The seeds for The Tandana Foundation were planted in 1998, when Founding Director Anna Taft spent four months in the rural community of Panecillo, Ecuador, teaching English to local elementary students and forming relationships with so many people there.
Anna founded Tandana to create opportunities for intercultural learning – the way she had done when she brought together students from The Traveling School and community members in Agualongo, Ecuador. She also wanted to give students, like the ones she taught in Panecillo, the chance to continue their education beyond the elementary level. Lastly, she was humbled by the love she was shown by the community of Panecillo and wanted to maintain those friendships and support the community members in achieving their goals.
This 10-minute video filmed by a Tandana intern gives a beautiful overview of Anna's inspiration for starting Tandana in Ecuador:
Tandana was founded in 2004, and in 2006 the foundation received its 501c3 nonprofit status and sponsored its first community project in Ecuador. Students from The Traveling School helped to paint the community center in the community of Agualongo.
Also in 2006, Anna spent four months in Mali immersing herself in a completely different culture and working with villagers on community projects. Tandana supported its first community project in Mali in 2007: creating a school garden in the village of Kori-Maounde. In 2008, Tandana assisted with restoring a well in the village of Kansongho. This project was important because it solidified Tandana's relationship with the residents of Kansongho, which now serves as Tandana's center of operations in Mali.
Since supporting those initial projects in Ecuador and Mali, Tandana has slowly extended its relationships in neighboring communities in both countries, with those who observed first-hand the benefits of such a partnership. Tandana now works in the majority of the communities of Quichinche Parish, Ecuador, as well as a few communities outside the parish. In Mali, Tandana has partnered with approximately 10 villages in Wadouba Township, and several outside the Township, in addition to women in 30 communities who are served by Tandana's literacy program.
Tandana's volunteer programs have also grown since the foundation's beginnings. Between 2006 and 2014, Tandana led 75 volunteer programs in Mali and Ecuador. In 2014 alone, it hosted 15 distinct volunteer groups, with 237 participants from 18 different states and 1 Canadian province. Anna and the Tandana team have learned from each experience and have found sustainable ways to improve and expand.
Shifting from Projects to Initiatives
Tandana's early community collaborations had a definite focus on construction. Building projects represented concrete, easily identifiable community needs, and when complete, they were tangible signs of community progress. Moreover, infrastructure projects are labor intensive, so the volunteer groups that Tandana brought to these communities could contribute in a necessary and meaningful way. Tandana still supports infrastructure improvement--the needs still exist--but as our relationships have grown over the years, so has Tandana's capacity to support more complex community goals. Now, community initiatives fall into the broad categories of not only infrastructure, but also food security, water resources, education, environmental conservation, health, and income generation. Tandana aims to involve volunteer groups in these initiatives whenever possible.
Tandana's scholarship program began in 2007 in the communities of Quinchinche Parish with the goal to help students to continue their secondary studies and improve their quality of life.
In the early days, Vicente Pazmiño (the current Logistics Manager) would visit schools and speak with the Directors, who would identify excellent students with economic limitations. If they met all the criteria, Don Vicente would make sure that the students received the uniforms, materials, and transportation funds they needed; he would also make sure they took good care of their school things and kept up their grades. Tandana soon offered summer vacation courses taught by volunteers to give extra help in English and math to scholarship recipients and other interested students.
In 2011, Tandana's scholarship program expanded to support university students. These students had a vision to “be a professional and help their families.” In exchange for Tandana's support, university scholarship recipients would complete a set number of community service hours so they could use their new knowledge to help their communities.
In 2017, Tandana supported 97 high school scholarship students and 21 university students.
Growing an Organization
To meet the growing needs of supporting our relationships, initiatives, and programs, Tandana itself has had to grow as an organization. In 2004, Tandana's board consisted of three members. Today the board has 12 trustees with active committees, including Development, Human Relations, Finances, and even one to plan Tandana's 10th Anniversary activities. Along with its Board of Trustees, Tandana receives feedback from its Advisory Council, which consists of three committees that give guidance on programs, medical direction, and risk management. Three to four Tandana volunteers and former staff members sit on each committee.
The staff is growing too. Administrative and program personnel span the globe, with some in the US, Haiti, and of course in Ecuador and Mali. Full-time positions now include a US-based Operations Director and an Ecuador Program Manager as well as full time staff in Mali, who help manage the myriad organizational details as well as directing the expanding part-time local staff who are vital to the professional quality of Tandana's work.
Finally, Tandana also values its vibrant internship and fellowship program in Ecuador, through which long-term volunteers live in the communities and contribute in meaningful ways to education, public health, environmental work, or volunteer program leadership. This program is one more way that Tandana demonstrates its commitment to forming strong, long-lasting intercultural relationships and promoting respect for individuals from diverse backgrounds.
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