Journey's From The Heart

Pencil Power

Let us remember: One book, one pen, one child, and one teacher can change the world. — Malala Yousafzai The 220 kids at Kyaseni Primary School had been told of our expected visit. Some of them were so excited about the ‘guests from USA’ coming to their school that they were unable to sleep the night before. International visitors are a rare happening in this mountain village. Our group was warmly welcomed by the Headmaster and we were invited to sign the school’s Guest Book. We then spent time with the school’s eight teachers, happy to meet and share conversation and questions about our respective lives, work, and challenges. Talk eventually turned to ‘water’ where we were told that “the lack of water is the school’s biggest problem”. Our Water Project Manager Alphonse Ngowi had attended this very same primary school some 60 years ago. Years later, he had built with his own hands the small building that is still being used as a kindergarten today. With this personal connection, the possibility of bringing safe water to Kyaseni Primary School kids carried a special excitement for all of us! The Uru Safe Water Project is a community participation project, so the Headmaster and teachers were provided with the required next steps for water connection to their school. Simply said, they must write to our local managing partners for connection, the technician will then visit the school to provide particulars of connecting to the Maji ya Uru (Uru Water) system and then the school committee (parents and administrators) must agree to cover the small fees for metered water usage. These... read more

Lucia’s Big Dream

Lucia’s family was burdened heavily by poverty, so she stopped going to school at the end of her primary years in 2008 when they could not pay her school fees. She worked at home for the next several years, helping her family grow food, tending to household chores and carrying water daily. But in her heart an unrelenting dream to continue her schooling would not die. Desperate for a way forward, Lucia knocked on the door of kind neighbors Alphonse & Eva Ngowi in 2011. She had watched Alphonse do community service as the water project manager for ICBD. Eva, too, cooperated with ICBD in her founding of the Acorn Women’s Cooperative, providing skill development for a small group of Uru women creating fair trade products. She told them of her family’s hard situation, shared her dream for education and asked for their help. The Ngowi’s listened carefully to Lucia’s request for assistance with her continued education but were at a loss as to how to help. They lived a modest village life and still had 3 children they were supporting in their educations. But Lucia was adamant in her dreaming and persuasive in her appeal. With parental permission, they decided she would stay in the Ngowi home for the time being. Here she would help in the household and learn sewing and tailoring skills from the Acorn Women’s group. Lucia was hardworking and appreciative for this shelter and opportunity, but in her own words: “my heart still ached for secondary school education”. I met Lucia in early 2012 during a work trip to Tanzania and was touched by... read more

Building Bridges of Home for Humanity

In Uru Tanzania the dirt roads are rough and pitted, the paths are steep, and walking or driving is often dangerous. Seasonal small rains turn the red clay soil into slippery impassable slides that are treacherous for vehicles and anyone on foot. An Uru teacher was recently making her way to school on a path wet from the night’s rain. While navigating a particularly steep ravine she slid and tumbled into the crevasse below. The teacher survived the fall with bruising but no broken bones, fortunate, at least this time, no lasting injury occurred. Our good friends Antonia and Tingi were upset and concerned about not only what had happened to the teacher, but about the potential for future injury to others. With the vision and initiative we have come to deeply appreciate from our Uru friends, they resolved that ‘something must be done’. Antonia asked her husband Tingi, a retired engineer & volunteer for our water project, to design a simple bridge spanning this ravine children and teachers cross daily. Antonia gathered lumber from her farm and asked several village men to bring tools to the planned bridge site. A sturdy bridge was built that very Saturday rising from the concern of one woman for another and facilitated by a little wood, a few helping hands, and the belief that the problem at hand could and therefore should be solved NOW! The image of this bridge in far off Tanzania reminded me of the bridges we all have an opportunity and obligation to build. Bridges we are called to build in order to span the gaps of a life less... read more

A Cistern is a Beautiful Sight

In all my life I could never have imagined that a water cistern would become a ‘beautiful sight’. But in ways that are nothing short of God given and mysterious, I am now moved to tears by the Grandfather Cistern taking form in Kyaseni Village. Mr. Antony Ngowi donated a piece of his precious land where the cistern is taking form, to ‘honor his father and his father’s father and their fathers’. He is deeply happy to be an important part of gifting the Uru community with clean water. He is also providing a watchful eye during construction, as well as a wide smile and a warm embrace, to all who come to visit and marvel at the cistern taking form. The circular cistern has become a symbol of hope and an affirmation of perseverance for not only the surrounding community, but for recent visitors, too. Our friends and partners in a new water borehole project being developed in Kikatiti stood quietly with us during a recent tour, imagining such a reality for the families and school kids challenged by drought and high fluoride in their Meru mountain area. Long time partners Rev. Sandy and Jean from Eau Claire Wisconsin came a long way too, to stand at the cistern. They were reminded once again that the part they and their church community have played over the years through prayer and fundraising, has created health and hope for Uru people. On completion of the cistern, the amount of available clean water will double and be made available to twice as many people. So Jim and I come to watch... read more

