Thursday, June 30, 2011

Drive, Drove, Driven

Summer break is a sacred time for kids in the US. There are sports games, swimming pools, and most importantly freedom from school. The summer months become all important for your average American teenager whose two desires are to stay up late so they can sleep in and earn money for that all important car, the true gateway to freedom. June has been Angel Secondary’s equivalent of a summer break. The weather is not that different from any other time of year, but school is closed. However, on most of our students minds is not freedom, sleeping in, or going swimming. Most of our students are still thinking education, education, education. Several of our teachers have gotten together and put on extra tuition (tutoring) for the students at Angel Secondary (and anyone else who wants to join them). Those students who are behind or who just want to get a bit ahead are able to come (for a little bit extra money) and continue to study during their summer break. Any teens in the US want to offer up their summer break for further education?
It has been inspiring to see these students who refuse to take their eyes off the prize of a good education. They are choosing to come and spend even more time in the classroom so that they can be ready for their national exams and so that their education really counts. Tuition is being held at the Romans Catholic Church in Tarime so that the students do not have to pay extra for transport out to Gamasara. The space is not exactly set up for a secondary school, it is actually a nursery school so the students are sitting on tiny chairs and writing on their laps, but they are excited to still be learning. These students have a drive for education and continue to be driven to learn. It is easy to be inspired to help those who are willing to work so hard to help themselves.

Check out the set-up for this extra time of learning. 

Friday, June 24, 2011


Statistics are just statistics until someone you know becomes one of those numbers. The infant mortality rate in Tanzania is 1 out of 15. I don’t know which other fourteen babies were able to live, but I do know the one that died. His mother’s name is Anna Magesa and his name will never be known. One of our night matrons carried her pregnancy to full term and on Thursday went to the hospital expecting to give birth to a healthy child. Instead of a healthy child she gave birth to a still born boy. A day of celebration turned into a day of mourning.

It is hard to put into words the feelings that followed the news and I will not try to express the feelings of the parents knowing that I could never come close. I know how devastated Liz felt in going from the anticipation of celebrating a new birth (something she loves to do) to the hard task of washing some of the blood from the mother’s clothing. And while death is always difficult, the view of a grave big enough for a full size man will never be as hard as having to help dig a grave that is was too small to fit the full length of the shovel into.

The time of less than an hour took the hope of a new life, the things he could have done and the happiness he could have experienced. It took the pride of a father at having another son and the love of a mother for another child. The time of less than an hour took away the seconds, minutes, and hours of a life that had yet to be lived. The time of less than an hour however did not take away our hope for the future, a future of a country and community that can still be shaped for the better. If you take fifteen babies I know the one that died. If you take thirty than there is another family and group of friends who had to suffer the same loss that Anna Magesa and her friends and family did. In working toward a better future for children and the education of students we are working to change those statistics. Numbers do not mean anything to that one family, but to slide the scale, to see the numbers change will represent real change for families in the future, even if it means only one more child out of thirty will be taken home to a celebration instead of to be buried in the corn field.

“Impact Children to Impact the World” - Grass Roots Ministries

FYI – Infant mortality rate in Tanzania is 1 out of 15. In the US it is 1 out of 166. Tanzania is ranked number 21 in the number of infant deaths out of all the countries in the world.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Tanzanian Scouting

Last week I spent time with our school’s scout troop during their week long camp. I taught a few different things and watched them grow as scouts and young adults. For some it was the first time to tie knots or lash together anything, let alone a structure that had to support their own weight. We had a few wilt under the culmination of daily hikes and workouts, but they persevered hopefully learning something about themselves in the process. They continued the great scout tradition of testing themselves and their skills in different challenges. Not everything was as I remember about the summer camp experience. Meals were taken outside, no dining hall in sight and with no tents to sleep in the concrete floor of a school classroom had to suffice. However, the emphasis on leadership, personal development, teamwork, and personal standards were all there. During a teaching session with Zach, the troop leader, and myself, one of the scouts asked, “What is a scout?” The question gave us both some pause, but I think the answer shows the universal nature of the scouting program.

A scout is one who goes ahead of others. Someone who sees what is ahead, either on the trail or in life. They advance ahead of their peers because of their work ethic and discipline, but because of their leadership and commitment to community they then return. Not continuing on ahead indefinitely, but coming back to guide others forward in the direction they have already been. They lead with sure footing because they are prepared for the task having already tested themselves on the challenges of life.

I give thanks to my own scouting experience and I hope my excitement shows through for getting to share with another generation of scouts, even if it is in a different part of the world. 


Sunday, June 5, 2011

Functional Aesthetics

Aesthetics as best I can understand it is the study of beauty. In a more minimal sense aesthetics is what is achieved when your throw blanket compliments the accents in your drapes, which are reflected nicely in the mirror because of the picture sitting next to it. So my question starting out is what do you find beautiful? Is it the chilled peaks of the Colorado Rockies or the Pieta at the Vatican? Is it the Egyptian pyramids or the Great Coral Reef? Maybe for some it is more simple than that, something like a three layer chocolate cake or the way your wife’s hair looks when she is first out of bed in the morning.

One thing all human beings do is to seek out beauty, whatever beauty may mean to you. Living in a world of function I am finding myself looking for beauty in different places. It is no longer just in the arts that I seek our beauty or even in views of nature. The sunset from the back porch of Angel House is breathtaking, but it is slightly marred by the trash brought on by the lack of any well run waste management company. Living in a place where so much is about function and so little time or resources are concerned about making something aesthetically pleasing, I am beginning to understand what people here see as beautiful…and I am starting to agree.

In America the too thin model is seen as the epitome of the female form, yet here beauty is seen in a woman that is healthy, meaning there is some weight beyond the skin and bones to be measured. This is because health is seen as more beautiful than forced perfection. The art of arranging food is passed up for having an abundance of food, enough for your family and your neighbors, because being able to share with the community is a thing of beauty.   The soaring picturesque landscape of a mud-brick house set against a field of corn is replaced with the view of a solid brick, plaster house with a tin roof and a wall, because it shows the security that a person is able to provide for their family. The art of aesthetics is taught in a different school when you live in a society of function.

So let me close with asking, what does God’s view of aesthetics look like? I feel like this is an important question for everyone, regardless of your religious expression, because while I have a definitive idea of who God is, everyone has a god they worship as supreme and a good judge of that god is what is his/their/its view of beauty? My God created flowers, by also healed the blind with spit and mud. He inspired Michelangelo’s Madonna, and washed dirty feet. He brought the waters together to form Niagara Falls and accepted as praise a man dancing in his underwear. What does he view as beautiful and what can we do to make him smile in the same way that I smile when I see the Angel House kids’ excitement over a celebration meal (it’s a lot of food and includes meat).

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.”
-          Philippians 4: 8