Schools I have become a theme for Convoy of Hope in Tanzania. Before I left Tanzania Convoy of Hope wanted to show the team what a successful child feeding program looks like in a school. We all embarked on a tour of Ngaramtoni Primary School just outside Arusha to witness first hand the vast improvements the school has gone through since Convoy of Hope’s programs started five years ago.
The school in question once had a high truancy rate where students either came to school hungry, unmotivated to learn and in poor health. When Convoy of Hope came in to help, the school went through a huge transformation. This transformation resulted in more students eating nutritious meals at school, motivated in the classroom to learn, and more have healthy habits. Convoy of Hope installed a hand wash station, helped set up a kitchen to cook large amounts of food for the students, and helped find funds to build a special building for students with disabilities. All of this caused the school to become one of the desirable places to send children to be educated.
Just like the Maasai tribe, parents at this school are encouraged to be involved in the community programs Convoy of Hope has established. This could be helping with funding for the food for meals, able to pay school fees of their children, and being involved in their children’s education. The kitchen serves over 1,000 meals to students and staff using the latest cooking technologies. Below pictures shows a modern cooker which keeps the food hot and cooked in a fraction of the time it takes cooking on a three stone fire.
We also have the opportunity to tour the schools garden where just like the Maasai school, is where the student agricultural club learns about techniques of growing plants. This garden had a problem with drainage of water during the rainy season. I was apparent that the water channels dug into the raised flower beds just pooled and caused the roots of the plants to rot. Another problem faced by the school’s garden was the fact some neighbor’s livestock would get into the garden and eat the plants. Also, the fact bugs like locusts is still a problem in the city school’s garden as well. I would learn the reason for all the locusts is that every so many years during a stretch of drought the locusts become a huge problem for crops. Around the time I was in Tanzania the drought had been going for at least three years.
The school’s headmaster gave us the opportunity to talk with some of the parents who children go to the school and how Convoy of Hope has helped them generate income in supporting their families. We did see the children, but we did not have time to play with them. They were very curious about us, and most just said hi from windows of the classrooms.
Before giving Convoy of Hope our observations for community development, we all had one last lunch at the Milestone Club in Arusha. This time I tried bottled Sprite, with Tanzania beans and ugali. This is also where we all received a gift of shuka (Maasai red wrap) for being a part of the Convoy of Hope. In a way, all these white people with shukas on did look funny to the locals. But I love my shuka! After lunch, we all headed back to Convoy of Hope headquarters to give our insight into what would help strengthen the various programs.
Going to the Tinga to visit the Maasai children was not all about playing with the children and feeding them, it was about getting to know the Maasai tribe. A part of the children’s feeding program is women’s empowerment program. Just like the program on the streets of Arusha, this program is to empower the Maasai women in their community. The women in our team sat down with a few of Maasai women who are a part of the program to discuss their culture, customs, what they need in order to provide for their children and community. Surprising all the questions asked and answered pointed to how each of us women is interconnected with wanting the same things in life. All women no matter the culture want the same things in life, and those some things are what connects us as women in this world. We asked so many questions of them and they asked a lot of question of us as well. Here is what I gathered from the discussion;
Maasai women marry at a very young age 15-16 years old
First child come roughly after marriage
Marriage is seen for bring children into the world and raising them.
Maasai women are surprised by how Western society marriage is more for companionship, love and not all about having children
Children help support the parents when they get old
Women in Western world marry later in life and produce children much later as well.
Women are more educated in Western society then they are in Maasai tribe. Maasai women are encourage now to finish primary school.
Maasai women want to see their children successful.
Convoy of Hope as helped them find ways to help feed their family and they are grateful for all Convoy of Hope has done for their community.
They considered us women like daughters to them. Daughters who are empowered to do great things in our own tribe.
I love their humor and their warmth towards outsiders who take an interest in who they are. I found their humor about western society’s concept of contraception methods to be hilarious (especially pull out method) and cause a roar of laughter from them. As a gift for participating in the discussion, we gave them each 2kg of nutritional rice to take home to their families.
We also have the opportunity in seeing their village and going inside their huts. It was a cool experience in seeing how they live, which is primitive, but cozy feel. I wish our team has the chance to spend the night with them, but this time of year with the rain would make it difficult to do. The tribe is very welcoming, not like the other Maasai in the area that like handouts first before being hospitable. The only downside to being at the Maasai village was the flies that were everywhere! The amount of flies became almost unbearable when we all decided to a prayer circle with them. At one point it became difficult to concentrate on the prayer when the flies where crawling all over my face and in my eyes. I really don’t know how Maasai tolerates having flies crawling all over them.
