Thursday, January 22, 2015
As the daughter of missionaries I was fortunate to spend most of my childhood in Venezuela. This opportunity not only made it possible for me to easily learn a second language, it also instilled in me a love for travel and for learning about other cultures. When I returned to the U.S. for college my plan was to finish my degree and then to go live “overseas” again.
Life, as usually happens, took a bit of a different turn than I expected and I have been living for the past five years in Tulsa, OK (which – honestly - is a very different culture to me). Through the years I have had the opportunity to work for a number of great organizations, such as the Salvation Army Boys and Girls Club, and to use my Spanish skills in a program with Latina women to help reduce diabetes through lifestyle changes. I have also been able to travel to different parts of the world such as Israel, Egypt, and last summer to Nicaragua.
Through all of this I have been on the look-out for the “perfect” job: one where I could continue to live in Tulsa but work for an organization that impacts and makes a difference in the global community. When a friend told me about the job opening at JBFC I was elated (I’m pretty sure I e-mailed Ashli that very afternoon). The more I learned about JBFC the more it seemed like a perfect fit for me. Its focus on sustainability, the Tanzania community involvement, and the multi-pronged approach to reduce poverty are important aspects for an organization I work for. The focus on empowering girls was also a selling point for me as a firm believer in creating equal opportunities for girls and boys.
Evidently the JBFC staff thought I would be a good fit, too, (or else there were no other applicants) and I began work as JBFC’s Office Manager two weeks ago. I am excited to join the JBFC family on this journey and to play my part as one of the U.S. staff. The only thing that makes me sad is that it will be a while before I get a chance to visit Tanzania and meet the girls. In the meantime I will get to know them through their pictures and letters I send to sponsors, the stories volunteers bring back, and through the beautiful pictures on the blog and web page. I will work on my Swahili and read all the books I can on Tanzania. I am looking forward to getting to know all of the U.S. supporters who make it possible for the vision of JBFC to continue. I’m sure you will be hearing from me at some point. Please feel free to email me or call me or come grab a cup of coffee with me and we can practice our Swahili together.
Monday, January 19, 2015
Today is Joseph and Mary School’s first day of classes for the 2015 school year.
Students began flowing in at 8 o’clock sharp for morning assembly. They gathered in their royal blue shirts in courtyard of the primary and secondary schools to sing the national anthem in unison. Afterwards they met their teachers, got their desks ready, and then headed to breakfast in the dining hall (one of the two meals provided by JBFC to all students to prepare them for a productive day of learning).
Today is also special because it is the 5th anniversary of the opening of the Joseph and Mary schools. (To read more about why JBFC's school is called Joseph & Mary, click here)
When we opened our doors in January of 2010, I never dreamed our school would come so far this quickly. This time five years ago, we opened our doors with just 60 kids. But we were soon overwhelmed by the demand for quality education in our area and we were soon filling 100 seats and ended the year with twice that.
I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised by the response to Joseph & Mary. Our neat U-shaped block of classrooms, stacked with desks and chairs, filled with books and learning toys, each headed by a certified teacher, was a far cry from the local government school just a few hundred yards away. That school was the reason we were determined to open Joseph & Mary in the first place. At the time, it had 900 students and three teachers. Hundreds of kids crammed shoulder to shoulder in classes with no learning materials and, often, no adult supervision in sight.
And the difference in clear not just in appearance, but in academics. Our students consistently outperform surrounding schools (government schools and other private ones). We’ve had our struggles and in the beginning the learning curve was steep, for our students and for JBFC, as an organization. But we prove day in and day out that good teachers, access to quality tools, and hard work pays off.
In 2010, none of our students spoke a word of English, and now they can communicate in English as a second language. Joseph and Mary has been ranked in the top 3.5% of schools in the entire country. 100% of our students have passed the Tanzania national exams every year, since we opened. That’s truly something, when you consider most of Tanzanian students fail the national exam every yea
While we’ve accomplished a lot in the last four years, but we are, by no means, slowing down. We want our schools to continue to succeed, so we have set our sights on these goals to make sure Joseph & Mary students thrive.
Education Goals for 2015:
- Begin a character education program.
- Strengthen partnerships with local schools.
- Create more extra-curricular clubs (an idea that makes us unique in Tanzania – click here for more on the clubs offered last year.)
- Give all secondary students weekly access to eReaders.
