Sunday, August 31, 2008

Faraja School for Disabled Children

Think about the difficulties that people with physical difficulties face in developed countries, now consider being disabled on Africa. Where do you get a wheel chair , crutches and other orthopedic equipment? If you can find it, could you or your family afford to buy it? Once you have it, try using it on rocky, dirt roads that are muddy for part of the year and try getting in and out of houses that have steps and lips at the doors. In areas of poverty, were everyone in the family needs to work in the fields, who is able to give assistance to a disabled person? Now add the neglect and abuse suffered by many of these children and the stigma on a family who has a disabled child and you just begin to have an idea what it means to be disabled in this part of the world.

The dream for a school to address the needs of physically disabled children was answered when Mabel Swanson, a woman from Virginia, who worked with the disabled children, bequested the money to build Faraja School. It opened in 2002, and now serves 80 students between the ages of 7 and 15. Physiotherapy,Occupational Therapy and training are available on site. Orthopedic equipment, prostheses, wheelchairs and crutches are provided as well as a referral system to doctors and other medical specialists in Moshe. Vocational training is provided in a sister institution in Usa in carpentry, tailoring and shoe manufacturing when students graduate from the primary school. Social workers also assist with long term placement for the students.

When you arrive at Faraja and you first see the children your heart stops [at least mine did]. Many children have severe deformities of their limbs or have lost them. Then you see their smiles, hear their laughter, see how they help each other [ a girl who can barely walk herself pushes another girl in a wheel chair] watch them play and you begin to understand what a place like Faraja means in their lives. Children from all over this region of Tanzania are brought here for assessment and for the lucky ones, an opportunity to get an education and medical help. Faraja becomes their new home and a place to feel "normal" and accepted as a real person.
Faraja is fully wheelchair accessible. The class rooms have adjustable desks and chairs to fit each child's needs. With 6 teachers, a large group of support people and volunteers, it is the best staffed school I have seen but it is still barely able to meet the special needs of the students.

Faraja is run by the Lutheran Church. Its funding comes from donations[60%], churches in Germany and the US [10%] Tanzanian gov't [5%], school fees [5%] and the remainder from agricultural activities on its 200 acre farm.

Adventure Aid offers volunteer opportunities for people with training in Physical Therapy, Occuptional Therapy, wheelchair repair and orthopedic, prosthetic device repair and construction. On staff is a full time PT specialist, Grace Solomon Lema and an OT specialist who comes once a week. There is an excellent facility for PT and OT but equipment is lacking; stationary bikes, weights and pulley systems were some of the items mentioned when I was just there. There are 2 cottages and a guest house for volunteers to stay in on the premises. The setting is lovely with gardens and great views of Mt. Meru and Mt. Kilimanjaro.

Adventure Aid is helping to get out the message about the wonderful work that this unique institution is doing and to help raise funds to support its programs. Cleven Mmari is in the process of designing a web site for Faraja. They are also looking for someone to write and design an email newsletter [Lisa, could this be a small project for you when you are here in Decmber?]

It is unfortunate that I am unable to post the pictures of Faraja with this blog. Check back in about 2 -3 weeks and you will be able to see them. They are moving and inspiring!!

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Floresta and VICOBA

Miriam and I drove to the NE side of Mt. Kilimanjaro to Marangu to see projects run by Floresta. At over 5000' and on the wet side of the mountain the area was cool and verdant compared to Siha. We were met by Edith Banzi ,the project manager. She outlined their series of programs. Florestais an NGO whose mission is to set up programs for economic development that would be sustainable and benefit the environment. Their programs include bio-intensive agriculture [BIA]which trains the local population to grow organic produce for their own use and for selling to improve their income , conservation/reforestation projects and VICOBA. They also sell safe,fuel efficient, wood cooking stoves to the community for $3 each. Miriam and Edith have been working together to implement Floresta programs in Siha.
The biggest success story is VICOBA which stands for Village Community Bank. It is a microfinance program with several unique twists. At the start of his book, "Out of Poverty", Paul Polak describes his conversation with a poor farmer in Nepal. He asked the farmer what he would need to get out of poverty. His reply was," money". What he was saying was that he needed seed capital to invest in drip irrigation supplies so that he could grow off season vegetables which he would then sell at a premium price. With this extra income he made improvements on his farm and in a very short period of time he and his family were able to enter the middle class in his community.
VICOBA expands this concept of microfinance. The initial step is the formation of a community group of about 30 to 40 members [75% are women]. They then enter a 12 week training program where they set their rules of governance, are trained to develop business and marketing plans and learn about the process of borrowing money. From the start each member invests $1 to $3/week. A group dynamic is formed in which members assist each other with their home based microenterprises. [I had described this process when I wrote about Miriam's women's group in an earlier blog.] Each member is allowed to apply to borrow up to three times her personal investment. The loan process also includes a business plan that tells how the money will we spent and how and when the loan will be repaid with interest. A subgroup of 5 people are selected to evaluate the loan applications and business plans and then monitor the use of the loaned money. In this way the VICOBA program has empowered and built capacity of the people on the proper way to manage their small enterprises. Currently there are 17 groups with more than 600 members and are now in the process forming an umbrella group to be able to do larger projects.
Adventure Aid has begun discussions with Floresta to see if we can set up joint programs in the Marangu community. Volunteers with business , accounting, banking marketing and agricultural skills will be a great asset to these programs. For tourism options, Marangu is one of the primary starting points for climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Night and Morning at Ndarakwai