The road that leads to the school and village in some parts had crushed African pink quartz with some specks of Tanzanite (yes the gem stone) and rubies mixed with the red clay. I was told there are mines further down the road which mines the quarts, the precious gemstone Tanzianite and other gemstones. I did not get a picture of this unfortunately, just imagine walking along and seeing the ground with specks of red, blues, and semi blue-brown lumps in pinkish-red sand. These natural resources give huge profits to multinational gemstone enterprises, but most of the people of this region and Tanzanian people do not see any of it flowing into their communities or country. Some of the Maasai men have been recruited into working in these mines with little to no income generated from their work. To pick these gems off the ground would lead to being confiscated at the border or worse jailed.
Clean water is a vital resource we all need in order to live. In Africa clean water is hard to come by for the Maasai people. The school through Convoy of Hope was able to secure $22,000 in funding for a well that pumps clean water to the surface. In Tanzania the real problem is most of the water is not exactly safe to drink even in the cities, and out in the bush water reservoirs are polluted by the wild life using the water as well. Taking a shower at the hotel results in brown tinted water coming out of the pipes and everywhere I went there was massive amounts of brown muddy water. Bottle water was always given to me on this trip, and there were a few times some of the children wanted to take a drink of water out of my bottle. The well Convoy of Hope built has a pump that pumps fresh clean water to the surface for children to drink and carry home to their families. Once the well was put in the school there was fewer children sick and those who benefit look a lot more healthy.
Also the school grows its own garden to teach the children agricultural practices. In the small green house there was Chinese cabbage, and a few other greens. Upon further inspection there was a lot of plants with something eating at their leaves. It looked like a tiny moth was flying around the greenhouse was possibly causing the plants to die from disease. It could also be locusts that are finding a way into the greenhouse and eating the plants. I saw a whole bunch outside in the bushes when viewing the water pump. Sadly the old enemy of all crops strikes and caused damage. I hate grasshoppers and locusts with vengeance!
On the way back to civilization of Arusha, we were all treated to a sighting of a giraffe. My joke for the following picture is “run away from life’s problems like a giraffe.” It is amazing how graceful these large animals are! It close to a run like a horse with a very long neck!
Meeting the Maasai is and will always be a highlight of my trip to Tanzania. I found the whole day full of surprises and full of laughs. A moment of time I will surely hold onto until I return again in the future.
***Bonus story*** Learning To Squat Like A Pro: TMI alert ahead! You are warned!
Let’s talk about squat toilets. I mean not the ones you think when going in the woods. I mean the ones you see in Africa and not Asia. My real first encounter with a true African squat toilet was at the Tinga primary school. A hole in a concrete floor with a water bucket nearby without toilet paper. Think what the water bucket was for, now you know why there was no toilet paper. I have a hard time as is in peeing in the woods, let alone trying to squat over a public toilet in the States. So imagine me “squatting” over a hole in the middle of Africa. An adventure in itself. So here I was confronted with a hole in a concrete slab, with foot markers to help keep my feet from slipping, and wondering what the hell did I get myself into. So here I was squatting over the hole with both hand resting on the walls keeping me balanced (yuck I know), with my head between my legs looking down the hole and hoping I don’t pee on my pant legs or shoes. Lucky I figured out how to squat which meant putting my butt at an angle, aim my vagina towards the hole, and make sure to keep the pee stream from missing the hole. It was torture when I realized how full my bladder was from drinking all that damn water, and realizing no matter how much I squat in the gym, it did no prepare me for this type of squatting. In the end I did not pee on myself in the process (Yay!) and someone had the sense to bring toilet paper for all of us to use (no nasty bucket water!). Good thing is the squat toilet does not even smell awful as a Honey Bucket or God awful boy toilets. I hear the Maasai women just go where ever even while standing and talking with someone! Just creates a puddle around their feet.
Awoken by the sound of street life outside the window of the hotel room I am sharing with another student. It would be another night of jet lag with me up at four in the morning checking my emails. Jet lag is a real deal. Breakfast was a normal fare of fruit, coffee, fried potatoes, rice, and some meat thing I yet to figure out. It seems the hotel thinks Americans must have meat at every meal every day when the opposite is true. The day ahead for me was going to be a jam-packed day into the bush with the Maasai and going to a school where the Maasai children attend to see Convoy of Hope’s child feeding program in action.
