Tuesday, September 16, 2014

JBFC Transformations: From Guest to Leader

Editor’s Note: This week’s blogger is Travis Purser, Tulsa, OK, who first came to JBFC as a volunteer and now is the organization’s latest full-time employee.

When I made the decision to come to JBFC, I was unsure what I would be doing; how long I would stay; and if volunteering in Tanzania was really what I was looking for. I left my hometown in Oklahoma and boarded an international flight last December with only the hope that maybe I could find some clue as to where I wanted my life to go.

When I arrived, the Joseph and Mary Schools had just one class remaining before the end of the year break started. So for my first task as a new volunteer at JBFC, the staff asked if I would help find activities for the girls to do over their break, to keep them both physically active, as well as, actively practicing their English, reading and math skills. For the first month, every day fellow volunteer Elisa Masso and I would take all the JBFC girls out to participate in various activities such as math lessons, reading sessions, pen pals or playing fun games like capture the flag and soccer.
To be honest, the first week was a little stressful – not knowing the girls’ names; trying to figure out how to teach long division with remainders to kids whose first language isn’t English; learning the routines of campus; and trying to adjust to Tanzanian lifestyle. 

But it didn’t take long for that stress to fade away. By week two, I was hooked.
I was taken in by everything about JBFC and Tanzania. The people, the simple lifestyle, weather, wildlife, the incredible view of Lake Victoria. But most of all, it was the 44 girls that in only one week’s time made me realize that this place is exactly the one place I want to be. 

These new relationships and connections formed gave me such a sense of peace and happiness that I started to get the feeling that I might end up sticking around for quite a while.

After about two months, Chris and the JBFC staff asked if I would like to join the team as the guest coordinator. I was extremely excited to get to be a part of the JBFC team. The job would require me to work from March through August, having a completely different role with different responsibilities. Instead of focusing my day on the JBFC girls, I focused on making sure school groups and other volunteers had a schedule of activities that would help them get the most out of their time here. I got to spend a lot of time with our guests, and so I was there to watch each guest react to the impressive development of the campus and farm, our methods for self- sustainability via solar power electricity and a solar water pump, the girls’ home and, of course, the interactions with the JBFC girls.

 The most amazing part of my job, was getting to watch first time volunteers truly understand what an amazing place this really is. Seeing guests leave transformed – knowing they have the ability to change a life for the better; that they can make a difference in someone else’s life – is one of the most gratifying experiences I have ever felt. 

That’s when I knew I wanted to find a career in non-profit organizations, whether it be JBFC or somewhere else. Well, fortunately for me JBFC is trying to replicate its model in another community in Tanzania and recently posted an opening for another campus director (Editor’s Note: Seth Diemond is JBFC’s current campus director and will be helping to develop and eventually moving to JBFC’s second site). After some thought, I decided to give it a chance and apply for the job.

After several interviews and discussions, I am humbled and honored to say that I was offered, and have chosen to take the position. Just as my roles and responsibilities changed from volunteer to Guest Coordinator, my roles and responsibilities will change again as I move to Director-in-training. I have much to learn, but am excited and motivated to do everything in my power to help JBFC continue its mission. 

JBFC has done more for me in the last 9 ½ months than I begin to explain. It has made a difference in my life. It has changed my life.

 Now with the support of the JBFC team and my friends and family, I get the chance to give back, and do everything I can, to make a difference in as many people’s lives as I can.

Thank You, JBFC!

Travis Purser is a University of Tulsa graduate. He first came to JBFC in December of 2013 as a long-term volunteer, before being hired as the Guest Coordinator for JBFC’s Summer Volunteer Program. He will now serve as Director-in-Training, preparing to fill current Seth Diemond’s (JBFC’s Current Campus Director) shoes. Purser will become the Kitongo Campus Director, when Diemond moves to Northern Tanzania to start JBFC’s second campus.


Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Introducing JBFC's Mascot: Coney

Editor's Note: JBFC's Guest Blogger this week is of the four-legged variety. Coney is our beloved campus mascot and his canine charisma makes him a favorite of the JBFC girls and volunteers alike. Coney wanted to share his unique dog's-eye-view of JBFC's campus (but don't take his paw print too seriously).

Hi Friends!


For those of you who don’t know me- my name is Coney. I am JBFC’s mascot and everyone’s favorite thing in the WHOLE WIDE WORLD. There are so many of you out there who have not come to Tanzania to meet me yet, so I thought I would paw a quick letter and let you know about all the awesome things I get to see on JBFC’s campus every day and why more than 100 volunteers come to our campus every year to see ME! And, hopefully after reading this letter, you will want to come see me, too.

