Friday, January 23, 2009

Big Brothers & Big Sisters

The third week of term is coming to a close today and the TFFT children seem to be settling down from all the excitment and getting into their routines. The past few weeks have been dedicated to taking inventory of items the children are in need of (they range from sports shoes to school bags to blankets to hairbrush and so on), organizing and distributing all of these things, starting the after-school tuition, and establishing the Big Brother-Big Sister Program. I am especially excited and pleased to have the Big Brother-Big Sister up and running.

I took the foundational ideas from the Big Brother Big Sister Organization in the U.S. to create a much simpler version over here in Arusha for the TFFT scholarship students. I paired our children in the most compatible matches I could concieve based upon personalities, strengths, and interests to ensure success. I encouraged the older ones to spend extra time with their little brother or sister, to get to know them and help them in any way. I explained to the younger students that they had this "special friend" that they could rely on for advice, guidance, and help. Emily, Lou, and I worked to pair them all up in one afternoon and it was really something to see them all warmly welcoming this concept and each other. I was especially impressed with the older crowd, who within the first five minutes, were obviously taking their role very seriously and taking the smaller ones under their wings.

Vialethi & Rosie, Big Sister & Little Sister

Over the past two weeks, we have been able to see the benefit of this new iniative. The older ones have been keeping a watchful eye on the younger ones when we are not able to be around and have been actively seeking me out to talk about the progress of their little brother or sister. They have been working to help teach the younger ones to follow school rules and be well-behaved. This past week, I had two older brothers request a meeting with their little brother and myself regarding his behavioral problems. We sat down and had a peer mediating session on what the issues/problems were, why they needed to be improved, and how everyone felt about the situation. I sat back for most of it, as the older ones took the lead to explain the importance of respect, patience, and kindness to their little brother. They reminded him that they are here to help and they want to teach him but he has to be willing to listen. The whole thing was incredible and I could not have been more proud to see what was happening right in front of me. It was so amazing to see how much these children care about each other and that they are invested in each others growth and success. I'm really looking forward to seeing these relationships develop even more over the next couple months and the great results it will bring!

Some of our big brothers - Ombeni, Joackim, Amani & Simon

Wednesday, January 14, 2009


Well my first week back in Tanzania sure has been busy! The first part of the week was spent getting all of our TFFT kids back and settled at Usa River Academy. It was great to see everyone smiling and excited for school. I even caught a few fist pumps from some of them! Once everyone was settled, Lali and I headed out to Lushoto to see 2 of our scholarship children, Zawadi and Asha before their school year begins. After a quick detour to the Kenyan border (yes, we missed the only turn) and what we can only assume to be our granny driving, a short 6.5 hours later we arrived, only 2.5 hours longer than the intended trip.
Lushoto is beautiful. It’s a little town in the Usamburu Mountains, which are very green and very steep. Due to our detour, we arrived after dark and were met by Sister Ena who runs Irente Children’s Home. She showed us the Children’s Home Hostel where we would be spending the night, and after a little supper, we were tucked in our beds by 8pm. I guess the sisters aren’t really night owls. We started our morning by changing nappies in the baby room. I should actually say one of the two baby rooms. There are so many children it is overwhelming. One of the baby rooms held the older babies, and the other was lined wall to wall with cribs for the infants. This doesn’t include the rest of the children at the home who are older and occupied the other 4 rooms. We shared in Morning Prayer with the staff and a few little ones who had befriended us, before officially starting on our day.
Asha is still living at the Children’s Home when school is on break, so we were able to meet her right away. We spent time playing, and giving her some gifts from her sponsor. She showed off her ABC’s and 123’s and has the sweetest little personality. New clothes and stickers are bound to make any little girl smile, and Asha, who is still getting in some of her teeth was very excited. After receiving her gifts she went to change her clothes and come back out to put together a new puzzle with us.
Zawadi is living with a family over the holiday so we had to drive to see her. What a sweetheart! She is a little more timid than Asha, but some stickers, crayons and strawberry smelling lotion opened her up pretty quickly. Oh and a necklace that a little girl in Kentucky sent over with me. After a cup of tea and reviewing her report card with her new “family” we were off again.
We spent the rest of the day at St. Catherine’s Montessori school, the school the girls attend, getting all their business matters settled. Then a quick trip to Irente Farm for some homemade juice and bread before having a late lunch at Irente Children’s Home and getting back on the road! Detours were avoided on the way home, though the driving didn’t speed up too much, but I’d say all in all, a great little safari.
-Emily Cottingham

