It's hard to believe that our trip is pretty much over. We are busy packing up and getting ready for our flight home tomorrow. When we began talking about coming to Tanzania last April, August seemed so far away. In the months that followed numerous conversations were held, many emails were sent about what to teach the children, what equipment we needed to purchase, what to pack and how all of this would work. Suddenly August was upon us and we found ourselves at Dulles boarding our flight. I could never have imagined what Tanzania and its' people would be like.
Since our arrival we managed to see all of the children in level 3-7 which is similar to our grades 3-7, to teach them the basic parts of the computer and some keyboarding skills. Some children had never seen a computer before and a few had some experience with them. Regardless, all were very attentive and eager to learn. Alex, Brianna and Jack were extremely popular with the children and were sought out each day by the children for play time and conversation.
Today began with the children's daily assembly. They were handing out awards for a sports day they had held recently. The winners were called up and given a present. We shook hands and congratulated all of the winners and snapped photos of them (the children here LOVE having their picture taken). Afterward, Jack played the guitar for them and sang a song. This, too, was a hit with the children. Finally, we were given a chance to formally give them the gifts of the computer, printer, camera and soccer balls that we had for them. Despite our best efforts, neither the children nor the teachers are really convinced that we are leaving all of it behind for them. They cannot fathom it. Perhaps on Friday, when we are gone and the computers are still there it will sink in. Afterward we worked with the last few classes and then Maude went to work with Alice, the head mistress on creating a website for the school. Jack, Brianna and Alex worked with a few of the teachers that came back for some additional computer training.
In the meantime, Penny and I set out with two of the health workers from the Buguruni Health Centre for some home visits. I was humbled by these visits and all that we saw while traveling to them. The area of Dar Es Salaam that we are staying and the area where the school is located is by no means rich but I came to understand just how great the needs are in the area. Some homes have no electricity, none have running water and a bathroom in the home is non-existent. Cooking is all done outside of their home and one small 1000 square foot house with 6 tiny rooms can house up to 6 entire families. Roads, if one can call them that, in these neighborhoods are narrow, unpaved, horribly uneven and rocky. The needs of the families were different but one thing remained constant. None of them had enough- enough food, enough medicine, and at the core of it all- enough money. Despite their great needs, they were all incredibly welcoming and friendly. They never once asked for anything from us and it took some work to get from them exactly what their needs were. In the end, we did what we could in the moment- offer some rice, salt, soap, tea, flour and sugar and we will see what we can do behind the scenes to meet the rest. I can't help but think though, how many more there are out there that need help that we don't even know about. The idea of it overwhelms me.
I am so grateful for the opportunity to come to Tanzania. It has been a truly amazing and life altering experience for both Brianna and I. Me and the other missioners here, are so grateful to our church community for your generosity and your support. I wish there was a way that we could truly convey to you what it was like to see the children's eyes sparkle in wonder and delight as they did things on the computer or the humble gratitude of the villagers we visited. Or, I wish you could have heard the cheers of the children today when they were told that all of the children would be treated to lunch tomorrow. The roar told me just how many belly's rumble in hunger during the day. Your support helped make that lunch and the entire trip possible. So on behalf of the mission team and the children, Asanti Sana! (Thank you very much!)
We were back at the school today to teach the remaining students. We were so busy yesterday that we only counted the number of classes ( six 30 min sessions) but did not count the individual students. Learning from mistakes or rather omissions! We figured out that we saw about 250 students yesterday. Most of the upper levels Level 3-6 (ages 9-12). We will do final Level 7 tomorrow. Since their school year starts in January, the terms run from Jan-Jun 1st and Mid July-Dec. The Level 7 will take their national exams in Sept then they will have a break before starting secondary or vocational school in Jan. We hope since this is their last time here, we can spend a little more time with them and go through a few more things than with the younger groups.
Our continued concern has been that the teachers were not as well trained as we had hoped. They plan to stay after school tomorrow and we will spend more time with them and help them to investigate the Web. We have tried to think of the best plan to continue with the success of the program and keep the teachers and student still moving forward when we are gone. In discussing with the Headmistress Alice we came up with the idea of sending one or two teachers to Night Computer class so that they can be assigned computer teachers for the students. Alice is a wonderful manager and the teachers feel very lucky to be working for her. I sent an email to Buck Blanchard today, Head of Mission work at Richmond Diocese asking him if continuing education for the teachers would be within guidelines of the grant. He said YES, what ever makes the ministry successful !! I am so excited!! I think this will help the teachers and students most.