- Integrate Khan Academy and other internet-based educational resources utilizing tablets for 5th through Form 4 (11th Grade).
- Improve literacy by implementing 45 minutes of silent reading at the end of each school day.
- Leverage international school partnerships to help improve Joseph & Mary Teacher development.
JBFC is lucky and grateful to have some wonderful school partners throughout the U.S. They have helped tremendously with teacher development. While professional development is expected and often required for American teachers, it’s a little harder to come by in rural Tanzania. Thanks to our partners, our teachers are learning new teaching methods and strategies and are regularly incorporating them into the classroom.
I especially want to recognize Robbin Hawkins and Kim Ferguson from Sarah Lawrence University in Bronxville, NY, who helped run an entire week of teacher development last week. These two women were wonderful additions to our teacher training, providing unique insight for our staff members. We can’t thank them enough for sharing their time and talents. We hope we can continue to grow this kind of support from our international partners in 2015.
While I’m excited and thrilled to begin another year at Joseph & Mary, this one is a little bittersweet. Because this year, we will say goodbye to our first graduating class!
I cannot believe that these students are ready to graduate and go out into the world. These students who started secondary school in my living room, because we had no secondary school at the time, will now be heading off to higher education, training programs, and work. I am so proud of these students. According to the UN only 1 in 4 Tanzanian students is even attending secondary school, let alone graduating. I can’t wait to see what these bright young men and women do with their education.
We are hoping to prepare all of our students to be not only good students, but also good citizens of the world. We especially hope to prepare our graduating seniors to go out into the world as intelligent and independent individuals with strong JBFC values and that they will share what they have learned with others.
Blogger Chris Gates is JBFC's Founder & CEO.
Wednesday, December 31, 2014
As an eternal optimist (this is no shocker to those who know me well…or even slightly well), New Year's Eve is always an exciting time for me.
It is the one time of the year when you are supposed to look forward. You make promises and goals for the next year, and it is actually socially acceptable to dream. So, in honor of the season's spirit, I wanted to share with all of you a few things I am excited about for JBFC in 2015.
First and foremost, I am excited to see our first batch of students and girls flourish into their next phase of life! Thirty students, eight of which are our own JBFC residential girls, will be graduating our secondary school and moving on into the world.
Some of them will be getting apprenticeships and jobs, some of them will be going to trade schools, and others will go on for higher education. No matter what the path, I am excited to see these girls we have spent almost eight years raising grow into beautiful, young women, who are truly making an impact on their communities.
But, 2015 doesn’t just mean the graduation of our girls- we as an organization are graduating! We have been growing rapidly for almost nine years and 2015 will be no different. However, 2015 will represent some significant milestones – we are growing in Tanzania, adding a second campus in an entirely different community and taking in an entirely new set of neglected girls. We are also growing in the U.S., adding more staff and moving into a new office. We are not only graduating our girls, but we, as an organization, are growing and maturing.
I am excited for the ride ahead, but most importantly, I am excited to share this ride with you. Each and every single one of you is a valuable member of our JBFC family and only with your presence can all of our 2015 goals become a reality. I look forward to being in touch and seeing and speaking with all of you in 2015!
One last plug, if you haven’t already given a year-endtax-deductible donation to JBFC, please donate by clicking here.
Happy New Year!!!
Chris Gates is JBFC's Founder, CEO & Head Dreamer
It seems like I say this every year, but it’s still true – 2014 was an amazing year for JBFC.
And before I get in to just how amazing, I want to take a moment to say THANK YOU!
Thank you to everyone who read a blog, liked a post on Facebook, shared a picture, told someone about JBFC, and donated their time, their sweat, and their money. We could not accomplish what we do in Tanzania without all of your love, support, and prayers. All of our successes this year are your successes… because you made them possible. So, Asante, which is Swahili for Thank You.
JBFC saw our campus, staff, our girls and our mission grow this year.
One of the things I am most excited about this year is JBFC’s new healthcare clinic. Despite a series of starts and stops, we fulfilled our promise to provide access to healthcare for our community. JBFC’s model rests on four pillars – refuge for vulnerable girls, education, economic development through agriculture and access to healthcare. We know you can’t climb your way out of poverty if you’re waylaid by disease. JBFC opened its clinic in October and started treating dozens of patients.
