Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Another find: Karanga Vocational Center (Why it is so important to spend time on the ground here)

We want to create a better learning atmosphere for the teachers and students in Kilimahewa without jumping into a building project. As we said in our previous post –let’s get the teaching right first. Therefore, we're simply planning to “spruce up” our school - scrape the walls, give the two rooms a fresh coat of paint and new blackboards (constructed on the actual walls by applying a special concrete with a blackboard surface) and purchase individual desks.

The need for desks led us to the nearby vocational school. Begun by the Catholic diocese of Moshi with start-up funding assistance from the government, the highly successful and impressive Karanga Vocational School is now self-sustaining because of the quality of their products. What began in one room now consists of a furniture building operation, a sewing and tailoring room, a new auto mechanic garage and other training programs. A dorm also has been added for students to board. Visitors can quickly appreciate that the teachers in this school have been able to institute a positive environment of focused learning.

We have chosen Karanga's students to build 30 to 40 sturdy desks for our school – (78,000 TSH or $53 per desk), thereby supporting good education in Tanzania in multiple ways. Donations to EdPowerment support worthwhile efforts such as these.

It starts with the teacher.

It’s helpful to fix a building, install a toilet, purchase texts and materials, maybe even provide some soccer balls for play. But without decent teaching, these things improve one’s environment but not one’s chances in life. That axiom holds true anywhere – in the U.S. and in Tanzania.

In Tanzania, the ability to find trained and dedicated teachers is daunting. Prestigious private schools can pay big money to get the cream of the crop – this leaves government and other private schools scrambling to attract teachers in a system short on both numbers and training.

So what can we do? We're speaking to administrators at teacher’s colleges and working all other contacts (Kenya is a source of teachers as long as a work permit is obtained ) to build a solid, if limited, program of English, Kiswahili and math supplemented by other subjects at the Kilimahewa school. Targeting funds in this direction is a priority. Second, we are structuring one-semester internship opportunities that we can post at U.S. colleges. Education students could share some of the latest teaching techniques with the Tanzanian staff while learning how to teach without all the bells and whistles available in the U.S. – a great opportunity for all.

At its most basic level, sustainability comes from individuals whose education allows them to improve their own lives and better their societies. Good teachers are the key to sustainability.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Everyday life

Thursday provided a combination of experiences for us. First we drove miles up a rutted dirt road of abject poverty into what really is the base of Kilimanjaro mountain to find the home of one of our teenage students, Alex. We spent over an hour meeting his family and understanding his circumstances. Once again, home consisted of about three 10 X 10 square structures, this time made of loosely assembled wood planks with tin roofs. Inside each were board beds and a bag of clothes. No electricity and light and no running water. What we consider the most rudimentary of living conditions just do not exist for so many here. Still his parents proudly showed us their property covered with banana and mango trees and their cows, chicken coop and gardens. Neighbors and children materialized from everywhere and once again we left with bunches of blessings and bananas, mangos and ..... a chicken we affectionately put into our trunk. She now resides behind our house.

On the way down, we stopped at the local secondary school - 6 permanent teachers for over 400 students. And that's for starters - no labs, few books, no facilities to speak of... It is no wonder that those without resources desperately try to rustle up a sponsorship to send their child to private school. The state of education in Tanzania is deplorable and until the government institutes real change, sponsorships such as those we are trying to fund are most of the time the only path to a real future.

When we arrived home we could hear kids screaming and so we walked over to the local high school to watch their soccer game in progress. It was such a reprieve to see that in at least some way kids are kids everywhere. No groomed turf, no sleek uniforms and cleats, NO PARENTS, and just one ref in jeans who let the boys play ---it was great. At least 200 students yelled and formed impromptu cheering squads, running on and off the field when a goal was scored. After the game they encircled their team in congratulations - even though the game ended in a 3-3 tie. So nice to see young people who could just be carefree for a few hours.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Video as Promised and More to Come

Please excuse the weird aspect ratio. My compressor is acting up and will only export in one format.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Neema and Upendo's story

In April 2009, Neema and Upendo snuck away from their Massai village with only a bag of beans in their possession. They soon were to be circumcised and married, and for several years they had planned this escape. With money from selling the beans, they boarded a series of trucks and busses, and finally arrived in Moshi, Tanzania, a town unknown to them. The police took the two 15-year-old young women to the local jail where they spent two nights. From there they were taken to the Moshi juvenile detention center (Juvi as it is called). Here their lives began to change. A CCS (Cross Cultural Solutions) volunteer at Juvi immediately focused on the girls, bringing them clothes from other volunteers, teaching them some basic English and telling Grace Lyimo, then a CCS administrator, about the girls. With approval from local government authorities, the girls began to study each day at the rural Kilimahewa school. Their desire to learn was immediately apparent. Soon after, two CCS volunteers, who learned their story, agreed to sponsor them at the Notre Dame Academy.

