Alumna teaches students power of storytelling in Tanzania

By Kathleen Haley

September 13, 2018

Samantha Mendoza G’17 has spent the past year in Tanzania highlighting the stories of students at a community school as its communications coordinator.

But it’s the storytelling that she’s teaching the youngsters that has been the most rewarding.

Photo of Newhouse alumna Samantha Mendoza

Mendoza, who graduated with a degree in magazine, newspaper and online journalism from the Newhouse School, was awarded a Princeton in Africa fellowship, which provided her with a yearlong opportunity to work at the Orkeeswa School in Monduli, Tanzania, through the Indigenous Education Foundation. Her work at the school has been extended by the foundation for another year, through September 2019.

Spirit of entrepreneurship

The school, which serves students from an under-served, rural Maasai community, helps young people develop into leaders and fosters a spirit of entrepreneurship and community engagement.

“As the school’s communications coordinator, I tell the stories of our students and their communities by facilitating relationships between our 270 students and international donors who fund and support their education,” Mendoza says.

She photographs and interviews students for stories, runs the social media sites, creates newsletters and sends donor updates.

“I love the position because it allows me to get to know each of our students on an individual level and let the world know just how amazing they are,” says Mendoza, who also teaches English, current events and photography.

Teaching storytelling to the youngsters through photography and journalism has made the work extra special.

“I am most proud of my work in promoting student storytelling projects on campus,” says Mendoza, who worked with the Center for Fellowship & Scholarship Advising on her Princeton in Africa application. “Through a collaboration with an NGO that promotes cross-cultural storytelling, I have been leading a group of nine students through photography workshops for the past six months.”

Photo share

The group has shared their photos and videos with partner schools in Nicaragua, Uganda and the United States.

“This exchange has allowed them to learn so much more about cultures around the world, and the importance of sharing their own through the visual arts,” Mendoza says.

She has also created a six-week intensive journalism curriculum for the 11th-graders. They meet three times a week to learn the ethics of reporting, and they have written their own stories about poverty, climate change, traditional farming methods and business capital after interviewing community members.

“As someone who wholeheartedly believes in the power of storytelling, I have been excited to see our students finding their voice through these projects,” Mendoza says.

Mendoza, who also leads students on weekend field trips and visits them at their “bomas” (homesteads), felt prepared to tell powerful stories in a variety of mediums through her time as a graduate student at Newhouse, working with experts in their fields.

“From writing to podcasting to video production, I learned how to find and tell stories that can challenge stereotypes, inspire change and really make people feel something,” she says. “My training at the Newhouse School equipped me with the knowledge and skills I need to help grow my organization while empowering the next generation of young storytellers.”

Growing as a storyteller

During her time as a Princeton in Africa fellow, she has gained valuable experience in multimedia storytelling and social media strategy.

“I have improved my photography skills, created a social media campaign and, most importantly, grown as a storyteller and writer,” she says. “When my time at Orkeeswa School comes to a close, I plan to continue building these skills through working as a multimedia reporter in the U.S.”

Mendoza, who previously spent a summer studying peace and conflict in Uganda and Rwanda and another summer leading a student group volunteering at an orphanage for HIV-positive youth in Cape Town, South Africa, had also taught middle-school English in South India on a Fulbright fellowship.

Her work in Tanzania is just as inspiring because of the students.

“Our students face a number of challenges that could prevent them from completing their secondary education, including the expectation of early marriage and having to walk two hours to school each day,” Mendoza says. “Despite these challenges, our students are so committed to completing their studies so they can create positive change in their communities.”