After breakfast, I loaded up into a safari jeep and endured a bumpy ride through the bush of Tanzania on red iron rich clay roads. My roommate and I found ourselves in the same jeep with four other students from our sister school Evangel University in Springfield Missouri who were all on the football team. Four football players and two little women all crammed into a safari jeep were a sight to see!
Clich’e to say this, but I do believe I left my heart in Tanzania Africa, namely the Maasai children of Tinga (small village near the base of Mt. Longido). I cannot believe how energetic these children are when they have visitors. Hard to keep up with them at times. As soon as they were let out of their classes, they latched on to all of us and at times never let go unless forced. Some even fought over my arms and were very interested in my skin color, counting my fingers, my clothing, my hair, my backpack, and my phone which took pictures of them. Most never had seen another human look like the way some of my team members looked. The team tried to teach them a new game called four corners which turned out to chaotic. I was one of the four corners which at one point had large waves if kids come running at me, nearly knocking me over in the process! A few of the children figured out the poking game and proceeded to poke me rather hard in the gut. It turned into all out war at one point with other team members getting poked as well. The iPhone became one tool in getting me to do crazy things for the camera. Even one of the professor’s sunglasses became popular for the children to try on.
The main purpose of the trip to the school was to help with Convoy of Hope’s children’s feeding program setup at this school. All the students here have greatly benefited from the feeding program as well as their families. Before Convoy came, most of the student only received one meal a day. Most were in poor health due to lack of nutrients missing from their diet, having intestinal worms, and having unclean water to drink.
Since Convoy of Hope’s program, the children have access to clean water to drink for them and their families. They now get nutritious meals at school and at home. Each of the team members had a turn at handing out the mango juice we brought for them (they have never had anything like juice before, it is very rare!), passed out the plates for the food, and ladled out fortified porridge with key nutrients along with de-worming medication for them to have. From pictures I have seen, they all look much more healthy than they did before. Also, they have greens growing in a school garden plot for other nutrients into their diet.
The Tanzanian government has made it mandatory for all school children to have access to school and no school can turn a child away at the primary level (elementary level). This means there are more children then there is room for in the classroom, and so when we drove up to the school, some of the children were at desks outside under trees with their lessons. Just imagine children in the US having to sit outside in the elements to get an education because there is no room for them in the classroom. It would not happen, but it is a reality for most students in Tanzania. Also, Tanzania has a real shortage of certified teachers to teach students. This school in particular only has three teachers teaching up to sixty students across multiple class ages and a headmaster who has to teach as well to give every child an education. Right now there is a foundation built for a third building, but the funds to finish it are non-existence. I hope in the near future this building will be completed and all children can learn in a proper classroom.
The day was hot and dusty around the area. I even got a bad sunburn with sunblock on because of how close to the equator Tanzania is, and the fact anti-malarial drugs can cause the skin to be sensitive to sunlight. It was worth it to expereince this wonderful day with the children! Even if it means down the road I will get skin cancer (I hope not).
My first morning in Tanzania started with waking up to a dog fight outside the hotel window at five in the morning. I would soon find out this would be a common morning occurrence for the duration of my stay. The morning started off with me looking out the window at the street and seeing people walking along the street on their morning routine. School children in their uniforms walking to school, adults on their way to work, and stores opening up for the daily business giving this traveler a glimpse into the daily life of Arusha.
This pink building hides the reality of poverty intermingling near fancy hotels in this part of town. A reminder of why I am here with Northwest University and meeting with Convoy of Hope on the same day. Breakfast was at the hotel’s restaurant most days which consists of fried potatoes, Tanzanian pilau rice, Kenyan sausages, banana pancakes, East African donuts called magwinya, fresh fruit and coffee made from beans in the Kilimanjaro region coffee plantations. After finishing, I grabbed a 1.5L bottle water and headed to the conference room to meet the team from Convoy of Hope.
The day’s agenda was to hit the ground running with Convoy of Hope and start working with them on some of their projects they are doing in the local communities around the area.
