca of the Solar Liberty Foundation, are intended to free the women from having to travel long distances to collect firewood. That will allow them the freedom pursue other options, such as getting a formal education or earning much-needed income by weaving baskets or doing beadwork and selling their wares at the local market, Biggie said.

"Hopefully, we can work to set up finance programs so the women can get loans from the bank to start up their own businesses," said Biggie, who noted that similar micro-financing programs for women have been successful in other developing nations.

This will be Biggie's fourth trip to Tanzania. The first was in July 2009, when she and others from UB accompanied Tanzanian government officials on what was essentially a fact-finding mission. She explained that members of the Tanzanian Education Project have different interests in assisting the women of Tanzania, including establishing maternal health care and economic empowerment programs, which they hope to accomplish with assistance from the Tanzanian government and nongovernmental organizations in the country.

Biggie made several contacts on subsequent trips to Tanzania. On Monday, the group will fly to a small airport in the interior of Tanzania. On Wednesday, they will fly to Musoma to meet with Immaculate Heart Sisters of Africa, who run the Kowha secondary school, the highest ranked secondary school for girls in the country. The university-educated nuns also operate a health clinic and an eco-friendly agricultural project, Biggie said.

On the last leg of their trip, the group will visit Kitenga to deliver the solar cookers. Biggie plans to chronicle the mission on her blog at www.tanzaniacommunitytrips.wordpress.com.

e-mail: hmcneil@buffneww.com

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