Morning is the best time of the day- because all of the people wake up and are just so excited to see me… and pet me… and play with me.

Also, Mama Mary comes in the morning- she is the one who cooks my food (which is amazing). She cooks for everyone in Dad’ house, but I think she likes me the best.


I get so excited every day to see all my friends wake up.  The girls wake up first. They have to sweep the dirt and water the plants every morning before school, even though I know they all secretly just want to play with me. After checking on them, I typically go up to my house, Dad is awake. SO EXCITING!
The volunteers take the longest to wake up- I wonder why they aren’t like the girls and get up early to see me? But, seriously, they really, really like their sleep. They like sleep almost as much as I do. But, when they do get up, the guesthouse porch is the best place to be- especially in June. In June, there are like 20 people in that house. THAT IS 40 HANDS TO LOVE ME! Too soon, petting time is over and all my new friends are off to do things around campus. Sigh!


It’s time to go check on my other friends. Did you know our school has 300 kids – that’s 600 HANDS TO LOVE ME! Yes, some of them are a little scared of me because I am so much bigger than them. But, I just want to be their friend. Maybe when they get bigger they will be okay with me.


Also, those 300 kids eat at the school dining hall two times a day. That is 600 plates of food every day! Oh, and it is so good. All of the kids love to share their food with me- and I try to entertain them by sitting or shaking, or doing something like that.

And, after the kids eat, if they haven’t been as generous as normal, I can head over to the girls’ dining hall where the big people eat their meals during the day. These are the people who work on campus and help dad. There’s about 70 of them (140 more hands). The staff love me. They always share because they think I am funny (I am pretty funny).

But, I can’t complain even if I don’t get food there, because there are four places where all they do is cook food on campus. First, there’s my bowl. It is mine, but I share it with the pigeons. Also, I already told you about the school dining hall and the girls’ dining hall. But, I haven’t mentioned the best smelling place on campus. They call it Papa’s- and strangers even come with their own cars to visit Papa’s because it smells so good. I’m not allowed at Papa’s- I don’t know why…maybe they haven’t heard how great I am?


Oh, and did you know that we have an awesome farm full of lots of meat…I mean, animals. My favorite days are slaughter days…OH MAN. I get the foot of whatever is being prepared. Pig is obviously my favorite- who doesn’t love pig? But, sheep is a pretty close second. The farm is getting bigger and bigger, so there’s more meat for me… I mean, the girls. MMMMM….and when they dry the bones, I can chew on them for days, and days, and days. I am not allowed to bring the bones in Dad’s house, though. That is a no-no.


And, the farm is full of lots of DIRT! When it gets really hot, and when I need to take a break from my human friends, dirt is exactly what I need. I love to dig myself a little bed and take a nap. Oh, how it cools me off. Next to being loved, sleep is my favorite thing. However, there are certain places I am not supposed to dig. And it seems the places where I’m allowed to roll around in the dirt are getting smaller. I haven’t quite figured out why everybody gets so upset with my digging… I did VERY GOOD holes. But I think it has something to do with all of the green things in the dirt. In fact in the last year, JBFC is getting greener and greener. My friends seem to spend a lot of time with those green things. They did holes too… but they don’t take naps in them like I do. Who knows what they’re doing? I don’t see the appeal, but it makes them happy.

After my nap, I am so excited because the kids come home. I know it must be rough to have been away from me for so long, so I do my best to comfort them from the time they come home until they go to bed. When Dad goes to the city, and is away from me all day long, he also needs lots of comforting. So, I do my best to stay close to EVERYONE and just spread my love.

It is often hard work to be a mascot on such a large campus, but it’s also pretty amazing. There are sooooo many awesome kids, people and FOOD. So, for those of you who are inspired by my letter but have not come to visit me yet, and see everything else that goes on here…WELCOME. And, I can’t wait for you to meet me. You can’t help but fall in love.

Okay, I have to go see what’s cooking.

Your new best friend,


Coney is an English Mastiff, who has lived at JBFC since he was born.

Monday, August 11, 2014

New Green Thumb on Campus

Guest blogger Lauren Lesch is completing her first three months at JBFC's campus in Tanzania. In this blog she describes how she took time out from her administrative duties to try her hand at farming.

I’ve been in Tanzania for three months now and most of my days consist of  running errands around campus, answering loads of emails (when there is a good internet connection), working with the Papa’s staff and doing my best to make sure things are in order.