At first, the going was rough since neither girl had received adequate schooling in either Kiswahili or English. But a combination of their persistence, the work of the teachers at Notre Dame, extra lessons at Kilimahewa during breaks and the supervision of Mama Grace, the girls are thriving in their new lives. They still face uncertainty during breaks from school when they must stay at the juvenile detention center. But think of what might have been if not for their own courage, the concern and support of others, and two very different schools - one the simplest of roadside buildings with no real staff or support, and the other the remarkable product of educators committed to nurturing the entire person.

Education is empowerment.


Stephanie and I spent the last two days at the Notre Dame School in Njiro, a primary and secondary school run by Notre Dame sisters from India. We have seen andexperienced some lows in our first week here and now we have felt some highs. The school consists of Montessori 1 – 3 classes (the equivalent of nursery and kindergarten), primary grades 1 – 7, and a secondary school for over 100 girls and about 10 boys.

The first 8 high school girl “boarders” were bunked in one of the secondary classrooms last fall, and in a year’s time over 80 girls have made this school their home away from home. To meet this overwhelming demand for a boarding girls high school, the sisters transformed 3 classrooms into bunk bed dorms. Now plans are moving ahead to raise funds as quickly as possible for a real dormitory to properly house up to 300 girls.

On Monday we were greeted with an outdoor courtyard “assembly” replete with a percussion band, singing, skit and roses. So began two days during which we witnessed students from the age of 4 to 18 completely engaged in the process of learning – and more importantly, affirming their own value and potential. These sisters have accomplished so much with really so little. All the food served at the school comes from its own gardens and farm animals; the students and staff keep a beautiful property; respect and dignity are accorded everything and everyone.

If only Notre Dame could be cloned throughout the developing world, and if only those with resources could see how far their support of such schools can change lives and raise the human spirit.


Saturday, July 17, 2010

Howling dogs... and our next stop

Tonight Stephanie and I had a romantic dinner by candlelight courtesy of the Moshi power grid.

And did we mention the cacophony of sounds that marks every evening here? It begins with the cows grazing under our bedroom windows. Around 10:00 the roaming pack of nocturnal dogs begins their performance. One lowly howl starts the round, and slowly a crescendo builds... only to stop... and start again. By 4 am, the roosters decide to get in on the act, and if you're still enjoying the concert, there is the 5 am mosque call to prayer. All in a good night's sleep.

Tomorrow we will attend the children’s service at the local Catholic Church where Stephanie will smuggle in a microphone to record the beautiful singing we heard last Sunday - no behavioral problems here. Hundreds of children pile next to each other in row after row while several adults walk up and down the sides to ensure order.

In the afternoon, we will be driven to Arusha and its suburb Njiro to follow up on our sponsored students and plan for future placements at Notre Dame Secondary School. The week will begin with a morning assembly at 8:30. We will provide an update Monday evening.


In order to clear my head and try to process all that has been going on around me, I decided to take a tour. Yes a tour - one of those things with buses packed full of embarrassing foreigners (mzungas) in awkward hats and fanny packs. Logically, tour + bus + random people + hot sun = miserable day. But this is Africa.

I was picked up at my house, escorted to our off road vehicle, and driven up the dirt roads of Mt. Kilimanjaro’s base. When the road ended, I climbed out of the van and up a steep incline that lead directly to the residence of our tour guide, Oscar.

We were greeted warmly by his entire family, including his young nephew, Obama, whose task was to carry around baby (not uncle) Sam. His mother made us banana and bean porridge, they offered us the use of their facilities (a hole in the ground), and proceeded to demonstrate the art of making coffee.

We picked the berries that eventually made their way into our coffee cups via freshly roasted grind, then sat down to enjoy the coffee and hospitality that washed away the bitter taste of some of the last few days’ experiences.

It was the most delicious coffee I have ever tasted.

Author: Stephanie Brodeur

Friday, July 16, 2010

Eyes Wide Shut

The thirty students of Kilimahewa, cramped on their narrow wooden benches, rose to their feet without hesitation, welcoming their two Mazungu (white) teachers. They soon resumed their positions and we assumed ours, fumbling with the familiar technology that, in our new environment, took countless hours to acquire and set up.

As the lights of the projector cast their glow on the marred surface of the classroom wall, an anticipatory silence fell over the classroom. That was when we lost power. This occurrence, the likes of which has warranted the closing of our American school, did not elicit the slightest response from the students.

Determined to provide the students, accustomed to monotone lectures, with the memorable multimedia lesson she toiled over, Moira precariously perched herself on the same narrow benches the students shared, raised her Macbook, and awkwardly trudged through her geography lesson.

Refusing to miss this opportunity to capture my travel companion’s inevitable humiliation, I set up camera and began to capture. However, the viewfinder of the camera provided a perspective far removed from the one I anticipated. Though every student sat unblinking, not one noticed the technological blunders. The visuals the tiny screen of the Mac provided were captivating to our audience.

For their eagerness and appreciation of their educational opportunities, the students were eventually rewarded with restored power and the opportunity to view the lesson in its full glory.

Author: Stephanie Brodeur

When words fail

After spending the morning fighting projector issues and navigating the purchase of a printer, we went off with Mama
Grace, a true force in the community, on “home visits” to the families of three students whom we sponsor in secondary and advanced certificate programs, and one young man who comes to Kilimahewa informal school.

