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Globetrotter Finds Her Calling in Tanzania

6 June 2014 at 3:55 pm
Staff Reporter
Former lawyer and Not for Profit founder Tracey Sawyer’s travels and career has led her to more than 80 countries and to the place she now calls her second home - Tanzania. Sawyer is this week’s Changemaker.

Staff Reporter | 6 June 2014 at 3:55 pm


Globetrotter Finds Her Calling in Tanzania
6 June 2014 at 3:55 pm

Former lawyer and Not for Profit founder Tracey Sawyer’s travels and career has led her to more than 80 countries and to the place she now calls her second home – Tanzania. Sawyer is this week’s Changemaker.  

Sawyer led a successful career in law and later in the corporate world before she founded Testigo Projects in 2009 in response to her Masai friends’ request for help with bringing running water to their village Longido.

It was in Tanzania that she also met her husband Emanuel Saakai, a Tanzanian Masai, who comes from a humanitarian background and now heads Testigo’s Tanzania team.

They also founded Lengo Football Academy, a Not for Profit soccer academy for disadvantaged youth in Arusha, Tanzania, which is helping more than 140 boys and girls aged from 5 to 25 to achieve their football and personal goals.

Prior to Testigo, Sawyer dabbled in the Not for Profit world after spending a year in Peru, where she became involved with remote Andean villages with the Rainbow project – a project she initiated by bringing clothes and food to needy families.

These days,  Sawyer splits her time between Melbourne and Tanzania.

Currently, she is studying for her Masters in Social Investment and Philanthropy at Swinburne University after securing a scholarship for her first year of study and being awarded the highest achieving student prize. She is also undertaking the Leadership Victoria Folio Community Leadership Program.

What are you currently working on in your organisation?

We are training Masai women and men how to grow their own food for the first time – our Ukuaji project, which is about ‘growing food, growing people’.

We train at least 100 Masai per village how to harvest rainwater using small household dams, raise rural chickens, and maintain household permaculture plots providing vegetables and fruit for their families, and enabling the women to enter the economy for the first time through selling excess produce.

We train and support them throughout a year, during a complete growing cycle, and our participants then on-train their families and friends.

Our trainers are Masai and are previous participants.  Our training is oral and practical, as most of our participants are illiterate.

What drew you to the Not for Profit sector?

I founded Testigo Projects Inc. five years ago because I said yes when my Masai friends asked if I’d help them make a water project happen.

We have since managed two successful water projects in Tanzania impacting 12,000 Masai.

I’ve been visiting and living with the Masai for 10 years, and observing their changing lifestyle as drought has robbed them of so many of their livestock.

I couldn’t walk away after completing the water projects as I’d witnessed the incredible hardships the Masai women were undergoing on a daily basis.

I reconfirmed my commitment to Testigo Projects, and its presence in Tanzania, by introducing our Ukuaji permaculture project. Before I founded Testigo I had a very successful international corporate career, and although it provided a great income and intellectual stimulation, something was missing.

Running Testigo has shown me that the missing link was following my passion by overcoming my fears and taking a leap of faith.  Now when I witness the impact of what I’m doing I feel a great sense of purpose and gratitude, and can’t imagine not being in the NFP sector!

What is the most rewarding part of your work?

In Australia, the most rewarding part of my work is when I witness people opening their hearts and being truly touched by the plight of the Masai.

I have been filming my journey with the Masai for 10 years.  When I screen short documentary clips of this journey and my own transformation through my relationship with them, it touches a core part of my fellow Aussies.

In Tanzania its wonderful for me to see Masai lives transformed through our work – children are able to attend school instead of fetching water, maternal and child nutrition has improved, Masai women are now feeding their families with food they’ve grown and selling their excess produce, trees no longer need to be chopped down to make charcoal to sell, and the Masai women are experiencing financial independence (the culture does not permit women to own or sell livestock).

My best friend Namnyak saved all the money she earned from selling produce from her permaculture plot to keep her son in boarding school in Arusha.

What do you like best about working in your current organisation?

I’m living my dream, my passion, in an organisation that I founded.  I am working as hard for Testigo as I worked when I was working in Hong Kong or London as a lawyer or business development director.

I have fabulous teams volunteering alongside me in Australia and Tanzania who are also realising their dreams to make a difference and have a positive impact in the world.

I’m always being asked …

How I went from a high flying corporate career to living in a mud hut in a Masai village in Tanzania.

Through your work, what is your ultimate dream?

My ultimate dream is to see Testigo expand globally to empower communities throughout the world to be self sufficient.

What does a typical day for you involve?

When I’m in Tanzania, a typical day starts when I wake up in my mud hut in Longido village and my best friend Namnyak knocks on the door with hot tea and freshly made chapatis.

I go to my mud hut bathroom with its concrete slab and wash using a bucket of water that has been collected from an outlet that our water project provided.

Emanuel (my husband) and I then walk or drive our ancient Toyota Hillux (called ‘Old Red’) to visit some of the neighbouring bomas (Masai homes) to see how their permaculture gardens are going.

We get back to my mud hut home in time for lunch, which Namnyak cooks over a fire in her hut.  We usually eat rice with onion, tomato and green vegetables such as kale or spinach fresh from our permaculture demonstration plot, and drink Masai tea made from fresh cow and goat milk.

In the afternoon we meet with a couple of our Masai trainers, Ndoye and Philipo, and plan for our visits to other villages where we’re running our Ukuaji permaculture project.

It’s dark by 6.30pm so we return to our boma and use our solar light.  I often spend the early evening with Namnyak and the children she’s bringing up, inside her mud hut with the fire burning and another hot meal of rice and vegetables being prepared.

Her husband Olengunin joins us and we catch up on his news of the day.  We’re usually in bed by 9.30pm, under the mosquito net, listening to the sounds of the cows and goats, and occasionally the cry of a hyena.

What (or who) inspires you?

My husband Emanuel Saakai inspires me on a daily basis.  He’s a Tanzanian Masai, and the most outstanding humanitarian.

Not only does he work by my side ensuring the women of his tribe have the opportunity to take a quantum step up in their lives, but he also founded a soccer academy for disadvantaged youth in Arusha, Tanzania.

Lengo Football Academy has been running for 1½ years now, with over 140 boys and girls aged from 5 to 25.

Emanuel is the head coach, and with three assistant coaches, all volunteers, they run the academy six days a week, helping the players reach both their football goals and their personal goals.

Emanuel speaks from his heart, and when he presents his story and those of his players, it frequently moves people to tears.

Where do you feel your passion for good came from?

My parents are my role models.  Throughout my life I’ve witnessed them give generously to hundreds of charities, and be fully involved in their local community groups.

My mother was involved in leadership roles in the Girl Guides Association for 36 years.  She’s also had key roles with a Sunday school, a girls association, a work social club, our school MLC, Yarra Valley School, Heather Club, Trefoil, Probus, LAC Explorers and Heatherdale Bowls Club.

My father is an accountant and has had committee roles for many community groups including Scouts, Coles Social Club, Heatherdale Primary School, Coles Golf Club, LAC Explorers and Heatherdale Recreation Club.

Together they have provided 135 volunteering years!  They are always the first to offer help to anyone in need, and have instilled strong family and community values in my siblings and I.

My sister and her husband has been involved in a charity helping Cambodia and local community involvement, and my brother is a philanthropist who also actively helps Testigo and Lengo Football Academy with financial and in-kind support.

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