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

New Year, New Projects

First off, hopefully this post finds you enjoying the New Year. The Foundation For Tomorrow programs, as in the past, have shown considerable progress over the past month. Matonyok is nearly completed (at least, it was nearly completed when I left for Zanzibar) so I can only assume that the doors have been put on their hinges and that the window glass has been installed. Ndemno, true to form, has been overseeing the entire construction process and has been able to save some money by cutting corners and explaining the facility’s function to a few of the local contractors and hardware supply stores, who are keen to offer better prices for the construction of a sanitation facility for local orphans, while using material purchased from local merchants.

This, I think, really helped in the construction process. By visiting the shops, speaking with the owners, establishing trust, walking twice weekly through Olasiti – the people saw that TFFT wasn’t just throwing money at the project so that it was completed as quickly as possible. Taking an active interest in the construction process helped me to understand the various steps that were taking place, as well as the structured need for materials – that is, when each of the materials would be needed given their purpose in the overall building. I’m really now looking forward to seeing the completed building, and setting up the opening ceremony (more on that later, hopefully we won’t have to slaughter a goat!)

Teachers’ Training has taken a hiatus, since the schools are also on break. However, once the new scholastic year begins, I’m going to focus all of my attention on getting an affiliate school. From there, the program has been established and is waiting to be implemented. However, I’ll of course go back and try to trouble-shoot any unanticipated issues. But, I feel as though this program is stronger and – regardless of the timeline – will be better for the Tanzanian educational system as a whole.

The Organic Gardening Initiative proposal has been written and is just awaiting delivery. Right now, we’re trying to have a local vegetable center offer classes for the children at Matonyok, as well as oversee the implementation of advanced farming techniques over the course of the year. However, Emmy proposed the idea of having AVRDC come to Matonyok and address not only the children and the patrons, but also offer a class for the surrounding areas for farmers who can take advantage of the progressive farming techniques that AVRDC will introduce. This way, the classes can benefit not only Matonyok but the entire surrounding area as well.
So that’s all I have for this week. Hope all’s well wherever people are reading this and that the New Year is already better than the last!

Friday, January 9, 2009

Back To School We Gooo

Emily and I spent this past Sunday collecting all the children for the start of the 2009 school year. The day was as hectic as ever but everyone has arrived safe and sound at Usa River Academy, ready to go for a new school year! All of the students within the TFFT Scholarship Program, with the exception of Asha and Zawadi in Lushoto, will be attending Usa River Academy. The decision to move all of the children into one school was made with their best interest in mind and we are looking forward to a very successful 2009 school year!

Fikiria Kwanza students are joining past Usa River Academy students and it has been a smooth trasnition thus far. The new students are so excited to be at Usa River and are having a blast discovering all the new things about their new school and the other 32 TFFT students there. Most were surprised to learn that there were other TFFT students outside of their respective schools, so it will be great for everyone to be together at the same school this year.

This week I am working to get a Big Brother, Little Brother & Big Sister, Little Sister Program up and running for the children. I will be pairing an older TFFT student with a smaller one in the hopes of bringing them together and creating a greater sense of community within the students. The older students will be a source of leadership, support, and stability allowing the younger ones to look up to them for help and guidance. I believe creating these connections between the older and younger children will have a great positive impact on their education and development as well as the transition of new students into Usa River.

We are looking forward to continuing the Tuition Program as I have seen great results within the students over the past couple months. They have been working very hard with tutors and teachers after school to raise their grades and with great success! Most students working within the Tuition Program have brought their grades up in individual subjects as well as their overall grade averages. They are all very pleased to see results of their hard work and have already asked if we will continue to assist with Tuition this coming school year. I am so proud to see their hard work and dedication paying off as well as their eager attitudes to begin tuition again this year.