Thursday, February 17, 2011

A Strong Woman

Zach is a friend of mine here in Tanzanian. He has worked as a translator for me and we have also practiced martial arts togehter, though he is much better than I am and just last year was able to travel to China as a Tanzanian representative at the Wushu World Games. This past weekend I was able to meet his mother. It was a good weekend in that I was able to see Kisumu (a city in Kenya) for the first time. Liz and I were able to experience some new forms of transportation and got to see the biggest Nakumaut (Wal-Mart/Mall) in Kenya. However, the highlight of the weekend will always be meeting Zach's mom, Nereah.

The first thing she did when we walked into the house was start to pray, thanking God for a safe journey. This was before we were even introduced. She is a strong matron of this family of very strong men. There is a church built on the property where there is weekly worship. It is also the site of the start of St. Peter's Academy, a school that the family owns and runs. St. Peter's was started because there were orphans in the area who were not being educated so Nereah started teaching them in the church. The rest of the family found out and decided to turn it into a full school. St. Peter's opened in 2005 and now has nursery up to class 8 (all of the primary grades in Kenya). The family has built classrooms little by little as funds are available and even though their teacher workroom is a table and chairs outside the school finished 3rd in the district in 2010 on the national exam. This is a school where half of the students do not pay because they cannot afford to. School uniforms are not quite uniform because school administration would rather see students in class studying and at home eating than spending money on school uniforms. This is the result of a faithful family and especially a faithful mother.

church that Nereah built
Yet it was not always this way. Zach's father was a polygamist for a long time. He had 7 or 8 wives (I never quite got an accurate count from people) resulting in 15 sons and 48 daughters. He was known in the entire district and a few surrounding ones for fighting, drinking, and mistreating his many wives. The discipline at home was strict and the only clothes dad ever paid for himself were school unifomrs, everything else was up to the mothers to provide. Nereah used to constantly be in trouble for disobeying her husband by going to church outreach events, going to worship, and taking her children with her. This also resulted in her husband refusing to build her a nice house or provide some of the things he would provide for other wives who did not disobey him. However, just as she prayed every morning when we entered the house and every night before we went to bed, she never gave up on her husband. She continued to pray and worship this God and his Son that She loved. After many years, many wives, her husband finally accepted God. This is when life on the plateau started to change into what is seen there today of a family with respect, love of God, and love for the many struggling families around them.
Zach and his mom, Nereah

If you have ever been frustrated by God's timing I hope you take the time to read this story again. The full context of it is even more amazing, but too long to tell here. I can promise you though, through the life experience of a woman who still only speaks her tribal language of Luo, yet who has been asked to speak at outreach events all over the country. God can and does change lives in his time and the most faithful person I have met in a long time is living proof.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

A Different Kind of Backpack Hostel

I know it has been a while since we have posted a blog, but I promise we have continued to learn about the culture and place where we live. One of the areas we have continually been updating our understanding is the area of Tanzania education. There are always challenges to educating teenagers no matter where you are. Some of them I am finding are the same, such as dealing with irate parents, and some of them are different such as our students not having any light at night with which to study. One request we have heard over and over again is a request for a place for students to stay and study away from home. We have heard this from students and parents and it is because of the challenges that come with trying to focus on school while also dealing with a very hard home life. Since we are a day school and do not have approval to build dormitories this only leaves one option…hostels.

current structure about the same size

Current foundation that will hopefully become a hostel building

A hostel is a term that is used here as a place for students to live and study while school is in session, a controlled environment with a night matron that is used by schools without official dorms. By and large these hostels are reserved for girls who experience even more barriers to completing their secondary education while at home than boys do. There are many barriers to receiving a good education for both boys and girls in Tanzania. They both go home to many chores such as fetching water, cooking, cleaning, working in the family farm, caring for little children, etc. Often times students will work from the time they get home until after dark. At this point they have no light to study with because the family cannot afford school fees and extra fuel for the lantern. You may think I am talking about the minority of students, but in fact I am talking about the majority of students who attend our school, especially since we are a mission school and try to look out for the students who are struggling as best we are able. These are challenges that many students face, but girls in Tanzania have additional challenges.

There are several reasons that a girl can be kicked out of school that do not affect boys. If a girl becomes pregnant or is married they are automatically expelled. You would think this is a small thing, but it has caused a high rate of abortion among teenage girls because they do not want to have to leave school. Being at a hostel with a strict night matron tends to cut down on the number of girls that get pregnant ;). There are also several families that will marry off their daughter if she is around the house because they get paid for her getting married. This makes it common for a struggling family to marry off their daughter who is still in school so that they have the money to continue to struggle for a little bit longer. However for a hostel, out of site out of mind, seems to play true in the experience of people here.

The last reason for a hostel is female circumcision or FGM. This is still a common practice with the tribe we currently work with. A hostel can be a place for girls to hide out during the season of circumcision. If she is not at home when the tribal rites are going on they will not take the time to do it later, so being in a hostel during this time does actually make her safe.

So we are hoping by the end of this year that we will be able to have some girls hanging their school backpacks up in our new hostel, a safe haven for them, their education, and their future.

*Note: If you are interested in supporting this project see our donate button on the right of the page.