Thursday, September 30, 2010

School Supplies

Liz and I don’t often use the blog for this, but I want to update you on our major project for the moment and if possible ask for some help. We are currently building a high school that we hope to have open in January. When I say we I mean the fundis (construction workers), general contractor, several missionaries, Angel House staff as needed, and more government employees who need to check off on the process than I care to think about or list right now. We are about 1-2 months out from having all the buildings complete and are also working on interviewing for a headmaster who will then help with the hiring of teachers who will then help with the registering of students. We are very excited as the buildings have taken shape on what used to be vegetated land (pictures below). We are even more excited to think about the learning and shaping that will take place in the classrooms this upcoming year as students we already know and those we have yet to meet will enter classrooms with hope for their future...and maybe a little dread over some exams.

Anyway, what I wanted to say is that we are at the stage where we need to start filling up the classes that have been built. I am talking about desks, tables, chalkboards, hopefully some white boards, bookshelves, etc. Much of these things we can and need to purchase in Tanzania (it helps the economy). If you are interested in a list of things that we need sent over let me know. I will leave you with one more example and some instructions.

A desk is $50 to make...we need 180 of them. Ready. Set. Go.

You can donate over the internet with the button on the side of this page. Any money we receive for the next few months will go to school construction. If you need a tax write off send a check to Grassroots. Instructions are at under the how to help section. Make sure to mark it as school supplies.

This is the second to last shameless plug for a while. Thank you for indulging me.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

When the Poor Aren't Poor Anymore

So what do you do when the poor aren’t poor anymore? This may sound like a funny question, but seriously...most people in non-profit work are really good at relief type work. We are good at giving money, collecting supplies, giving out food, handing out medicine, and moving on to the next needy person without a meal. What is the next step though? What do you do with people who aren’t in danger of missing the next meal, but still live in awful conditions with little money or chance of making much more. In my situation what do you do with orphans that are well feed, well clothed, have good shelter, and are going to school, but who will one day have to make it without food, clothes, and shelter from Angel House. What do you do when the orphans are better clothed and in some ways better off than many in our community, even though you know they may not always be? What do you do with people who are no longer poor, but only because of what you are able to give them?

Now don’t get me wrong our kids still don’t have the “stuff” that compose so many American’s standard of living, and some of our younger kids still hoard food because they remember how awful it was being hungry. However it has been a long time since one of our kids missed a meal and they certainly don’t consider themselves poor. Many of our older children have dreams of their futures which is something many other children in our area don’t have. If there is one thing poverty takes from someone it is hope for a future with opportunity. So what do you do?

That is a question those of us who work at Angel House are asking and hopefully have some good thoughts on. We can continue to provide for basic needs until we die and there will still be poor people. Actually based on research done in developing countries by organizations really good at giving a LOT of money and resources poverty can sometimes increase... just ask the World Bank. With that in mind we have a vision of relationships that allow dreaming to happen with the people we are helping so that they can give input and make decisions about what is really needed after the stomach is satisfied. We hope that these ministries done with people can bring needed resources to the whole community and allow the bar to be raised for the economy, but more importantly the spirit and dignity of people. We have a hope for our children to become leaders in their communities so that our children who have learned how to dream can pass these dreams onto others. I think it comes across the best as a goal of “transforming people so that they can transform their culture.”

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Lessons We Learn

Patience is not my strength…as most people know. Last week, Holly and I took nineteen of the kids and four other adults to Nairobi for them to record a CD. The kids had an amazing experience. They tried new foods, saw new fashion, different structures, and had the fortunate (or unfortunate) experience of riding Nairobi public transportation. To brag a little bit, they all cleaned up after themselves. Our children received many compliments from the staff of the hostel because they cooked their own meals, washed their own dishes, did their own laundry, and did not leave the place looking like a pig sty. Where our children rose above the norm, the adults staying at the hostel did not. We became very annoyed by many things within the first 24 hours we were there and had to remind ourselves that we have amazing children that were enjoying themselves. The second night of our stay, 48 ministers (I am not going to disclose the denomination) arrived and we were quickly kicked out of our rooms. We slept slumber party style in the dining room, outside of the chapel, while the ministers had an all-night prayer service that ended only two hours before they arose to eat breakfast in the room we were sleeping in. They had hired cooks and when they were finished eating they would simply leave their dishes to be picked up by someone else. Little did they know, or maybe they did, that our children were waiting on those same dishes to eat their own food. Some nights it was 9 pm before they ate!

