This past summer one of our Directors, Sharon Cornett-Ching, visited Tanzania. He chronicled her trip in the post below:
I visited Tanzania in August 2013, my first visit since the summer of 2010. Although it had been three years since my last visit, when I got off the plane, in some ways it felt like coming home. I love the people of Tanzania; they are so welcoming and gracious, even in the midst of the many hardships. This trip was very enlightening. I had always believed I understood the circumstances in which these people lived but this particular visit provided a great deal of clarity for me, and enriched my understanding greatly.
Day 1: Saturday, St. Francis School
On our first day we visited St. Francis School; population 249 students. It is an inclusive school, welcoming children who live in nearby Maasai villages, children who have been orphaned, and children with mental and physical disabilities. The school provides an opportunity for children with disabilities to study alongside children who are not disabled. It also educates dozens of blind and deaf children the opportunity to receive an education, using Braille and sign language techniques. Furthermore, St. Francis also employs deaf and blind Tanzanians as teachers. Without this wonderful school, many of these challenged children would be confined to their villages, with no future to speak of.
We had assisted the school last year, in purchasing mattresses for their dormitories and also with food donations. I was eager to visit and see how things were going for them.
My visit was an incredible experience. The school’s director is Sister Mary Benedicta, a truly inspirational Catholic Nun, who has devoted her life to serving the underprivileged. She and the other sisters act as caregivers, cooks, and teachers. Two of the students we sponsor attend St. Francis School. These two boys come from very poor homes, and this school has truly been a blessing for them.
Our visit to St. Francis was greatly inspiring, and I learned that although the school is very well run, it still has many needs. What a beginning to my trip!!
Day 2: Sunday, Food Distribution in Engalaoni
The village of Engalaoni is one of my favourite places to visit but but travelling to it is difficult. The land is very dry and there is little rain, but when the rain does appear, it erodes the land terribly so the roads are very bumpy! Along the way you will see women and children carrying water buckets; making the long walk to get water. They must then make the trek back up to their homes, a long and difficult journey.
We began with mass in their little church. It was quite a celebration because two Maasai women were bringing their children out in public for the very first time. In the Maasai tradition, the women do not leave the home for the first six months after their baby is born. Their sole purpose is to feed and care for their babies. Their is no housecleaning, washing, cooking, or other chores being done. It is really the only time a Maasai woman gets to rest, otherwise, she works very hard. After mass we visited with the people and we were able to distributed corn to each family.
Later that day, we had the opportunity to meet a young boy named Dao. Last year when my friend Debbie visited, Dao was near death. Deb had been visiting Engalaoni with Fr.Festus and Dao’s mother had asked Fr. Festus to pray with their family, as Dao was very, very ill. He actually needed heart surgery but the family could not afford it. Fr. Festus and Deb took the boy to a hospital and eventually, through the help of many people, he was taken to India for the surgery. He is now a healthy 15 year old and his family was delighted and very grateful that we took time to visit them in their home.
When I got there, I realized that Dao’s sister Oliver, was one of the first students educated by Project Tanzania. She is now married to the catechist and she has a new baby. We will be sending Dao’s other sister to school this coming year. It was quite a day!
Day 3: Monday , Canaan Center Orphanage
One of the main reasons for my return to Tanzania this past summer was to visit Canaan Center. Canaan Center is a brand new orphanage that opened its doors in January, 2013. The center began with nine children but recently their numbers have grown to sixteen, with additional children on a waiting list. My good friends, Alex and Caritas Lengeju, operate the facility. The couple had previously been in charge of an SOS orphanage in Dar Es Salaam, but were asked by the archbishop to return to Arusha to take over the running of Canaan Center. Alex and Caritas bring a wealth of experience, and the love they have for these children is evident in their every action. I was blessed to be able to spend the day with them.
The children’s stories are tragic. So many of them have been abandoned or have been rescued from terrible living conditions, and many are HIV positive. Just recently the orphanage received a little girl who had been abandoned by her father. She is three years old, HIV positive, and weighs only twenty pounds. Although such sad stories seem endless at times, here, in this place, these children are happy and well cared for.
Thus far, Canaan Center has been locally funded and it has been a struggle for them. The staff is doing an incredible job with the little they have received, and they are doubling up on many duties. The teachers act as caregivers, and even the driver helps by doing the gardening and assisting in the care of the children. It is heartwarming to see that Caritas is a mom to everyone. The orphanage is very well run, especially considering the lack of funding.
Canaan Center is a new beneficiary of Project Tanzania this year, and one of which I am very proud. We have committed to sponsoring as many children as possible on a monthly basis, thanks to the generosity of our donors.
Day 4: Tuesday, Delivering Food and Meeting our Students
This was one of my favorite days! We spent the day with a few of our students and distributed food to some families in Olkokola. We began by meeting Innocent, one of our students who has just completed Form 6 and has been accepted to Teacher’s College. Innocent is a wonderful young man and he is very hard working. His mom passed away a few years ago and he now lives with his stepmother and siblings. Innocent’s family is very poor and he has been teaching to earn extra money while awaiting his college acceptance. He helps to support his younger siblings as well.
