Monday, August 25, 2008

Peace House

8/25 – Last week, I had the opportunity to meet with the Managing Director at Peace House, a secondary school that provides education for Tanzanian orphans.  Similar to the School of St. Jude, Peace House’s goal is to provide quality instruction to those members of the community who need it most – in this case, children who have been left orphans as a result of the HIV/AIDS epidemic.  

I was actually there to discuss some ideas regarding TFFT’s Teacher Training program, as the instructors at Peace House are Tanzanian citizens and have only vague notions of Western educational models.  I’m hoping to team up with the administration at Peace House in the coming months to develop some joint program for teacher education. 

By the way, the campus is amazing – state of the art and fully functional.  Right now, the school is providing free education for over 200 students – but the facilities can hold upwards of 800.  They currently employ 10 teachers but are looking for ways to revolutionize the caliber of teaching in Arusha over time, including the use of volunteer instructors and teacher swapping from the local international schools. Through this program, the Director hopes to create a sustainable environment for educating Tanzanian children for the future.  

Dream Clinic


A disease that has ravaged sub-sahara Africa, infecting over 28 million people. A disease that has killed off older generations of Africans leaving behind millions of orphaned children. A disease that has stalled progress in educational, economic, and development sectors...

"A great many things made Africa particularly susceptible to AIDS, some of them innate to the communities where the disease flourished, and many other imposed from outside. The key factor is poverty. Put simply, millions of Africans are living with a virus from which they might easily have been protected if they had had access to education about it, or to the means of defending themselves... and the destitution and weakness of many sub-saharan states crippled their ability to respond once their populations were infected." - Stephanie Nolan, 28 Stories of AIDS in Africa

Before coming to Tanzania, I knew what HIV/AIDS was but it was never real to me. I had never been personally affected by the disease, I didn't know anybody who was or knew anybody who knew anybody that was - that's how far removed you can be from AIDS in countries like America. But in Africa, it's a completely different story. It is everywhere.

Support for International Change, is an NGO here in Arusha that provides free HIV testing, they were kind enough to come out and test our children. The Foundation for Tomorrow sponsors two little girls who are HIV positive, Rose and Rachel. Every month, they recieve basic checkups from doctors and every three months bloodwork has to be done to measure their CD4 levels. A CD4, Cluster of Differentiation 4, is a type of protein that is found on the surface of helper T cells in the bloodstream. CD4 acts as a receptor as HIV binds to the CD4 in order to enter host cells. The levels of CD4's helps to measure the course of HIV and treatment, when the level drops below 200 is when anti-retroviral treatment will be given to a patient due to minimal supply in Africa.

I had my first monthly check-up visit with Rose last week at Dream Clinic. Africa has its own concept of "time," even when it comes to having appointments. So Rose and I waited and waited for her turn. While Rose was happy drawing away in my notebook and eating the stash of lollipops I had given her, I looked around and watched every man, woman, and child there. There were about thirty people, some waiting for their appointments and others had come to attend an informational session. My heart went out to each one, wondering what their story was... how often do you come to the clinic? how long have you known that you're positive? how is your family? do you have children? are they infected?

The nurse called Rose's name and she strolled into the clinic like it was no big deal. Every doctor and nurse not only knew her name, but stopped to take the time and say hello. This visit happened to be time for a blood test but Rose was so brave. My heart was breaking, holding her hand as she tried not to look at the needle, her lips quivered, and the tears began to fall. Every child I have seen crying here is so much more dramatic than any other I've seen. Maybe its because their faces and cheeks are smaller and thinner? The tears just drop directly from their eyes down to the floor, they dont roll along the cheeks and it just makes the tears so much more profound. But Rose was strong and quickly recovered from the trauma of the blood test -
Rose's CD4 levels are good, for now at least.

I packed some popcorn for the trip, hoping it would help to ease any anxiety a doctors visit might provoke in her, so I broke it out for her after having her blood taken. A smile spread across her face as she took the popcorn and softly said asante. We had to wait a few more minutes to finish up in the clinic and as the other children spotted Rose with the bag of popcorn, they flocked towards her. She generously shared all of her popcorn with 7 other children, so much so that she only had a couple handfuls left for herself - that's just the kind of little girl she is.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

A Bit More from Matonyok

The Foundation For Tomorrow has a big job helping a handful of special kids.
As I noted in my last blog, the children at Matonyok don't have any real shower or bathroom facilities on hand. Rather, the bathroom consists of a hole in the ground surrounded by four posts enclosed with plastic sheeting, which provides only very minimal privacy. For washing, the children fill buckets with warm water and clean themselves early in the morning or late at night to prevent being seen by other children while bathing.

In both cases, there is no running water and the risk of communicable disease is high. Also, because the children wash themselves so early in the morning and late at night, there is an issue of safety – as wild animals (including snakes, which have been seen on multiple occasions behind the bathroom facility) and insects can harm the children. I really wish i could upload some pictures to show you just what the facility looks like, but unfortunately the internet right now is ridiculously slow and I can't even post a thumbnail.

Anyhoo, that's all from my neck of the woods. Postings to come...

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

August 6th - This week, I’ve been spending quite a bit of time at the Matonyok Parents Trust – an orphanage that provides a structured environment where some of the area’s neediest children can come to learn. Since the term ‘matonyok’ come from a Maasai term meaning ‘struggling very hard together’, there is little wonder that the directors – Emmy and Ndemno Sitayo – are working hard to provide quality education for Maasai children who have been neglected or left parentless for whatever reason. In particular, the Trust hopes to educate Maasai girls to not only offer them a better quality of life, but they hope to end the brutal practice of female circumcision and prearranged marriages that currently is part of the Maasai culture – at least among the students that attend classes at Matonyok.