We also welcomed our new nurse, Paskazia, to the team. She is also serving as role model and matron for our girls. If you ever wonder what your support means to JBFC, this is a perfect example of the power of your faith and commitment. Thanks to an anonymous donor in Tulsa, we were able to finish our administration building which houses the clinic. Thanks to donors in New York we were able to stock the clinic with supplies and had the money to hire Paskazia. Donors who bought tiles at JBFC’s fundraiser paid for medical check-ups for our students, many of whom wouldn’t see a qualified medical professional otherwise. When I think of all of the people who made this clinic possible, I am blown away by the generosity of our friends. You guys truly are amazing.
In 2014, JBFC’s Joseph & Mary Schools continued to shine. Thanks to a determined young JBFC Ambassador we now have 90 eReaders and a library of tablets to enrich our students’ educations (Read more about Nina McManus’ project here). Our 7th graders once again had a 100% pass rate on the Tanzanian National Exam. That’s the fourth year in a row and it places us in the top 3.5% of schools in the entire nation. And our students made connections across the globe writing to pen pals in Bronxville, NY, Tulsa, OK and Charlottesville,VA.
JBFC’s Farm has had its most productive year to date. We can’t thank our Permaculture Pals, Mark Shepherd, EJ & Sophie Oppenheimer enough for their expertise, back-breaking hard work, and insight. Thanks to the programs they helped us put in place, we’re harvesting nearly 400 pounds of food a week! When you serve 200,000 meals a year – that means a lot!!! Thanks to our supporters JBFC was also able to go 100% solar this year. Our water and electricity are now all powered by the sun. All in all, we’re saving money, improving nutrition, and starting a mini green revolution in our village.
2014’s Guest Season was also one for the record books. We had more than 100 volunteers again this year, many of them were high school students hailing from all over the U.S. They worked hard, played hard, and were hard to forget. The girls hope to see you all back next year.
Speaking of our girls…
Look how big they got…
I mean look at little Esther
Just two years ago…
When people ask me what I’m most proud of… these girls are it.
We welcomed two new girls to the family this year, Leah and Lucy, as we prepare for our oldest girls to start the next phase of their lives. We have eight rising seniors, who are slated to graduate from secondary school at the end of 2015. This is a bittersweet moment for me personally, since I’ve watched these little girls grow into young women over the last seven years. But I’m bursting with pride that our girls are doing something many girls in Tanzania, many girls in the world, never do – they’re finishing secondary school. These young ladies will have the tools to make a good life for themselves. JBFC will always be there home, I will always be Dad, but soon they will be leaving the nest. We’re excited and nervous, but mostly excited (all you parents out there know what I’m talking about).
Once again, thank you for being part of our 2014. This highlight reel doesn’t even come close to capturing all of the great things that happened on campus. And please remember your support matters.
If you’re one of the 90 people who have already given, on behalf of our girls, students, and staff, I truly thank you from the bottom of my heart. You will help us continue to make a difference in the world.
If you are considering making a year-end contribution, please think about giving to JBFC. Your donation will mean more than a tax break – your impact is immediate and can last a lifetime.
I’ll have more on what’s next for JBFC in 2015 later this week. Happy New Year!
Chris Gates is JBFC’s Founder and CEO.
Posted by Ashli at 2:46 AM
Monday, December 29, 2014
The stockings were stacked by the window with care.
Hundreds of gifts appeared under the tinseled mango tree.
All 45 girls came up to Dad's house for biscuits, gravy and scrambled eggs to kick off the day.
Then the dinner preparations began. Every kitchen and oven on campus was enlisted to help make this massive feast to feed the 80-plus guests expected that evening. We had visitors from South Africa and the U.S. and many JBFC staff members join us to help make the JBFC Christmas merry.
The celebration began with a Christmas prayer by Marcus, translated into English by Salome. Babu (a.k.a Ron Gates) and the choir then did an a'capella rendition of "Angels in Blue Jeans" by Train that they had been working on in the days leading up to Christmas. The girls did great! Babu, on the other hand, well that's another story...
After dinner, the girls started opening their stockings and gifts. Bronxville students provided goodies for the stockings. Our South African friends, Jacques and Rene, monogrammed cosmetic bags filled with goodies for each girl.
Mama Lauren and Mama Melinda (my mom) both sent colorful homemade pillowcases over for all the girls. Jim Agnello had a JBFC baseball cap made for everyone in attendance.
We aren't sure what the girls screamed louder for -- the new fans for the dining hall or their new DVD player. Each dorm got a special treat from Bibi and Babu (a.k.a Carene [Bibi:Grandma] & Ron [Babu:Grampa] Gates), ukuleles and lessons from Babu while he's in Tanzania!
