CINT 916 By Shayla Ladak
“Umuntu Ngumuntu Ngabantu”
This Zulu saying, which means ‘a person is a person through other persons’, originates from a fundamental philosophy in traditional African culture: ubuntu, which literally means humanity or kindness. The belief that humans are interconnected and share a common bond that helps uncover basic human qualities is the foundation upon which philanthropy has been built in Southern Africa. A similar philosophy, ujamaa, was created in Tanzania by Julius Nyerere, the country’s first president. Ujamaa, or familyhood, was the crux of Nyerere’s economic and social development initiatives and a driving force behind the strong sense of community, and corresponding integration into one unified society. It is to these philosophies that credit must be given when discussing how philanthropy came to be such an imperative part of the Tanzanian lifestyle.
For my mother’s side of the family, the Tejpars, philanthropy has always been a priority. To them, it is more than a fundamental belief; it is a way of life. From the age of 8, my mom vividly remembers being taught the values of generosity and selflessness, and being urged to integrate these values into everyday living. Growing up in Upanga, Tanzania, my grandfather and his brothers had the responsibility of providing their families with food, shelter, and an education, a feat that did not come easy. Working together and embodying the values of unity and familyhood so encouraged in society at the time, my grandfather and his brothers opened a bakery in Changombe, a suburb of Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania’s capital, called White Hart Bakery. It is here that the intention of giving back to the community was put into action. At the end of each day, my mother’s grandmother, known to the family as Maji, would collect the leftover loaves of sliced bread from the bakery, and toast them in the oven. They would be re-bagged and loaded onto the bakery truck where Maji would take them to subsidized housing communities where fellow Ismaili Muslims lived. Through this simple act of giving, dozens of loaves of bread, which would have ultimately gone to waste, fed hundreds of hungry people. Additionally, a part of the profit from any family business was allocated to daan, meaning philanthropy in Kutchi, an Indian dialect my family speaks. Once my grandpa and his brothers became more successful, they opened a small grocery store. Even here, philanthropy could be seen in the workplace, where individuals with little to no educational background were employed doing various odd jobs so they too could make a living.
It is with this sense of openness that my mother was brought up, and how my sister and I have been raised as well. The Tejpars never lost sight of where they had once been; as they became more affluent, they felt it was their duty to give back. Whether it was through toasted bread slices, employment, or another form of philanthropy, giving back was not solely about money to the Tejpars. They recognized the impact their actions made on their community and in turn, allowed them to feel a sense of belonging. These instances of giving, whether classified as ubuntu, ujamaa, or a more Western approach, were all fueled by the same motive: the love of humanity. For the Tejpar family, the purpose of life is a life of purpose. The family exemplifies ubuntu in its truest sense: they have stayed a family through giving to other families.
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Zeenat Ladak, mother