The night sky was clear with more stars than I have even seen. The Milky Way looked like a solid silvery white band in a sea of stars in a closely packed speckled pattern. I woke up at 3 AM [the remains of jet lag] and walked down to the dining area which is adjacent to a creek. There was a rusting sound coming from the bank below me. When I shone my flashlight in this direction, I saw a bush buck[like our deer] grazing on the shore. The light does not startle him and he continues on his way. I return to my tent,which is more like a suite with separate sleeping and sitting, toilet, shower and sink areas, falling back to sleep immediately. I am awakened by a beautiful bird call: chi,chi chi, teacher,teacher,teacher. The notes are clear and are repeated in multiple variations. At first light[about 6:15] I dress quickly since it quite cold [mid 40's] and return to the dining area. In the tree above me a family of blue monkeys were feeding on the dry seeds. With a cup of hot coffee in hand , I sit and watch them only a few feet away from me and they stare back at me. It is a curious encounter between primates. We are joined by many species of birds and I am wishing I had brought my binoculars and a Tanzanian bird book. Breakfast consists of juice, fresh fruit, coffee or tea, eggs as you like them, toast, muffins and home made jams. What a lovely way to start the day!


By popular demand, I am recording the latest segment of the Mighty Mzungu. "Popular demand?" you ask. Yeh, my friend, Joe Popular. I leave Miriam's place and head to the town of Sanya Juu. It is late in the afternoon and the the people are coming home from work or the market and the children are leaving the schools. Sanya is full of activity. I have to weave my way through the people and animals on the road. I get to the junction that goes to the hospital and head up the road. As I approach Lamakaa Primary School , I met Flora Masauwe, the head master and a group of her teachers. I stop for a photo op and a chat . I promise to be back next week to visit the school and the children. I go a little further but it is getting late so I turn around and head downhill. There are speed bumps are the school which are just right for getting air on the mt. bike, so I speed up ,hit the bump and jump. I go high in the air. How high, you ask? I was so high, I almost blacked out from lack of oxygen. Probably a good 3 inches and a hang time in the nanoseconds. Now I'm heading back and Richie who riding a beater bike in flip flops comes alone side me. You can guess what happens next. It's like the Old West where where every young buck wants to take on the the sheriff. We''re passing through Sanya Juu again and I almost hit a goat and Richie goes shooting by me. When he sees that I am far behind he slows down to see if the old guy has anything left in the tank and we start up again. After a short distance he points to my tire. Damn, I have flat. I must have had a pinch blow out from my big air experience. I pull off to the side of the road and start to change my tube. In no time all these people come out to help me. They would put a NASCAR pit crew to shame. First my pump doesn't work so we go the store nearby. After awhile we realize that the spare also has a hole and I end up patching the original. Question: How many Tanzanians does it take to change a tire? Answer: The more the merrier!! The patch held and I make it back to Miriam's just before sundown.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Peter Jones and Ndarakwai

Where does one start when talking about Peter Jones? That's easy. When you first meet him you think you are seeing a Robert Redford in "Out of Africa" clone , with his safari hat and jacket,long blond hair and squared jaw ruggedness. But he not just a pretty face,far from it.
Pater was raised and educated in Kabul , Afghanistan, where his father worked as an anthropologist and photographer. At an early age, he became skilled in making flint tools and published several academic articles. While still a teenager, he was part of the team of Louis and Mary Leaky when they discovered the Laetoli footprints of the early hominids in Olduvai Gorge. This was one of the great discoveries of paleoanthropology. He later attended Oxford for his Masters bypassing the an undergraduate degree. He taught at Harvard but his heart was in Tanzania so he returned here to become a guide and tour leader.