To say the least, this was a stretch of my patience. I was so angry because our children got the raw end of the deal. What I learned was that many of them did not care. They were just happy that they were experiencing something that most people will never get to experience. The children taught me that there is so much more to life than comfort and that we are extremely blessed to have these wonderful children in our care. Many missionaries go into the field with the expectation of making a difference in the lives of others. To much amazement, it is usually the exact opposite. It is them that make a difference in our lives.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

What Kind of Helping Hand Is Really Wanted?

He has a strong back, a strong heart, a strong mind, and is very rare in Tanzania or I think anywhere in the world. Yet the longer I am in Tanzania the more I am starting to think that there used to be many, many more Mwita Maswies in Tanzania. Many Americans that come to Tanzania, even those that love living and serving here, have the idea that Tanzanians have a beggar mentality, that they just want to be given everything in life. I think this is misrepresenting what many outsiders see in Tanzania.

The other day Mwita, Anna, and I were walking to our house in town and two men that we passed told Mwita and Anna to ask me to buy them a beer. I am kind of used to this by now so I don’t worry about it, but Mwita was highly insulted that his countrymen would stoop to asking someone else to buy them something they so obviously did not need. He was upset to the point of stopping and telling them everything that was wrong with their request. If you are white and have been in Tanzania long enough you are just plain used to having people ask you for everything from money, to a job, to a beer. However, I don’t think it was always this way or that it is part of their historical culture, I think it has been learned.

Having done some reading on the subject and having lived in Tanzania for a little time you start to understand better what living a life of survival means. I think that Tanzanians have been living a life of survival for so long that they have forgotten what it means to have hope or respect for themselves. They ask because if you don’t ask you won’t have it. It is sad to see these strong people, most of whom work 6-7 days a week at more than one job, feel like their only way to get ahead in life is to have someone give them something. And because of limited resources often times a helping hand of some kind is the most reliable way to get ahead. I think the biggest casualty of poverty besides the death of children is the hope that hard work equals a decent life. The results of poverty in Tanzania look much like the entitlement found in the US when many times it is not the same at all. In the US some people feel like they have the right to be given something, in Tanzania they ask with a humbleness of knowing it is a gift. If people are given something in the US it is their right, in Tanzania they never stop thanking you. If people are refused something in the US it is the “end of the world”, in Tanzania they accept it and move on. Now these are generalizations and not universal truths, but they can be applied on a large scale.

Mwita is strong and strong willed. There are many times he will not ask or asks very humbly. He has great pride in his country and treats every visitor to his country or his home with the utmost respect giving them whatever he thinks they need even if it means he goes without. He also has the mentality that it is better to die strong than to never try, yet that is what many Africans have been doing for far too long...dying no matter how hard they might try.

I think many Africans would be very happy not having to ask for things any more, I think they would be very happy discarding the thought that every foreigner they see has more money than they themselves do. I think they would be so happy to have a future of hope instead of despair where hard work paid off and meant more opportunities, not more disappointment. The equation of the American dream doesn’t work here and I think that understanding that would be very insightful for many who want to help. The idea that education and hard work means you will do well in life just doesn’t compute in Tanzania and they are smart enough here to know that. I pray that I can be a part of the solution to a new equation for Tanzania where work ethic equals hope and opportunity.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Our Second First Week

So I am writing this more than a little late, but hey, better late than never right? Liz and I are back in Tanzania. Arriving the first time and returning have been two completely different experiences. We have settled in quickly and have loved getting back into the swing of things. Activities like swimming, tutoring, and playing soccer with the kids is just as much fun as before. Feeling automatically useful because of the knowledge of how things are run has been refreshing versus the stress of figuring out where we could possibly fit in. All in all we are definitely glad to be back. We are happy to see that our love of the kids and their love of us is still just as strong. We are also happy to see that some things have changed, like the school that is on its way to completion in the same spot that was an empty field when we left.

I think the thing we are most excited about is the sense of living in the present. We are no longer preparing for something like we have been all summer. We are here, doing what we have for 3 months only been preparing to do. And we will be here for the next year, finally we feel settled in and ready to start the slow work that produces true fruit. Pray for us, but don’t feel too bad for the return to the land of cold showers and no air conditioning because we feel so blessed to be back.

Here are some of the kids and their goofiness that we missed, along with a sunset for good measure.

Edward showing off his strength
Derrick with Mwara's helmet

Sunset from the backporch