Bernie Mshana ’13 from Tanzania is using her unique life experiences to bridge the gap between Tanzanian beneficiaries of NGO work in the creative arts and funders in the Western world.
Bernie was born in the capital of Tanzania, Dodoma, to parents who worked for the Ministry of Land. After a restructuring of the Ministry of Land, Bernie’s parents lost their jobs and relocated the family to the coastal city of Dar Es Salaam. Ten years later, Bernie moved for the second time in her life to South Africa to attend ALA.
Bernie’s parents used their own creativity to make ends meet, and passed on that creative confidence to their daughter. Bernie’s father began an architectural practice, and her mother, an avid seamstress, built a sewing school where Bernie helped out in her spare time. It was thus not a surprise that Bernie combined her sewing skills with her ALA lessons in entrepreneurship to open ALA’s first on-campus tailor shop, fixing uniforms and making clothing for peers!
Bernie left ALA for Trinity College in the United States, where she initially enrolled in finance and economics courses. When she realized these courses were focused on preparation for Wall Street rather than economic development, Bernie switched her major to African Studies. She delved into passions ranging from feminism to education, studied abroad at the University of Cape Town, and immediately returned to Africa after graduation, accepting a position at the Grumeti Fund to support Communications and Marketing for an organization in Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park.
At the Grumeti Fund Bernie learned about wildlife conservation and community development in the western corridor of the Serengeti ecosystem. She managed the social media platforms and supported the program side of community development in 21 villages. As a fluent Kiswahili and English writer and speaker, Bernie recognized the unique value she could bring to Grumeti’s work: she could connect young girls served by the Fund’s programs, and could translate the need and possibilities to western donor. She knew that she wanted to make a career of impacting and changing the lives of girls and women in Tanzania.
This video profiles Bernie’s work at Grumeti Fund.
In 2020, Bernie made the difficult decision to pack her bags and move back home to Dar es Salaam to accept a position as acting Head of Content and Communications at Tai Tanzania. Tai Tanzania works to disseminate key information regarding taboo topics through engaging animated videos. She is building social behavioral change communications that are easy to digest, and hopes that these videos will influence policy and shift culture.
Bernie’s current project is focused on menstrual health and hygiene for young girls. In Tanzania, taboos and customs can lead to the ostracization of young girls during their periods. By building and disseminating information in an engaging medium, Bernie sees a pathway to empowerment and equality on the continent. The challenging work combines her passions for arts, education, entrepreneurship, gender equality, and communications. Bernie is excelling in this new and inspiring role, which builds upon years of transformational experiences – including the opportunity to study and learn at ALA.