The main focus for Convoy of Hope in Tanzania is sustainability for communities around the area. The work done by this team was mostly done in agricultural/ small garden training, women’s empowerment, child feeding programs for nutrition, clean water, and crises relief. I did not realize how small the organization Convoy of Hope is compared to other humanitarian organizations like Samaritan’s Purse. Convoy of Hope concentrate its focus on a few areas and this makes them effective in their work. Even without medical component to their work, I can see great things they do for the health of those in the Arusha area and all of Africa. We all asked questions to get a better idea of the problems faced in the work being done, and learning what would be an effective way of asking questions to help better understand the needs of the community to better help them with issues being faced. After two hours of discussion we were all invited to have some tea (a custom holdover from the colonial days when a British colony). The tea is nothing like any I have ever tasted before! Marsala tea is a new type of tea to me, and it packs a powerful punch too without the caffeine! It has a spicy ginger taste that hits the back of the throat from the cardamom and cinnamon mixed with the black tea leaves. I ended up finding some at a local supermarket to take back with me and later found some at a local Indian grocery store back home.
We all mingled around the demonstration gardens looking at all the cool ways of using planters to grow crops in. Found a banana tree with bananas growing on it, and meeting some of the women who are a part of the women’s empowerment program in a gathering.
Lunch was at a local restaurant off the main road called Milestone Club in Arusha. The restaurant is one of few places we are able to eat at without getting sick and the manager is good friends with Convoy of Hope. The atmosphere was open to the elements, with a thatch roof overhead, and an interesting playlist of music ( on this day it was Celine Dion’s greatest hits playing). Here I tried Tanzania’s national dish ugali which is a cornmeal porridge served with grilled meat which was whole chicken (biriyani and mchicha) for me. Others had the beef, fish, beans as the main dish with their ugali. The fish one even had eyes still in the socket and a few daring people actually ate them whole which made for a disgusting sight to witness! BBQ goat was passed down the table for all of us to try. The BBQ goat had a cross between the taste of lamb and the texture of steak when you eat it. The goat tasted better than I expected, and I am surely going to try it again in the future.
Pork is not seen much around Arusha, and the local butcher at any of the markets did not have pork product for sale. I wonder why? Is it an unclean animal in Tanzanian culture? Since water has been from the bottle source, I decided to try a new drink, Stoney’s. Stoney’s is a ginger beer drink produced by Coke Cola and is non-alcoholic. The ginger-ness is much more powerful than the ginger beers we have in the Seattle area. Sadly the drink is not sold in the US market.
After lunch, we all were split into groups to interact with the locals at the marketplace in Mianzini area of Arusha. The first encounter was a woman who just started her little shop in the middle of her neighborhood to sell staples of food items and necessities. She was very happy about how Convoy of Hope helped her start her shop and now she can afford to send her children to school by the income she generates through this little shop. I bought from her some chocolate cookies she had, and I pray her store will prosper into a sustainable business. The second encounter was a woman who has a shop along the main streets of the area who sold a variety of items. Her hard work, dedication to raising her son, never-ending faith in God’s provision, and hoping one day send her son to college is an inspiration for all of us to strive to better ourselves through hard work. At one point there was a fight in the street where a young man on his motorbike had a bloody face and other men were trying to force him off his bike. We did not stick around to know what happened, but there was a drunk man who did follow our group yelling at us in Swahili. Crazy moment!
As I walked through the streets of Mainzini it became apparent how different poverty looks from the pictures seen. Instead of shakes stacked on top of each other, the houses are spread out with small plots of land with crops growing. People are generally happy and kind to each other as they go about their daily business. The house might be made of whatever materials could be found, and the heat sources are wood gathered along the roads. Small shops everywhere sell everything possible, and someone always willing to help you find something. Chickens, cows, donkeys, goats and children run all over the place and everything needed to live is within walking distance of the front door. All mixed with pure determination, something most Americans do not see. All the people we visited did not want a free handout, and they are very thankful for the support they received from Convoy of Hope in helping the get out of poverty.
After a stop at the hotel for a quick refresh, we all headed downtown Arusha to eat street food at Khan’s BBQ. We all ate BBQ chicken, Nan bread and some beef kabob on a street corner in the middle of a bustling evening in the city.
The chicken was not as spicy as I thought it would be, and the Nan bread was sooo yummy! I have not had any Nan bread as good in my life!
Sitting in the evening light in good conversation with the sound of Muslim call to prayer echoing through the streets. Something is not heard in the US very often and it has an eerie sound to it. Street dogs begging close by for scraps of food, and having rocks thrown at them to keep them away. Eating street food in Africa without getting sick was a relief. It seemed normal sitting in the street lights in the middle of Arusha and having a sense of magic in the air that only happens once in a lifetime.