Pig Round Up

On a recent visit to Alphonse’s Kyaseni village home, we were alerted to ‘something happening’ by the insistent barking of Simba, the watch dog. Simba is Swahili for ‘lion’, and Simba was living up to his name quite nobly, barking fiercely and straining at his leash. As Alphonse investigated further, he announced that ‘one of the pigs has escaped and is now free-range’. So we all rushed outside to congratulate Simba for his successful watch dogging, as well as to contemplate the situation of the runaway and now happily roaming pig. Alphonse was followed by Jean towards the pig, and I was amazed to see Jean take a position that looked like a linebacker’s stance getting ready to make a tackle. I grabbed a camera, since I was pretty certain my pig catching skills would be inadequate, and Rev. Sandy took up a safe position on the porch. First efforts to drive the pig towards the pen were fruitless, with the pig easily maintaining a safe distance from Alphonse and Jean. More aggressive efforts to corral the pig worked up a sweat (for the people, not the pig) but no progress was made until a group of school boys came along. Seeing the problem, the young men eagerly joined in the chase. With everyone working together, the pig was driven toward the pen but remained elusive, by running underneath the corral. Now cornered, the pig began squealing loudly and indignantly at his predicament. One young man saw his chance, went down on his belly and grabbed the pig’s hind legs. The pig was pulled into the open and the... read more

The Long View

On arriving in Tanzania every year for our work trips, the first thought that comes to mind is “the mountain”. Our first glimpse of Mt. Kilimanjaro and it’s glaciered peak rising above the clouds is an anchoring image for us. It is Africa, it is our work, it is ‘home’. Kilimanjaro’s image has even greater impact for the people who live here. Ever present, she looms as a daily reminder, defining everyone who lives nearby or on her slopes as those who belong to the mountain. And she in turn provides for them, with countless fruits from the forests… with earth to grow vegetables in … and water from the glaciers. Children sing songs about this beautiful mountain, men tell stories of heroic adventures and women may know her best as the giver of water and life. But in recent years, the mountain has been struggling to provide for her children. Climate shifts have created rapid melting of the glaciers that have supplied water for a millienium to those who live here. It is a melting of such speed as to create a catastrophic loss of surface water and impairment to life. Struggling to keep up with the receding water, the walks for water became longer and longer, leaving the women and children exhausted, ill and impoverished. But the mountain has a long reach. In 2006 a story of Kilimanjaro’s people and their struggles for water reached a small group of friends in the USA and from their story… It Can Be Done was born. Working in partnership with the Uru East community, a grass roots beginning based on... read more

Miles & Smiles

“Let us always meet each other with a smile, for the smile is the beginning of love.”  Mother Teresa As we continued to handle construction and engineering priorities for the water project, our days have contained celebrations of hope and happiness in other areas as well. A visit to Kishumundu Secondary School allowed a wonderful reunion with Lucia Mbuya, the 2012 recipient of ICBD’s Hope of the Future educational scholarship. We were delighted to hear that she had placed 8th out of all Tanzanian students taking admission exams for her current grade level. Lucia’s favorite subject is biology and she is now hoping to be a doctor someday “so she can help people in her country”. Our Fulbright Scholar and Field Engineer Yana Genchanok welcomed her parents to Tanzania on Sunday, with a dinner at the Ngowi family’s home. We all enjoyed Eva’s wonderful traditional food as well as many stories, tall tales and some shared trepidations  as the Genchanoks looked ahead to climbing Mt. Meru this week. We finished the evening with Yana proudly showing her family the water distribution system. We spent a wonderful Tuesday driving up to Materuni village to see Eva Ngowi’s dream in progress’ for a Coffee & Curio Shop. About a 30 minute ride up the mountain from her home, some 30 to 40 tourists drive daily then park their cars at Materuni for a hike to the Nambe’ Waterfall. Eva negotiated a deal with the owner of a small shop that is currently under construction there,where she plans to have the Acorn Women’s Cooperative sell home grown coffee beans, coffee, drinks and snacks, and... read more

Dark Side of the Moon

For me, the experience of Africa is living life at its fullest. It is a place where I am keenly aware that life is precious and fleeting and where I am constantly amazed at the resilience of humanity. There is little opportunity to avoid the darkest sides of life, with so many challenges to life itself apparent at every moment. But here in Africa I have no desire to avoid the dark because to do so would be to miss life altogether. We were invited this week to visit a church in the Meru area, about an hour from Moshi town. Leaving the foothills of Mt. Kilimanjaro we drove through the dry flat plains, dusty and near-barren from drought. We saw small children standing within a foot of certain death, as they vigilantly guarded the family’s goats grazing at the highway’s edge. We watched the Maasai herders walking countless miles with their cattle in search of even the smallest water hole, a residual blessing from infrequent rain. And we watched the owners of barrel laden donkeys  retrieving water from a rare roadside standpipe, having walked days for water. Many people turn away from life’s challenges here in Africa, saddened by the depths of problems and convinced that real impact is not possible. But to turn a face from the problems means to turn away from the depths of the people themselves, all mirrors of the best and worst within us all. As James struggled to regain energy after a week long bout of food poisoning, we tried to manage some work progress during prolonged electrical blackouts, phone failures and... read more

Pin It on Pinterest