We also visited the home of Naitovwaki, one of our students who has been accepted to Nursing College. We then went to the school where Patrick, one of our students was teaching. Like Innocent, Patrick completed Form 6 and was able to teach part time while waiting to be accepted to University. He is very bright and has just been accepted to University to pursue Architectural Engineering.
It was so rewarding to be able to visit the homes of students and families that Project Tanzania supports. I definitely have a better understanding of the challenges they face.
When we returned from visiting our students, we went to distribute food to a group of HIV/AIDS patients. Our support has supplied food for these people every few months, supplementing what they are able to grow themselves. I was thrilled to see that they have built a small mill of their own, enabling them to grind their own corn and become more self sufficient. The people took us to the mill and and they were very proud to be able to show us how it works. I bought some of their corn flour that day. It was quite a celebration. As we were leaving, a man from a neighboring stall came and thanked me for buying their corn. He said, “when you help our neighbors, you help all of us.” Another amazing day!
Day 5: Wednesday, Visiting Schools
Today we visited the Maasai Joy Children’s Center, a small school in a nomadic Maasai community on the outskirts of Arusha. The people of this community depend on one source of income; cattle. They graze their cattle on the land but when grass becomes scarce, the results are devastating. Uneducated, the men in this community cannot feed their families, much less afford the tuition of local government schools. As a result, one out of every three children will enter the child labor workforce. Maasai Joy School offers these children a chance at education which will ultimately change their lives. Many of the children walk more than an hour each way to attend this school.
Later that day, with Fr. Festus, I had the opportunity to visit other students whom we are sponsoring. We met four of the girls who attend Winning Spirit Secondary School. We also met Martin Hayuma who is in Form 2 at Ekenywa School. Martin would like to enter the seminary to become a priest and we have been asked to contribute to his education.
Day 6 Thursday A Visit to Engilanget School (School of Light)
This was an incredible day! We went to visit Anna Mollel’s school. Anna is a Maasai woman who has been working to improve the lives of children with disabilities for over 20 years in poor rural areas of northern Tanzania. Anna has always been a fierce advocate for children with disabilities. Thanks to Anna and her organization, thousands of children with disabilities have a chance to live a life in dignity. Originally, Anna founded the Monduli Rehabilitation Center, A Center I had visited on my first trip to Africa in 2006. It was there that I met Nailande, who later became my godchild.
It was Anna’s work and spirit that inspired me to become involved in raising funds for Africa all those years ago. She is an amazing woman and it is no surprise that she has now started her own school, appropriately named, “School of Light”. All of the children in her school come from poor families. Many are orphans, some have disabilities, and others have HIV. At Anna’s school all children are welcome, especially those children that nobody else wants to take care of. Many of the children come from families so poor that they can’t afford school uniforms, books, or the small fee that covers the teachers’ wages. To raise money, Anna has a small sewing workshop where she weaves beautiful fabric, on a spinning wheel made from an old bicycle wheel which she and her son constructed. The fabric is sold, and the income is used to buy uniforms, shoes, books, pens and everything else that the children in class need.
When we visited her school, Anna took us to her workshop. You can imagine what happened when four women from the United States and Canada were let loose with all that beautiful material Anna had woven. We spent all the cash we had with us that day, and when we ran out, we borrowed from Jim, the one lone man, who was part of our mission team. Bless his heart!
I have since been in contact with Anna and Project Tanzania has purchased some of her fabric to be sold at our next fundraiser. All the money raised by this endeavor will go directly to Anna to support her school.
Friday, Saturday and Sunday were spent on Safari with our amazing guide John. Incredible!!!
Monday: Our Last Day Before Returning Home
On our last day, Fr. Festus took me to the technical college in Moshi, to meet several of our students. These students have gone through junior high and high school through the support of Project Tanzania. They were recently accepted to the Tecnical College program. We have eight students there: Ludwig, Safe, James, Einoth, Nuru, Einoth, Happy, and George.
That day, I also visited an elderly widow named Rosa Maria. Fr. Festus met Rosa at his parish and he knew that she very poor. We went to visit her because we wanted to give her money to pay her rent for the coming year. Her house was about the size of a bedroom, with no bathroom and no place to cook. But Maria was a gracious host. She insisted on giving us a bottle of water, which is all she had to offer.
We gave her the money to pay her rent and some money for food. When we left, Rosa Maria insisted that I take a dozen eggs as a gift. It was so hard for me to accept, knowing what a difficult life she had. But Fr. Festus insisted that I take the gift. He explained that it was very important to her to be able to show her appreciation to us. I will never forget Rosa Maria, a woman who had so little and yet was so generous.
This trip to Tanzania was incredible! I have visited three other times but this trip was different. I have come away with a real understanding of our work and the impact that Project Tanzania is making in the lives of children and families who live in extreme poverty. We are making a difference, and for that I am extremely grateful.