Tuesday, October 21, 2014
As all good Tanzanian stories start, it began with a breakdown. We were on the road, going only 35mph through the Serengeti when we get the call.
“Chris, I have good news, and bad news,” JBFC Campus Director Seth Diemond said in his typical matter-of-fact manner.
“Bad news: you’re not here,” Seth continued. “Good news: DC has agreed to come open our clinic…in two hours.”
We were miles away from campus, but all I could think about was the long road we’ve been on to bring healthcare to our children. There have been road blocks and speed bumps (much like the road I was on currently), but we were finally opening our own medical clinic. And the greenlight couldn’t have come at a better time.
Healthcare is still a rarity in rural Tanzania. The nearest doctor is still a 12-mile walk away. Recent stats have the shortage of doctors and nurses topping 89,000. Just at JBFC, we counted 90 school days lost because of sickness.
Thanks to our friends, JBFC is finally going to be able to do something about the healthcare crisis in our little part of the world. We have finally built our own little clinic; we’ve hired a qualified nurse; and we’ve stocked the clinic with supplies. A healthier tomorrow is just over the horizon… and I wasn’t going to let an impending two-hour deadline and the dozens of miles separating me from campus put the brakes on this celebration.
While I was driving safely, but swiftly (very swiftly) back to campus, there was a flurry of activity to get ready for the clinic ribbon-cutting and dedication. Mzee Kitula worked hard on the foundation stone, a traditional Tanzanian custom for dedicating a new building. Markus (who will soon be officially designated decorator in chief – see the pictures of our 7th grade graduation) got to work making sure everything looked nice and festive.
I made it back to campus just in time to greet our honored guests – an honored they were. The District Commissioner (the equivalent of a mayor), Jacqueline Liana, brought seven government officials with her, which is a testament to how important this clinic is not only to us at JBFC, but to our greater community. DC Liana was just as excited about the opportunity to provide this type of care to our community as we were. There were speeches, a fancy lunch with spiced rice, and a tour of the clinic and the new administrative building where it’s housed.
But it wasn’t all pomp and circumstance. Our clinic is already working to get the JBFC community on the road to better health. For the grand opening, there were tours, talks, and tests at the JBFC Clinic.
Local doctors have told me that one of the most undiagnosed critical conditions facing our district is diabetes. So on our inaugural day, we decided to do diabetes pre-tests. We tested 28 people and found:
- 40% had extremely high sugar levels and are considered pre-diabetic.
- 20% had elevated sugar levels and should be extremely cautious.
Possibly more concerning than the blood sugar test results was the pop quiz that happened just outside the clinic. Seth asked the line of kids outside if they knew what diabetes was. One kid eagerly raised his hand and answered, “Yes! It’s cancer!” Once again, we were reminded why this clinic is so needed.
We have a long road ahead of us. We need to educate our kids, our staff and our neighbors, we need to continue to provide healthcare screenings, and we need to provide more healthcare.
Many of our students are not as healthy as they should be. Many of them need the care that we’re now able to provide. And that means our students and community members will soon be able to focus on the things they need to focus on – doing well in school, working hard to feed their families, and making their lives better.
And, that is exactly why we are here.
Blogger Chris Gates is the Founder & CEO of JBFC, which provides refuge for girls, primary and secondary education, economic development through agriculture, and access to healthcare.
Thursday, October 16, 2014
Name: Paskazia Emmanuel
Hometown: Shinyanga, Tanzania
School: Bugando School of Nursing
Why did you want to become a nurse?
PE: I wanted to be a nurse since pre-school, when I got sick with chicken pox. My mother took me to the hospital and later brought me home. Upon reaching home, my mother was still worried, so she called a nurse to come help take care of me at home. The way the nurse took care of me, gave me medicine and lotion, fed me, really stuck with me. And that’s what inspired me to be a nurse and care for others. Also, my aunt is a nurse and she’s my role model.
Why do you want to work at JBFC?
PE: I love to help and advise kids and teenagers, as they become young adults. I’m excited about working for JBFC because it gives me the chance to help children find their passions and dreams in life- not necessarily in school but also in other ways.
What do you think of the new clinic?
PE: I love it. It is plenty big!
What do you like to do outside of work?
PE: I enjoy reading newspapers.
This is the nurse's station Paskazia setup in JBFC's Dorm F.
Monday, October 13, 2014
I’ve learned you can never have your hair braided too much, or hear the little girls sing “Let it Go” from Frozen (if you haven't seen the JBFC girls singing Let it Go... click on over to Facebook www.facebook.com/JBFCTanzania) too many times (ok, maybe there is a limit to that).
Kids all over the world will pretend that they can’t hear you when you tell them it’s time to get out of the pool.