In mid-July, I picked up a hoe (the farming utensil) for the first time and headed out to the farm with Marcus, JBFC's expert farm hand. We spent the morning planting okra and cucumber seeds, along  with a baby jackfruit tree. It was definitely hard work, back-breaking work actually, especially for a city girl that has never hurled a hoe from the ground, up over her shoulder, around her head, and back into the ground again. Marcus made it look effortless but trust me, I exerted A LOT of effort each and every time I had to dig.

The following week I was able to plant a crop from start to finish. I did not realize how much time was spent preparing the beds before you even bury the seeds. No wonder I have a hard time growing flowers and herbs in the States! First I hoed about seven rows of beds, making a rectangle that was slightly lifted off the ground. Next I dug eight holes in each bed. Afterwards I filled each hole with fertilizer, also known as goat manure. Next I had to mix the fertilizer with the dirt so that there was equal parts of each for the seeds to be planted in. And did I mention that I mixed with my HANDS! It was approaching noon at this point and the Tanzanian sun can get pretty hot so I stopped for the afternoon and came back that evening to finally plant. I water all the beds down and transplanted baby Chinese cabbage from one large bed to each individual hole so they would have their own space to deepen their roots and grow. I finished with another round of watering and called it a day.

A shower and a scrub underneath my fingernails was in order!

As hard as the work was for me, it was also very therapeutic. Since I was so new to farming, I had to really concentrate on what I was doing, making sure not to screw up. Often good intentions without attention to detail can create more work for JBFC farm staff - crooked bed lines or digging holes to small or too big, or in the wrong place just means farm workers would have to re-do all of it. I didn’t want that to be me!

Not only was it good physical exercise but also allowed me to clear my mind since I couldn’t think of anything else besides the task at hand. I felt a sense of accomplishment in the fact that I finished a project from start to finish, not knowing anything about what I was doing beforehand, but learning from our staff as we went along.

I plan to continue my work on the farm at least once a week in order to change up my daily routine and rejuvenate my mind. I am so thankful for all the new experiences I am having through JBFC especially this one!

Lauren Lesch is the assistant for JBFC's Executive Director, Chris Gates. She's from Dallas, TX, but lives at JBFC in Tanzania full time.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Life Lessons

Thinking back on my childhood growing up in Portland, Maine (a long way away from Kitongo, Tanzania), one of my fondest memories is of grocery shopping with my father. I can vividly remember waking up on Saturday or Sunday mornings, jumping in the car, and heading off to the grocery store and the farmers market. There, I would help my dad pick out the groceries for the week, push (and sometimes ride) the cart, help pay at the cash register and carry the bags of food. Looking back now, these excursions into the real world weren’t just about the toy I’d be able to pick out at the end of the day (though at the time I was positive they were). These trips with my dad served an important role in my upbringing.

With all that is going on here on campus this year- transitioning to 100% solar power, moving the farm closer and closer to our sustainability goals, opening of a new dorm where we will accept new girls into our family, construction of our administration building, many dozens of wonderful guests- it is easy to forget the little things that we do here in our attempt to create well-rounded, caring, knowledgeable, girls who will one day be self-reliant citizens who make positive contributions to the world. Here are a few of my favorites, in three parts!

Family Market Day

For the past few months Mama Maggie, our head matron, has been taking small groups of girls with her to the market every Sunday to help her with shopping for things like cooking oil, flour, rice, soap, laundry detergent and spices. We started with the oldest girls first, usually taking four or five per week, and moving down grade by grade so that as many girls as possible would have the chance.

This particular Saturday morning was the youngest girls’ turn to go shopping with Mama Maggie. By the time I got out of bed and went to the girls’ home at around 8 AM, I found not four or five girls ready to go, but 13 girls dressed in their nicest clothes, carrying purses, and some wearing earrings. Bhoke had even applied lipstick.

While this may have been one of the cutest encounters of my life- it was surely a scene right out of “Little Rascals”- it was also an important day for the girls. During their field trip to the market the girls learn important skills that will help them later in life. They learn the price of food and supplies, learn how to barter at the market, are taught about family budgeting (although they may want to eat chicken and potatoes seven days per week, it just isn’t possible!), help in ensuring quality control by picking through and selecting only the best products, and learn teamwork through working together. 

At the end of a hot day in a dusty, sweaty market, the girls are treated to a soda as recognition for their hard work. While tough, it is an experience that the girls generally look forward to as they get to spend some time out in the world- always dressed in their Sunday best.

Global Citizens

With our guest and internship programs we often use the term “Global Citizens” in reference to the many wonderful people who pass through our campus. Through their experiences, we hope to give them diverse perspectives and a global outlook on the world to use as they navigate through school, careers, and family life.

