Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs
Monday, March 15, 2010

Kazeri aids community in reaching development goals

For Leo Kazeri, the question of why he became a Catholic priest is answered through his actions.

The 1983 alum has devoted his professional life to helping other people, whether by helping to distribute food during a drought in his native Tanzania, by expanding a secondary school, ministering to his parish or by pursuing higher education in the United States.

Ordained to the priesthood in 1976, Kazeri came to the University of Wisconsin–Madison after spending a year at the Maryknoll School of Theology in New York state. He earned a master's degree in public policy and administration in 1983 from the Center for Development, which became part of the La Follette School of Public Affairs in 1999 to create the Master of International Public Affairs degree program, and complemented that degree with a second master's in urban and regional planning.

Kazeri returned to Tanzania in 1985 and was made development director of the Catholic church's Musoma diocese right when drought gripped the region. "In collaboration with Catholic Relief Services, the United Nations World Relief Programme and Tanzania's government, we distributed food for three years," Kazeri says. Other agencies helped the diocese start an agriculture program that grew into a larger education program. "We managed to start four secondary schools and two vocational training schools, plus a number of pre-primary schools and primary schools," Kazeri says. "Our main source of funding at the beginning was the local communities, but as the schools grew, then we had to request help from outside."

That local emphasis to improve educational opportunities contributed to Kazeri becoming a priest. He attended a Catholic primary school, even though he and his father were not then baptized into the faith. They both converted, and Kazeri attended a seminary near Musoma. "If it were not for those missionary priests who operated the primary school, I would not have been the man I became later. Like these missionaries, I also wanted to do something for humanity."

Kazeri went back to graduate school in 1994 and earned a master of business administration from the Maastricht School of Management in The Netherlands. When he returned to Musoma, he became the pastor of Nyegina parish and manager of the secondary school that he helped to start in 1988. The school has grown to 500 students and the diocese is partnering with a local non-governmental organization, Umoja wa Maenbeleo ya Bukawaya (UMABU), which Kazeri helped to organize. In addition to helping with the school, the grassroots organization is addressing water, sanitation, health and early childhood education.

In 2008, the diocese and UMABU widened the collaboration to include Tanzania Development Support, a U.S. nonprofit organization started by Kazeri's Wisconsin classmate Kurt Thurmaier after Thurmaier and his wife, Jeanine, visited Nyegina. A professor of public administration at Northern Illinois University, Thurmaier led the campus' first Tanzania study-abroad trip to Nyegina in summer 2009 to promote development through experiential learning by working on projects with UMABU.

For Kazeri, the theories and tools he gained at the University of Wisconsin–Madison inform his work every day. "I was exposed to an enabling environment which offered me opportunities to make my way in life much clearer," he says. "I ploughed into economics, development theories and political studies which really opened up a world view I had never experienced. The rich intercultural life of UW made me feel that I am part of a bigger human race."