I have learned just enough Swahili to continually cause confusion and fits of laughter for Kanaeli, our campus shopper and driver.
I finally learned how to light a gas stove without screaming. Hint: buy a long handled lighter. (I’d say I learned to cook here, but that would be a bold-faced lie.)
I learned how to slaughter a chicken. Though, next time I’ll work on the not letting it run around "like a chicken with its head cut off" part.
I have learned how to have patience, whether it is in communicating in Swahili, sitting in traffic or waiting for the extremely slooooooow Internet to load.
It is actually easier to climb Kilimanjaro the second time, especially when you are raising money to give 300 Tanzanian children windows for their school library.
The most impressive thing to my family and friends at home is most likely my newfound ability to live with lizards, bugs and DOGS! I still run away from the geese and donkeys though…
Most recently, I learned that graduates don’t just walk into graduation, but do a fancy little line dancing walky-thingy-majig.
But seriously, the best thing I’ve learned is how very lucky I have been in my life. Growing up, I had parents that drove me to school, picked me up and had dinner on the table for me every day. (Except for that one time they both forgot me at school!) I never had to work off a scholarship everyday after class, before going home to cook dinner for my siblings.
I have met volunteers at JBFC that will be lifelong friends. The international staff of JBFC has become family. The staff and especially the kids of JBFC will live in my heart forever.
Melinda Wulf is celebrating her one-year anniversary as JBFC's Administrative Director.
Wednesday, October 8, 2014
Water, and more importantly the growing scarcity of clean, fresh, water is a global issue that impacts everything from hygiene, to agriculture, to our ability to quench our own thirst.
Tanzania, and Africa as a whole, could face acute water shortages in the years to come as populations grow, food demands increase, more and more households become middle class, and weather patterns change. Despite being on the shores of Lake Victoria, and despite having recently installed a solar-powered water pump to help us meet our growing needs, at JBFC we are taking a pro-active approach to help ensure that our H2O needs are met and that we are constantly working to reduce the amount of water wasted to the smallest trickle possible.
With the help of permaculture expert Mark Shepard, as well as Sophie and EJ Oppenheimer, JBFC has taken many steps to increase our water security, reduce our waste, increase food production, reduce energy consumption (both human and other!), and, as an added benefit, reduce our daily routines. From implementing systems that "slow down, spread out, and soak in" water, as Mark likes to say, to planting trees that help absorb water and slow soil erosion, to constantly mulching our trees and farm plots, JBFC is taking the necessary steps to become more environmentally friendly and ultimately more self-sustainable.
As mentioned in previous blog posts and in a new permaculture video currently featured on the JBFC Youtube page, this year has seen exciting growth on our farm. We have planted hundreds of trees; increased our vegetable production to the point where we are now donating some of our produce to the surrounding community; diversified our food supply; all the while teaching our girls, students and staff important lessons and skills about food production, sustainability, and the environment.
In our most recent effort to these ends, we have just designed and begun to implement three new gray water systems. The purpose of these systems is to take water that would otherwise be lost (waste water from washing dishes, taking showers, cleaning, doing laundry, etc.) and put it to use on our farm and in our gardens.
Many of our guests are sure to be familiar with our previously existing gray water systems: at Chris's house, at the rock house, at the guest house, and along the fence at the girls home. In the past two months we have expanded our gray water systems to include the areas behind dorms C and D, behind dorms E and F, and the laundry area behind the girls' home, as well as re-developed the gray water system along the girls' fence.
In the coming months, water that normally would have been discarded will help transform these once unused plots into healthy, productive, self-tending ecosystems that produce tasty food, help JBFC become more self-sustainable, restore our environment, and practically water themselves (less work for all of us!).
Blogger Seth Diemond is JBFC's Campus Director.
Tuesday, October 7, 2014
Anyone who has ever planned an outdoor celebration of any sort shares one fear- rain. And, that’s exactly how our graduation day started. Rain, rain, and more rain. In fact, it was the biggest storm we had seen in months and it didn’t look like it was going to quit anytime soon. But, that didn’t stop our students, staff, and volunteers from making this year’s 7th grade graduation, the fourth since Joseph & Mary Schools opened in 2010, one of the most memorable ones to date.
Markus (pictured below in the yellow-patterned shirt), our assistant campus manager, was the first to arrive at campus for the big day. He was working by 6:30AM after only leaving at 9PM the night before. He had volunteered to be the decorating committee- and boy did he go above and beyond. Long pieces of cloth were draped from the ceilings, hundreds of balloons transformed our spacious school dining hall, and local kangas (brightly colored African cloth) covered the tables where special guests and graduates sat. It should also be mentioned that Markus was so dedicated to making the dining hall look amazing for our graduates, that he donated almost $100 of his own money to the cause- a MAJOR gift.