 But how do we instill these same perspectives in our girls without traveling the many hundreds of miles to visit another country? One way is through media.

Twice per week, we buy JBFC’s secondary girls two English language newspapers. The girls then sit for hours thumbing through articles on elections in India (the world’s largest democracy), educating women in Afghanistan (astonishing advances have been made in recent years), violence in Nigeria (Boko Haram), peace talks in the Middle East, refugees in South Sudan.

 Sitting with these girls, discussing issues that they may have an impact on someday as leaders of their generation will be some of my best memories of JBFC. The girls can be found, long after dark, sitting outside under a tree debating the merits of one point of view or another.

Leadership Through Church

Through their experiences, we hope that all of the JBFC girls become leaders in their communities and role models for generations of girls to come. One way of creating confident leaders is through our prayer services and church here on campus. As anyone who has visited campus can tell you, various girls lead our nightly prayer services and Sunday morning Church services. Hearing Salome sing “Mambo Sawa Sawa” or Nyamisi lead “Mwamba Mwamba” are consistently guest favorites. They select the Bible readings, lead the prayers, call on contributors, and make general announcements regarding our JBFC community.

This past week, however, several of our girls have been provided a new opportunity to learn leadership through religion. One of the local churches in Kitongo has elected Eliza, Liku, Nyamisi, Nyamalwa, and Lau to be the representatives for all of the young adults and children in their congregation. With this opportunity, the girls will be given the chance to help plan services and events and to lead discussions with the young adults about the issues in their lives. On Sunday, I attended church with these girls and a couple of our guests (John, Ari, and James). What I saw was amazing. Not only did they help plan the service, but they were in charge of organizing all of the activities going on at the church that day- lunch, decorations, discussion time for young adults, child care for the toddlers. Eliza has been asked to teach Sunday school to the youngest members of the congregation- something I am confident she will excel at. 

With all of the big items on our daily, weekly, annual to-do lists, it is easy to forget that we are, in every way shape and form, a big family. We strive to make sure these 44 girls get all of the experiences that make a family, well, a family. We encourage them to try new things. We are proud of their accomplishments. We use moments of failure or frustration to teach and to build. Whether it’s cooking lessons from Dad, swimming with Melinda, or choir practice and Bible readings with Markus, we strive to give these girls as many tools as possible to succeed in the future. In the end, we are confident that the JBFC girls will look back on their time here with fond memories of a loving, productive childhood.

Seth Diemond is JBFC's Campus Director.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Putting the Bee in JBFC

All of our farm staff is extremely excited about a new addition on the farm….HONEYBEES! Because of the generous donations we received during our annual KUWA fundraising event in Tulsa, OK and the Children of Africa Day gifts, we were able to raise enough money to buy hives, train a staff person in the art of beekeeping, and purchase the equipment necessary to start the process and keep it going.

JBFC’s assistant campus manager, Marcus, was very excited to head out for a week of beekeeper training earlier this summer in Central Tanzania. When he returned he brought back with him five hives, a “killer" bee outfit, and plenty of knowledge on how to raise honeybees and produce honey.

JBFC decided to pursue beekeeping when we realized how important bees are to the agricultural crops that we grow on campus and other crops around the world. According to the US Department of Agriculture, bees pollinate 80 percent of all flowering crops, which make up a third of the human diet. Cucumbers, passion fruit, papaya, okra, tomatoes, onions, and sunflower seeds are just some of the foods that are grown on the JBFC campus that rely on bee pollination.

It’s easy to think that bees are such a nuisance with the buzzing noise they make in your ear and the welt they leave on your skin after a painful sting. Many people are quick to swat bees with the bottom of a flip-flop, but on a farm they're essential partners in keeping our farm producing hundreds of pounds of fruit and veggies a week. At JBFC, we want to continue to feed our girls, staff and community with healthy food items that come straight from our garden. With an increase in bees on campus, we are increasing the amount of crops being pollinated and in time, will result in more fruits and vegetables for all of us to enjoy.

Another big benefit of raising honeybees is of course for the honey! Each of our five hives is estimated to produce 40-50 liters of honey each year.

Honey is a delicious natural sweetener so we plan to replace the normal sugars that the JBFC girls currently use in things like sweet tea, which they have almost every morning at breakfast. These sugars are a fairly large budget item for us, roughly $1,400 a year (that's enough to pay for two girls to live at JBFC and attend school for the entire year).

Honey is also a healthier alternative to white sugar. Furthermore, many of our girls suffer from seasonal allergies. By consuming local honey, their bodies will slowly grow accustomed to the pollens and allergens in our area. All in all, having these bees on our campus is beneficial and profitable in many, many ways.