In 1994 he purchase an 11,000 acre property. At the time it had been overgrazed , the trees had been cut and the animals killed for bush meat and trophies. Through his conservation and anti-poaching efforts at Ndarakwai, the grasslands and forests have recovered and the animals have returned. To see the before and after conditions you only have to go outside the boundary of his property. [I'll post these pictures when I get home]. Land conservation and restoration are only part of the story. Peter has worked with the local community to improve their lives by giving employment, training and helping in the areas of education and nutrition. He donates large sums of money every year to support these programs. The result is a compatible balance between the needs of man and the environment and serves as a model for other conservation projects.

In 2002, Ndarakwai Ranch was opened as an upscale resort tent camp. You can see pictures of the place on their web site and I will post some later. It is a place of tranquility and harmony with nature. This is in sharp contrast with the multitudes of people and vehicles in the nearby national parks. The service , food and accommodations are first class. It offers game drives and also hiking and birding opportunities which are not available in the parks. The article on "Green Tourism" on the AA web site is based in Peter's work at Ndarakwai and the surrounding community.

AA will be partnering with Ndarakwai to offer volunteer opportunities in the areas of training, conservation and research while you are able to live at the ranch You will be able to find them posted on the AA web site next month. Ndarakwai also offers markedly reduced rates for AA volunteers who wish to visit Ndarakwai while working in other areas of Siha.

Next blog : Morning at Ndarakwai.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The DC and the Soccer Balls

It was a most remarkable evening. We were having dinner with the DC[ District Commissioner] Anna Rose. She had organized a soccer tournament for tomorrow. She was at wits' end because she was expected to provide the 4 soccer balls and she did not have the money to purchase them. She was going on about how terrible it would be if, after all the work that she and other organizers had done, she did not come up with them.
Miriam and I looked at each other and smiled. We both were thinking the same thing. Aimee Fagent, a teacher from San Diego , who was the first AA volunteer, had left 4 [not 3 or 5] soccer balls at Bustani House when she returned home a week ago. I said, "Mama[ this how you address a woman in Tanzania], please close your eyes." Miriam and I then raced upstairs, gathered the balls from my closet and brought them down stairs. With us standing at the end of the table with the balls in our hands, we said "Mama, now please open your eyes". When she saw the soccer balls she burst into tears of joy. Was it just a coincidence that Aimee had left the exact number of balls needed to save the day for the DC or the good karma that has been generated by the connecting of people through AA? We will never know. The DC has so many good ideas to help her community and she is working very hard to achieve them. I said to her " Mama, be careful what you wish for, they may come true!"
More about the DC and her ideas in a later blog.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Mt. Biking at 100 jpm and 100 spm

Today I had my first opportunity to try out Eric's Mt. bike. I had brought my bike shoes and pedals from home and even though I am a good 6" taller than him ,his bike was a good fit for me. Bustani House is at about 4500' and you have to ride on a dirt road for about 2 km to the main road which is paved. When you hit the main road it is mostly down hill to the town of Sanya Juu at 3600' . So I'm flying downhill and feeling real strong when suddenly a man in his 30's and wearing a cowboy hat passes me. You can figure what happens next. The old [ and I mean real old] testosterone kicked in. No African cow poke on a heavy 3 speed push bike was going to put this 'merican hot shot to shame. There I was in my lycra, and on a light weight mt. bike with clipless pedals. I was not to be denied. I kicked into a higher gear and and soon I was gaining on him . He looked back and he could see he was in trouble. I blew by him so fast all he could feel was the surge of wind and a cloud of dust. Was I hot,you bet!
On the return trip I was going up hill but this gave me more time to wave and greet people. I figured I was getting about a 100 JPM[ jambos[hello] per mile] and SPM[ smiles per mile]. I am sure I amused them since there are very many mzungus [white people] in the district and none of them bike ride. In this rural area there are very few cars so people either walk or ride bikes. Tourist rarely go there and only rarely did I get the MMM [Mzungu means money]palms up from people. So I'm cruising along and you guessed it. A young man about 15 or 16 speeds by me. He's real thin. How thin? A sneeze would knock him over. How thin? When he turned sideways his shadow disappeared. So I say to myself " No bean pole whipper snapper is going to out race the "Mighty Mzungu". " Like before crank it up. At first I gained a little , then he gives me "the LOOK". You remember the LOOK, when Lance Armstrong turn back to see Jan Ullrich just before dropping him on Alpe du Huez in the Tour de France. It was steely eyed with daggers and flames shooting out. Then the kid switches to overdrive and as hard as I try he is putting more and more distance between us. Finally I hit the wall and I'm toast. The "Less than Mighty Mzungu" is humbled in defeat. But he better watch his tail, there is always a next time!

