Opening Ceremony of St. Timothy’s

Clouds hung low in the sky blocking the view of Mt Kilimamjaro which can be seen from almost everywhere in Moshi, Tanzania. Students, parents, teachers, Mama Hope’s team and others from the community gathered at the newly built St Timothy’s School to give it a proper African opening celebration. As people took their seats the rainy skys gave way to falling ash from the surrounding sugar cane fields. What a surreal picture it painted.

The celebration opened with song and dance from the Shalom Choir; many speeches followed. The elected Parent Representative stood and read a letter from the school board. He stressed that by allowing the community to own the actually development of the school they were able to hire local workers to coordinate and construct the project. They were also able to buy all the materials locally, which truly give them a since of accomplishment and independence. St Timothy’s School was not a foreign imposed project, but a local development that the entire community could rally behind and support he continued. More than 600 local people were employed in the construction process and all the money donated stayed in the community. Moreover, they were able to save significant amounts of money over foreign developed projects by making deals with local merchants.

Personal I was touched by the songs the kids sang to a simple drum beat. (I’ll post some video clips up when I get back to the US.) I could see the weeks and weeks of practice they had put into it. One student named Dorothy made a promise from the students, “our promise is that we will strive for excellence and become powerful leaders who will care for the most vulnerable children in our community when we grow up.” If anything captured a feeling of hope since I have been in Tanzania it was that promise. Once St Timothy’s is running at full capacity 100 vulnerable or “fogotten children” will attend school at no charge. I really appreciate that St Timothy’s will not just support these children, but also strives for self-sufficiency and independence. The staff knows it cannot be dependent on foreign aid so they incorporated multiple income generating activities like a chicken coop and banana farm.

I knew there would be many children at the opening so I came with a big bag of balloons. I thought the line of kids and mamas waiting for a balloon would never end. After one straight hour of blowing up and twisting balloons my cheeks were aching, but the smiles on the kids faces kept me going strong.

If you want to know more about the community identified and developed St Timothy’s School project check out the Mama Hope page at http://mamahope.org/stTimothySchoolFinal.html. I posted some pictures from the days events below. For the next post Bryce and I go to the fields and workplaces of the families of the vulnerable children the school will serve to see what a day in their life is like.

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Interviewing the African communities

We kicked up a cloud of dust as we entered the village of New Land to interview the parents and students of the new St. Timothy’s School. Bryce (Mama Hope’s Visual Journalist), James (Director St Timothy’s), Godfrey (New Land’s elected Street-Chair) and I journeyed down a dirt road with the mighty Mt Kilimanjaro looming in the background. Our intent was to find out why the community identified education as one of their most pressing concerns. Moreover, what, if any, impact the addition of St Timothy’s school would bring to the families and community of New Land.

Many people were around doing chores here and there, while others stared at us in wonder. Bryce mentioned that the communal vide of New Land lead to the community developing differently than other African villages of the same socioeconomic level he had visited. Homes and property had little distinction and separation between them. We trailed between mud homes, pig pens and occasional family graves. As we approached our first home many thoughts whirled through my head; so this is life at the $2 a day poverty-line, what is daily life like here, if not for being born in a different country it might be strangers here interviewing me. Finally Bryce and I arrived at our first home.

Thoughts of things I heard and studied about Africa, Africans and poverty whipping around my mind as we sat down face-to-face with student Theresia and her mother Elis. “Can you tell us about a day in your life?” we asked and James translated. Elis went into detail about how she prepared her home before going to work as a laborer in the neighboring maze (corn) fields until sun down. If she is able to pick enough maze that day she is paid 2,500 shillings (about $1.60) and buys dinner for the night. We didn’t ask what happens if not. Residents of New Land also pay about 3,000 – 5,000 shillings per month in rent (about $2.00 – 3.50). When we asked Theresia what she looked most forward to about starting school at St Timothy’s it was having a meal everyday.

Then we got into the more focused questions, “What difference does having St Timothy’s School in the communtiy have?” Elis response reflected that of all the families we interviewed, St Timothy’s school sought out and provided an option for the “forgotten kids.” The families made it clear that there were two options for their children, attend school and get an education or become a “street kid” exposed to many many dangers. Before St Timothy’s there were no other options.

As Bryce and I interviewed Elis and Theresia the grandmother joined us. The grandmother said she had hope that with an education Theresia could get a job and bring the family the support they desperately needed. It was profound to see the hope that education could bring to three generations of family. Mother and Grandmother sought a better life for their family in Theresia’s education which had just begun.

This is just a little sample from the interviews we did. I couldn’t capture it all in a blog. I attached some picture of us interviewing the kids and from the footage we took. My next blog will be about the opening celebration of St Timothy’s School. Singing, dancing and 300 people from the communtiy, excited!

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Tree climbing lions, baboons, and a bus full of kids: My first experience with the community

Monday was my first experience with the community that we have all worked so much for from so far away. As the Mama Hope team walked down the side of the road just outside of the hostel we are staying at a bus came rolling down the street. We saw James, headmaster at St. Timothy’s School, sticking his head out of the window, “Jambo!” (“hello!”), he shouts. The doors to the bus, actually a large van, open and we board. My mind and heart are racing! I find myself looking back at almost 40 smiling and inquisitive African faces; it’s the kids of St. Timothy’s! As soon as we were seated off we went to Lake Manyara National Park.

Today’s trip was not so much about community development, but simply spending time with the community. And we had a 4 hour bus ride to do that; yeap 4 hours each way! In addition to about 80 kids several parents joined us for a total of 100 people from the community. Some of the kids were a little shy, and I mean just a little shy. As soon as I said “habari?” (“how are you?”) the shy smilies open the flood gates of questions, introductions and 8 hours of fun with the kids on the bus.

Once we arrived Emir, a fourth grader from St Timothy’s, grabbed my hand and lead me to the toliets. I tell him that I’ll wait for him outside, and he tells me, “No, for you teacher.” What empathy and understanding this young boy showed me. He knew I had been on the bus a long time and had no way of navigating myself to the bathroom. (I am trying to learn Swahili). If only we could all be so aware of other people, even to those we just meet.

What a joy it was to share my first experience of the wonders an African national park with the pure excitement of so many chidren. So many gasp of joy as we passed our first baboon chillin’ on the side of the road looking back at us like “What!” Elephants, zebras, hippos, dik-diks, crazy colored birds, and giraffes bigger than trees! Despite looking in every tree I passed no lions. It was amazing to see so many African animals free, roaming, playing and hunting in their natural environment. And to share that experience with kids who so uninhibitedly let their innocence and excitement carry them away with every turn the bus took was sensational.

Next post will be about my experience traveling into the villages of New Land, Tanzania and interviewing St Timothy’s school students and families at their homes!

PS. After being here more than 10 days my luggage has finally arrived; yeah clean cloths!

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