Both Emmy and Ndemno have committed their lives to helping children. Emmy, a nurse by training, would visit the remote countryside to offer her services to developmentally disabled Maasai children. It was then that she realized the need for a more comprehensive center where these children – as well as orphaned children – could come to learn in a supportive environment. Opening their home at first to one child, Emmy and Ndemno now have thirteen children living with them in their two-roomed house – as well as seven children who come from the surrounding areas to attend classes at Matonyok. It is both Emmy and Ndemno’s hope to build a learning complex where they can educate fifty children a year, thereby improving the quality of life for some of Tanzania’s neediest children.

TFFT is working with Matonyok to take the first step in this dream. By upgrading the sanitation facilities (which currently constitute four posts in the ground surrounded by plastic tarp), we hope to have built a fully functional shower and bathroom facility by February 2009. This will help not only to raise the level of hygiene among the children at Matonyok, but it will also help to prevent communicable diseases – as there is currently no money in the Trust’s budget for emergency medical attention.

posted by T.C.

Our Organic garden at Fikiria Kwanza

The sun emerged from behind the clouds for the first time in weeks on Thursday. Mount Meru flaunted its peak for Wazungu and Watanzania alike. Alley and I marveled at its impressive size, and realized how fortunate we are to be living in such a beautiful country.

That day, we were on our way to Fikiria Kwanza Academy to do what I like to call “my first effort at manual labor”. TFFT is partnering with the school to start an organic garden, which will yield enough fruits and indigenous vegetables to supplement the basic rice and beans diet of all of its students. So, on this day, I approached one of the school’s groundskeepers and asked, in my weak Swahili, for two hoes, a bucket, and some assistance.

The trek from the main campus to the garden is short, but filled with wonder. You walk through Fikiria Kwanza’s crop of coffee plants, pass under tall trees that house frightening birds, and avoid stepping onto the hills of some of the most vicious ants I’ve seen to date! The path winds briefly through this wildlife and spills you out onto a dirt road that runs parallel to the campus grounds.

We spent hours hoeing the designated area for our garden, and with the help of some of Fikiria Kwanza’s gardeners, were able to brush up on our language lessons. The garden should be ready for planting by the beginning of September, and yielding foods within a few months. We can’t wait to see what the cooks at Fikiria Kwanza do with the variety! Until next time…


Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Saba Saba

July 7th , “Saba Saba” is a national Tanzanian holiday which celebrates the founding of the Tanzanian political party, Tanganyika African National Union (TANU) in 1954. Being a national holiday, school is out for the day so we decided to do something special…

we brought the great American summertime tradition of slip-n-slide all the way to Fikiria Kwanza Academy!

Meghann inspired this brilliant idea and Adelaide and I went off to the main market in Arusha Town to see what supplies we could throw together for a home made slip-n-slide. We managed to discover thick, black plastic sheet that was at least 10 meters long. The vendor's insisted that we stretch the plastic out to its entirety throughout the bustling market scene to inspect its quality – once again making us the crazy wazungu! We made our purchases of the plastic sheet and laundry soap and took off to Fikiria Kwanza.

More than fifty very confused and hesitant little faces looked onwards as we found the hose, spread out the plastic sheet, and started soaping up the surface. Lali managed to explain the concept of slip-n-slide but they still needed some serious encouragement. I selected Mandu from the crowd and egged him on. As soon as he took off down the plastic sheet, the other kids were quickly stripping down and racing over to the top of the slide for their turn.

The grounds of Fikiria Kwanza lack the ideal hill spot for a slip-n-slide so it was absolutely hysterical to watch each child make their way down the sheet.

A few decided to run only to find out they will hit the ground fast, and hard, with all the soapy suds; others would bellyflop; some found army crawls to be their favorite; and the littlest ones would lay flat on there stomachs with arms and legs outstretched patiently waiting for someone to give them a big push down the sheet. Even after most of the kids were having the time of their life, we had a few like Rosie and Namayani who were lingering on the sidelines. We didn’t take no for an answer, knowing that they just needed a bit more encouragement to join in on the fun, and had almost everyone slipping and sliding.

I was surprised at how organized we managed to keep the children although there were a few times that chaos took over and every single child piled onto the slip-n-slide and each other, squirming and wriggling about. I think it’s safe to say that slip-n-slide was hugely popular and will be warmly welcomed every time we break out the supplies from the trunk of our trusty Subaru.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Prize day at FK

On Tuesday 29th July we all went along to FK school to witness their first EVER prize giving at the end of term. When I arrived I was asked to be guest of honor and help present the prizes to the kids who had done well in school, improved the most and been the tidiest! It was such fun! The best bit was when Nicemary and Matayo received prizes as the whole school erupted into applause and wolf whistles! Good to see that our TFFT kids were the most popular in school! We then went up to the board house and helped get the kids organized for being picked up, we filled our car with metal trunks and kids and drove them up to Mama Mikes. She is such a star, and her chai is arusha famous!

It was heart breaking however to have to leave the triplets and Stefano at school, I remember the end of term and the excitement of watching every car come into the school and the disappointment that it wasn’t mum, this is 10 times worse as mum is never coming, they were in floods of tears, it was awful! We need to find them a home, but taking on three children is a lot to ask, and we do not want them split up…so yesterday after lunch we went to pick the four of them up and brought them home-it was chaos! We colored in, we played ball outside, we cooked up a feast, played ‘Go Fish’. Poor Yusufu ate so much that he felt sick! It was like Christmas in the TFFT house!