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Day 4


Miriam Ng'maryo is one of the most amazing persons I have ever meet. Her energy level and enthusiasm far exceeds mine, which says something! She and her husband Eric ,who is an attorney in Moshi, moved to their home, Bustani House, about 10 yrs ago. Miriam is a retired teacher who, after her children were grown, became active in improving the lives of the people in her community. One of her first projects was to have 10 women form a cooperative in which each would focus on a single micro enterprise. They would share knowledge and help each other. Yesterday morning after breakfast we walked to one of the member's home for their biweekly meeting. We all sat around an outside table. There was Pudensiana [milking cows], Ednesta[pigs], Ruwaichi[sheep],Saraphia[beekeeping and honey production],Elitruda[cows and milk production] and Miriam[VICOBA]. Not present were Clara [chickens],Dominque[restaurant and market kiosk] , Erica [miking goats] and the last person whose name I did not get who was making wine and weaving. The meeting began with a song, a prayer and special group cheer. I wish I could attach the video of this now but when I return home we will post in the AA web site. The chairperson called the meeting to order and late arrivals were fined. Each person in turn reported to the group about what was happening their project. If there were issues, the group would problem solve. VICOBA is program in which each member in the group " invests" a very small amount of money which is then borrowed by the members for their micro businesses or used to send individuals to workshops and seminars to obtain knowledge that she will later share with the group. They charge themselves interest and at the end of the year they distribute some of the money as profits to the members and reinvest the remainder for future loans. At the end of the business part of the meeting they sang another song and had tea and home made doughnuts made by the host person and each member gave a gift of food to the host.
Miriam told me that because of their poverty and being rural women they had very low self esteem. By having the opportunity to achieve their successes as a group you could see their pride and self assurance. In America, the only news reports we see and hear about Africa concern war, famine, corruption and AIDS. A large portion of foreign aid money has been misused and in many situations have hindered area that they wanted to address. This is a positive story of self help that has improved the lives of these 10 women and their families.It is a model for others. For more information about the VICOBA, do a Google search.
One of the projects that Katie James will be doing next month is helping this group by using her accounting skills and business knowledge. This is the type of local directed program that Adventure Aid supports by providing people with skills to improve their lives. It's a hand up not a hand out.
Next blog will be about Ndarakwai and Peter Jones. For pictures of Ndarakwai, look at the AA web site tourism options.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Day 3

Greetings to All! Habari asubuhi[ How are you? Good Morning]
I had hoped to write sooner but jet lag, computer problems and a very busy schedule have delayed the start of my blog .My flights were uneventful and I had a full row for sleeping on the last flight from Amsterdam to Kilimanjaro. Eric Ng'Maryo, Miriam's husband, picked me up at the airport. I am staying at their home, Bustani House. It is alive with laughter and filled with their children, grandchildren and friends. Eric, who goes by "Babu" [grandfather in Swahili], is the only male in the home so he loved, respected ,teased and spoiled by his family. It is located in a spectacular setting surrounded by their farm land and I have a great view of Mt. Kilimanjaro from my bed room window. Even though we are near the equator,the nights are cool in the low 60's/high 50's on this high plateau between Kili [20,000'] and Mt. Meru[15,000']. The day starts with morning fog and the songs of the birds. Year round they have a 12 hour day. You tell time in Tanzania beginning with daybreak so 7 AM for us is 1 AM here. My trip to Siha overlaps with the last day of AA's first official volunteer, Aimee Fagent. She is a teacher from San Diego who has spent 2 1/2 weeks helping improve the local educators English language teaching skills. In Tanzania primary schools are taught in Swahili and the secondary schools are taught in English so the children have a difficult time when they move to the higher grades. She held daily sessions at the Teacher Resource Training Center for about 15 teachers. At the end of her stay, Aimee had them write letters to her fellow teachers in SD and hopefully they will become pen pals. Aimee's experience was both moving and rewarding. The teachers she worked with were eager to learn new skills and now they are excited to share them with the other teachers at their schools. Her program exemplifies the goals of AA: to have the benefits of the volunteer's work have a long term positive impact after the program is completed. The next goal is to have the volunteer truly enjoy him/herself and have a unique experience. When I arrived at Bustani House it was very apparent that strong bonds had been formed and that Aimee was one of the family. There were quite a few wet eyes when we took her to the airport for her trip home. The final of goal of AA is that the connection made between the volunteer and the community continue and that it expand to Aimee's friends and colleagues. Next year we would like to have a group of teachers return to Siha and continue the ground breaking work that she has begun.
Even though primary education is universal in Tanzania the funding is very limited .Each teacher will have up 100 students in his/her class. Many students have to share books and supplies. If anyone was interested in making a donation to these schools AA is set up to accept tax deductible contributions and ALL the money donated will go to the program that you designate. We will also let you know how the donated money is spent.
Kwa herini [Good bye]

P.S. The next blog will be about Miriam. She is an amazing person and the main reason we are able to do our programs in this community.