We closed the celebration with a few pambio, traditional Swahili response songs. Marcus, our assistant campus manager and resident choir director, put the icing on the cake with a very spirited version of Mambo Sawa, Sawa.
This translates to "All things are OK, OK" which they were. We hope you all had as great a day as we did.
JBFC would like to extend a special thank you to everyone who made this Christmas so special for the children of JBFC this year! We really appreciate you: Wyn Lesch, Marilyn Wulf, Jacques & Rene, Jim Agnello, and the community of Bronxville, and Carene and Ron Gates.
Melinda Wulf is JBFC's Administrative Director. This is her second Christmas at JBFC.
Posted by Ashli at 12:30 AM
Monday, December 15, 2014
Editor's Note: Travis Purser is chronicling his training to become JBFC's next campus director. Read how Travis went from volunteer to full-time employee, by clicking here.
About four months ago I was promoted from Volunteer Coordinator to Campus Director in Training. I will take over as Campus Director here in Kitongo, once our current Campus Director, Seth Diemond, moves to JBFC's second campus.
To say the least I was (and still am) extremely excited and honored to be given such a unique and amazing opportunity.
Seth will leave behind some pretty large shoes to fill, so I've embarked on a training mission to learn as much as I can about JBFC's many programs. At it's core the campus director's job sounds simple -- manage the day to day operations of this 70-acre campus. But with more than 70 employees, as many acres, and dozens of programs happening at once -- this can be a big job requiring a lot of juggling.
The first step in my training process was managing JBFC's restaurant and hotel, Papa's.
This task gives me the chance to supervise and work with an all-Tanzanian staff, help overlook and improve the restaurant inventory, and help create, stock, advertise and execute Papa's ever changing menu.
At times there have been minor issues, usually involving communication. For instance, when I asked a server recently, "to please put out butter and jelly with a brunch item." The server quickly left for the kitchen and promptly returned with a lovely plate of butter and chili sauce. I realized very quickly that "jelly" and "chili" can sound the same to a non-native English speaker. "Butter and jam" is probably the better choice of words for next time.
The Papa's shopping requires me to go into the city of Mwanza, talk with venders and shop for whatever items is needed that week. This has helped me improve in lots of things, from my Swahili to learning how much a crate of soda costs and how to get a pail of ripe tomatoes. I now know how to navigate around Mwanza to all sorts of different stores and shops and estimate the amount of food needed to get us through the week without over-purchasing.
Another cool job I get to do is help create the weekly menu. Papa's is the only farm-to-table restaurant in the Mwanza area (which is very cool and unique) and every week we take produce from our farm and turn it into our menu! So every week I talk to our agriculture manager, find out the produce available then meet with our chef to create the menu.
I can't wait to start doing more and more things around campus as my training continues, but I cant reiterate enough what this first step is teaching me.
To all the Mwanza people reading this, come on out and visit us soon!
Check out the food, the lakeside view, and more on Papa's Facebook page.
Blogger Travis Purser is a native Tulsan. He's lived at JBFC in Tanzania for a year.
Thursday, December 11, 2014
JBFC is proud to announce that six of JBFC's residential girls earned those top slots. The following is a quick introduction to these stellar students. If you're interested in supporting a student's education, please click here.
Before Shida joined the JBFC family two years ago, she had never regularly attended school. Now she's at the top of her class. Her teacher says her behavior is good and she received excellent marks in reading and writing.
Like her sister, Shida, Gertruda also never regularly attended school until two years ago. But that hasn't stopped her from excelling. Her favorite subjects are Math and English and she received top marks in both.
Zai continues to be a standout student. She made straight A's this year, despite spending more than a month visiting the U.S. in April and May. Math and English are her favorite subjects.
Laurencia tends to be recognized for her soccer skills, but this jock is also an all-star in the classroom. She's at the head of the class and her favorite subjects are science and math.
Abby, 6th Grade
Abby received top marks in science, which is one of her favorite subjects along with math and English. She's working hard in the classroom now, so she can achieve her dream of becoming a businesswoman when she grows up.
Maggie, Form 1 (8th grade)
Maggie finished her first year of secondary school near the top of her class. Her favorite subject is Biology, which she aced, but she also did well in History and Civics. She wants to be a lawyer when she grows up.