So, next time you visit the JBFC campus, you can look forward to a glass of honey tea that came straight from our farm!

Chris Gates is JBFC's Founder & Executive Director.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Unsung Heroes: The JBFC Mamas

Editor's Note: It's becoming something of a tradition for one of our Texas friends to treat the JBFC Mamas to a special dinner. They have appetizers, pizza, dessert, lots of laughter and sign language (most of our matrons are still learning English).

The Mamas are a few of the unsung heroes on JBFC's campus. They are on the frontlines of caring for our children. They make sure everyone is fed, clean, happy and healthy. They make sure homework is finished and chores are done. They nurture, comfort, and guide. So we'd like to spend this blog introducing you to our Mamas and thanking them for their service.

Mama Maggie is from the Mwanza area (Tanzania's 2nd largest city). She has four children of her own and before she came to JBFC she farmed and worked at a small restaurant. She says she came to work for JBFC, so that she could be more self-sufficient after her divorce. She's been with JBFC for about three and a half years and her daily duties, include cooking, cleaning, laundry, and being a role model for the JBFC girls.

Mama Nyambuli has been with JBFC for two years. She's from a village called Musoma. She decided to work for JBFC because it was a better opportunity for her family. She says farming is much harder than caring for girls and she is happy she made the change. Her favorite thing is being a caretaker

Mama Paulina has a background in childcare and is first aid certified. She's been with JBFC for about eight months and enjoys being with the girls the most.

Mama Maria is our newest Mama. She's also from Mwanza. Before she came to work at JBFC she sold street food. She came to JBFC to be able to better provide for her children. Her favorite thing about her job is seeing the girls learn English!

We are so grateful to the JBFC Mamas for all of their hard work. They're just one more example of how JBFC is promoting change throughout our community. We don't just help the girls we take care of or the students we teach. We provide steady employment for women like the JBFC Mamas, who might not be able to earn a livable wage otherwise.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Making Science Fun, Pt 2

Editor's Note: Guest Blogger Borna Kassiri was an intern at JBFC this summer, who worked to improve the science curriculum at Joseph & Mary Schools. To read the first part of his blog, click here.

When we last left off, I had tested out my lab curriculum and started meeting with the Joseph and Mary faculty about teaching the labs. Now that I have arrived safely at home and had a chance to reflect on my trip, I believe that my project wrapped up successfully!

Preparing for my first lab session, I brought the appropriate glassware I had bought into the Form 3 (10th grade) classroom. I saw the students’ faces light up with curiosity. These anxious, smart students seemed excited about having a chance to interact with chemistry.

 I vividly remember my first lab period. The chemistry teacher and I co-facilitated a lab called Forming Precipitates, where the students mixed two clear solutions (one of magnesium sulfate, or Epsom Salt, and the other of sodium carbonate, or Washing Soda) and produced a white, insoluble solid in their combined solution.

I introduced the lab and the concepts being explored (double replacement reactions), wrote out the procedure on the board, explained how to use the glassware, and told the students that they were free to perform the lab in groups. At first, they were apprehensive, not sure if they were able to perform an entire lab on their own. However, with a little encouragement, some groups started to grab some beakers and chemicals, and they began following the steps independently. The scene quickly turned into something I could have only hoped for. The students were talking to each other questioning their actions and clarifying the procedural steps. They were measuring water using graduated cylinders and obtaining the right amount of chemicals. The classroom turned into a true chemistry lab period. The students’ intense focus, curiosity, and hard work proved to me that they were really enjoying their interaction with chemistry. I just had to stand back and watch the science unfold.

You can imagine their faces when they completed the lab successfully. They were surprised, excited, and eager to learn about what they had just observed. All of a sudden, they bombarded the teacher and I with questions. It filled my heart with joy to see them so enthusiastic about the lab because, at that moment, I knew that they would really benefit from the curriculum.

Throughout the rest of my stay, the majority of my labs proceeded similarly to my first one, even with different grades (including Grade 7, Form 1, and Form 2). Each class brought their own enthusiasm and independence to the lab sessions. I ended the trip with the satisfaction that my lab curriculum would sustain through the efforts of the chemistry teacher and the Joseph and Mary faculty. Through my co-facilitation and meetings with the chemistry teacher, I am confident that he will be able to perform the labs with the students in the years to come. I cannot wait to go back to JBFC in the coming years to see all of the wonderful people and check in on how the labs are going!

Borna Kassiri is a Duke University Junior. He has visited JBFC two summers in a row.