How to describe what we experienced? The Massawe family lives in two chagga huts – mud and stick, maybe 15 “round” feet homes with tin roofs – when it rains water runs off the roofs into pots; boards with blankets serve as beds; no water – their high school daughter brings a bucket from a stream on her 3 mile walk to and from school each day. Cows and chickens sleep inside so they won’t get stolen; Thomas reads at night by a tuna fish-sized can filled with kerosene and a wick made by Mama from cloth; one meal a day from the fruits, beans and corn they cultivate; tea is breakfast… this is the beginning of what we saw.
What we also experienced, however, was an indescribable sincerity and gratitude for the education being given to their children. The mama repeatedly tried to kneel in thanks
… what more can we say?

Veronica’s aunt’s family (her parents are dead, her sister has HIV and lives elsewhere) is the next story. That visit will always stand out for the most feisty
great, great, great grandmother we have ever met (see her picture). We left with two huge bunches of bananas, “Chinese lettuce,” eggs and other vegetables to a chorus of “Asante sana” – thank you so much – to us and to Jesus for sending us!

Alex, 17, lives in a single room – again no windows, water… - with a female
relative. At night he crosses the street and sleeps on the sacks of a storeroom used to sort “finger millet.” He hangs out at a beer bar in order to do homework by a light bulb – you should see the meticulous writing in his notebook. Tea is breakfast, the roll at Kilimahewa is lunch, and a standard fruit and bean/maize concoction made by his relative is dinner. We will find a boarding secondary school for Alex in January.

So that was our afternoon – totally inadequate to express what we heard, saw and felt.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Food for Thought

Today was a lot for me to digest.

While Moira spent the day at the Kilimahewa Center for Education teaching English grammar, I accompanied Misty Eddy, founder of the Rau Foundation, to Rau Primary School in Moshi. A sprawling school relative to Kilimahewa, Rao boasts running water, a grain silo, and a modest computer lab.

While students benefit from these improvements, more glaring is what remains absent – the presence of the basic comforts we take for granted. Students perform all the chores and maintenance the school requires including washing dishes, cleaning floors, and chopping wood. The availability of food is limited to a cupful of ‘Makande,’ a stew consisting of beans and maize, served at nearly 1:30. While not a fan of cafeteria food myself, a grilled cheese sandwich would have been a treat.

Author: Stephanie Brodeur

Tuesday, July 13, 2010



For the mind – We wish everyone could spend just one day at the Kilimahewa “informal” school. Roughly 30 Tanzanian teenagers sit shoulder to shoulder on wooden benches under one light bulb meticulously copying biology and geography facts - just pencils, paper and a worn blackboard. Teachers, even volunteer ones, command the highest respect and the attention of students for hours. While these teens literally own nothing, this two room, turquoise schoolhouse gives them the one possession that can lift their lives – knowledge.

For the body – Concentrating on an empty stomach can be difficult. So a cup of hot tea and a bun at 10:40 make a long morning bearable. Accepted with such gratitude, this simple snack is the only energy booster these young people know.

For humanity: The most essential nourishment of all is water. Call it serendipity, good fortune or divine providence, this was a big day for Kilimahewa. We recently began what can be a torturous path to constructing a water well, vital to the school’s growth and community’s advancement. On the plane from Amsterdam to Kili, I sat next to a man from Iowa who wore a blue rubber bracelet that read, “Water is Life – Break the Cycle of Hunger. His non-profit evaluates and funds water projects in this area, and he quickly referred me to Maji Tech, a “mzunga” or white man’s company that drills wells intended to support non-profit work and poor communities here. A few phone calls later and the team from Maji met us at Kilimahewa today – a major step forward to completing this project with confidence in terms of cost and quality.

Sunny in Tanzania today.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Sweet and sour

We woke up our first morning in Moshi to send off four sponsorship students to their second term at Notre Dame Secondary School. VERY HAPPY to be returning to school - taking only a few items in their bags but forming new dreams in their heads. A fifth young woman, Theresia, was so excited to be embarking on a future at Arusha Teacher's College where she will work toward a certificate. In two years, she can return to Kilimahewa and show the way to others struggling to get a good basic education. We watched as she walked down the dusty road to board the bus to her new life. A sweet beginning to our time here.

And then today, we met the technology gremlins. Six hours at the Vodaphone store (Stephanie outlasted me by 3 hours... and is very bitter) but in the end, we are connected to the world - and more importantly to YOU. Here again, the educational curve is so disparate - even the most entry level computer classes open so many doors for U.S. students that barely are cracked here.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Leaving on a jet plane. Most stressful part of the trip probably is over already - the checking in and the waiting in Terminal B Newark with no watering hole. Stephanie and I are headed to Tanzania with bags of photo gear to capture the beauty of Tanzania and the hearts of its people. We hope to bring our experiences- the inspirational, the frustrating, the comical - so that you can see and feel the realities of life in this community. Stay tuned and share your thoughts.