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. Grateful for the friendships she had been offered, she resolved to maintain her side of those relationships by staying in touch.
Later, she found opportunities to support her friends in working towards their goals. As a teacher for The Traveling School, she brought her students from the United States to Agualongo to help install water pipes and participate in community life. She also saw the opportunity to give students, like the ones she taught in Panecillo, the chance to continue their education beyond the elementary level by raising funds in the United States. Humbled by the love she was shown by friends in the communities, she wanted to support them 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 official 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 residents 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 to neighboring communities in both countries, with residents who have observed first-hand the benefits of such a partnership. Tandana now works in the majority of the communities of Quichinche Parish, Ecuador. In Mali, Tandana has partnered with many communities in Wadouba, Ondogou, and Segue-Ire Townships.
Tandana's volunteer programs have also grown since the foundation's beginnings. Each year, Tandana hosts approximately 15 volunteer groups, providing unique learning experiences to over 200 participants. Anna and the Tandana team have learned from each experience and found sustainable ways to improve and expand.
Shifting from Projects to Initiatives
Tandana's early community collaborations tended to focus on construction. Building projects represented concrete, easily identifiable community goals, and when complete, they were tangible signs of community success. Moreover, infrastructure projects are labor intensive, so the volunteer groups that Tandana brought to these communities could contribute in a way that gave them opportunities to work alongside and learn from their local counterparts. 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 achievement of 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'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 Pazmiņo (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. Responding to the need students expressed for extra help in subjects such as English and math, Tandana soon offered summer vacation courses taught by volunteers to give an extra boost to scholarship recipients and other interested students.
In 2011, Tandana's scholarship program expanded to support university students. These students have a vision to be a professional and help their families. In exchange for Tandana's support, university scholarship recipients complete a set number of community service hours, using their new knowledge to help their communities.
In 2018, Tandana supported 101 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 13 trustees with active committees, including Development, Human Resources, and Finance. 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, Colombia, 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 a Local Supervisor 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, information technology needs, 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.