I am most amazed by our own children. Since Alex had been here before, he has felt very comfortable and has helped to be a leader. Brianna and Jack have just fit in perfectly and have been great troopers. They have taught many students and have been very patient. It is wonderful to see our children go and to give in such a way. God has given me a great gift by having four children, and I hope that I have taught them well.
Maude, Cheryl and I have continued to brainstorm, flex up and down. Communication has been key and everyone has helped equally. I feel that the trip has been a great success at the school but also among ourselves. We hope to bring back lots of stories and all of our smiles so that Holy Cross can see what a wonderful opportunity it is to serve in this mission with the school and Health Centre. Ah, the Health Centre, I will give you all of those wonderful stories tomorrow after clinic and the home village visits. I must go and start our "Apples to Apples Game" !!1
Blessings, Penny and Alex
This trip has been amazing. Africa is gorgeous with its beautiful landscape and rich culture. This trip has by no means been glamorous, but it has been one of the most humbling experiences of my life. Every day riding around in Dar es Salaam, I am reminded how truly blessed I am to have been born in America. However, one of the most interesting things I've come to notice here is how happy the people seem to be. They are warm, kind, and incredibly hospitable. While teaching the teachers how to use computers, they were all extremely thankful and excited to further their learning. Meeting these people who are happy with so little is truly one of the most humbling experiences. I think we could all take a lesson from the Africans; they don't depend on possessions for their happiness.
We had hot water when we showered this morning. I don't think I've ever really appreciated that as much as I do currently. What's great is that the day got better from there. We saw an elephant from about ten feet away yesterday, and then searched for lions. Today, we found them. Our driver took us within ten feet of them, too, before quickly backing away and telling us he wasn't supposed to go off the road; he did it so we'd get good pictures. A few minutes later, they came close to hunting some wildebeest before tourist cars swarmed the area. But can I really say I'm disappointed? If anything's worth a thirteen hour flight and five hour drive, this is it.
Safaris are pretty cool.
We spent the morning working with about 15 teachers, providing basic computer lessons. The teachers picked it up at different paces, but all were pretty enthusiastic. One teacher got through the basics and was reading the paper online in the three hours we had with them.
There were glitches, but our kids took it all in stride. Alex helped everyone print a document, and Brianna made sure every teacher had an email account before the end of the lesson. Penny, Cheryl and I did our best to help, so everyone in the class had some personal attention.
In the evening, Jack, Brianna and Alex went to a soccer match with Anania, our driver, and a few others while the adults enjoyed an Indian meal with John Abondo.
Today we went to the school and met Alice, the headmistress. We found out that tomorrow and Friday are holidays, so the children won't be there. So much for 6 days of computer training. The new plan is to teach the teachers tomorrow—16 of them have volunteered to come in on their day off to learn some computer skills. Alice took us to meet the vicar for the Diocese who expressed his appreciation for our visit and encouraged us to return to meet the Bishop later on.
We then took a tour of the Buguruni Health Center and met Dr. Chillo, Dr. Isaac, and John Abonda (and a bunch of others whose names I can't remember). We saw the new hospital building under construction and heard about how many people they will be able to help once it is finished. More than 40% of women need to have C sections, mostly to avoid passing HIV infections to their babies, but the health center cannot perform this surgery. Women who need the surgery must travel to another hospital, and because the ambulance doesn't run, they must travel by private car.
Dulles to Aids Ababa was 13 hours: three meals, three movies, lights off and on several times to readjust our internal clocks. None of us slept much, but the flight wasn't bad.
We met other missioners on the flight, headed to South Africa and Malawi, and overheard conversations of other mission trips as well. The airport in Adis Ababa felt very third world, though we liked the lounge chairs in the waiting area.
Brianna's suitcase did not arrive with the rest, putting a huge damper on the first day. Everyone is sure it will be along shortly.
Penny, Alex and Cheryl spent an hour and a half making a 10 minute run to the store, while Jack, Brianna and I met a couple of monkeys passing by our cottage. I thought one was going to come down and shake hands!
We're just a few days from departing, and most everything is in place. The parish has been so generous in supporting this trip. People have donated thousands of dollars, hours and hours of their time, and many lap tops and flash drives for us to take.
For my part, I'm equal parts excited and nervous. Nervous not about the travel or potential difficulties of Africa, but about how to be most helpful to our brothers and sisters in Dar es Salaam. I am excited about being there with Jack and seeing him experience Africa.