Mama Maggie, our girls’ home manager, was in charge of the food for the special celebration. And, despite the rain, she had her entire staff were ready to roll by 7AM. Charcoal and firewood lit, these ladies (and Paulo) worked in the pouring rain, not caring as to whether or not they were getting soaked in the process. They served almost every Tanzanian delicacy they could think of- rice, pilau (spiced rice), beans, beef, chicken, fruit salad, and of course, SODA.
After an opening prayer, it was time see some special skits prepared for the graduates by their younger classmates. There were some poems- both Swahili and English- encouraging the graduates to always value the education they have received and warning them about stopping their education now. There were some plays, with lots of laughs, warning the graduates to always stay focused in their life or they can lose their way (much of Swahili wisdom is passed down through plays and stories). And, there were some songs and dances- just for a little fun to keep the party going!
However, as a parent, I was most proud of our JBFC girls for sweeping up some pretty amazing awards! All four of the JBFC girls in the 7th grade picked up an award, and they included:
Leticia (pictured second from right)- Academic Award
Jackie (pictured far left)- Leadership Award
Teddy (pictured second from left)- Cleanliness Award
Happy (pictured on right)- Singer/Musical Award
A closing prayer ended the official ceremony, but the party didn’t stop there. There was about an hour of picture taking, laughing, and congratulations, then food, and then (of course), an all school dance party that lasted for another 4 hours!
All in all, it was a great day, ending with some beautiful weather and some very happy kids!
Blogger Chris Gates is JBFC's Founder & CEO. He started Joseph & Mary Schools in 2010. This is their fourth 7th grade graduation.
Thursday, October 2, 2014
Editor's Note: Guest blogger Vicki Vrooman is a JBFC volunteer and a parent of a JBFC volunteer. Her son Weston traveled to JBFC in Tanzania for the first time in 2012. As Vicki explains in her blog, Wes still talks about his experiences and it's continued to inspire her and others.
Throughout the following year, I began to see Weston take his schooling more seriously. He began to discuss his future and what it would look like, always, of course, stating that his future included returning to Africa again. Weston would compare life here in the States and life in Africa. He wanted to raise money to help the girls. He wrote them letters. He shared his stories with other high school students, encouraging them to join him in Tanzania for a "life-changing" experience. Sure enough, the following summer, Weston traveled yet again to Tanzania.
He couldn't wait to see the girls. He calls them, "my girls." On his second trip to JBFC, Weston was asked to teach theater exercises with the girls. He absolutely loved this experience. (Read about Wes' 2nd summer in Tanzania here) In fact, he said, "I can see myself returning and teaching at JBFC one day for a while."
As Weston is pursuing his college degree in theater, he has dreams and hopes for his future. Of course he wants to act professionally. But in his future plans, he continues to say, "Mom, I will be returning to JBFC. I have to see my girls."
I am proud of my son. I love that he realizes the value in his time at JBFC. I believe that he sees this as more than a trip. It is a part of his life. He has said on more than one occasion, "Mom, I received so much more from these experiences than I could ever give. These girls have changed my life."
Posted by Ashli at 12:50 AM
Monday, September 29, 2014
Instead of asking the adults for money to throw a staff appreciation party, the girls made some sacrifices of their own for the celebration. They gave up meat and fish for a month to save more than $200 (USD) to show all of the Mamas and the staff members just how much they are appreciated.
All of the women were given brand-new kangas as gifts. All of the guys got new shirts made from kanga cloth. And everyone got bags of sweets.
JBFC's Girls' Government planned and organized the whole thing - including making a huge feast serving pilau, beans, chicken, beef, soda, fruit, salad, and french fries. None of the matrons were allowed to help with the cooking or the cleaning! The kids did everything.
There was music, fun and games -- including this hilarious round of musical chairs. We'll let the pictures speak for themselves.
"I felt incredibly good all day and the feeling has continued several days later. The girls' thoughtfulness has given me inspiration for this work. I felt like the administration and the girls really love, value, and care about me. I can't believe the girls, with no resources, were able to do this."
- Mama Maria
"The party felt great. It showed us that the girls care, love and value us."
"Seeing our girls put others before themselves shows that we are truly creating responsible citizens of tomorrow. If they continue to live their lives in this way, they will truly be the change that we are working for here at JBFC."
- Chris Gates, JBFC Founder & CEO
"The thoughtfulness and sacrifice the girls put into Parent Day made me very proud."
- Melinda Wulf, JBFC Administrative Director
"Watching the girls discover the rewards of recognizing others and showing their appreciation towards others was in and of itself amazing. Equally amazing was their efforts to save money over the course of a month to pay for it all. Proud we are."
- Seth Diemond, JBFC Campus Director