Shining a Light on the Church in Tanzania during Women’s History Month

Over the four Fridays of March, VTS’ online publication On Holy Hill will hear from Ebonee Davis, archivist for the African American Episcopal Historical Collection. Ebonee will share details about her trip to visit the Diocese of Tanganyika, Tanzania’s women’s conference. Stay tuned for more by visiting each week or follow the hashtag #TZWomenVTS on social media. I recently traveled to Tanzania for a conference that gathered more than 300 women from across the Diocese of Central Tanganyika. While there, I had the privilege of conducting roundtable-style oral history interviews with nearly 60 of these women. In honor of Women’s History Month, I’ll be sharing their stories to bring light and amplify voices not often heard. These stories are not always easy to hear; they aren’t sugar-coated or tinged with just the right amount of tragedy to garner the gaze of a well-meaning Western world. They’re simply the candid, raw reflections of women willing to reveal at least a bit of their lives to us.

 To be honest, I had conjured up the idea of collecting these stories with a completely different result in mind. I thought I’d show up at this conference, see some familiar faces (as this was my second trip to the Diocese), and harness the trust I’d gained with some of these women to get them to open up to me. I imagined that they’d share beautifully moving stories about motherhood and faith and everyday life, all blessed by God. I thought I’d hear story after story of how the call on their husbands’ lives (all of them priests), translated into an even greater call on these women’s lives and those of their households. That is not what happened. Instead, I got a startling dose of reality – a glimpse of the real-life hardships and hustle so many of these women face, as their husbands’ calling carries them far from home, often into circumstances that are less than ideal. 

Over the next few weeks, you’ll hear their stories. I share them not to pull on your heartstrings, wallet, or conscience; or to feed into the unfortunate stereotypes of Africa that already permeate our culture. No, I share them because the voices and stories of these women matter — and they deserve to be heard, whether or not they make us feel good. As you follow along with me each Friday of this month, I ask that you open yourself up to truly see and hear these women, learn from them, and pray for them. – Ebonee Davis Archivist, African American Episcopal Historical Collection

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