Wednesday, April 16, 2014

JBFC on the Road: West Coast, Pt 1 (San Francisco)

Editor’s Note: JBFC is back on the road. The next few blogs will be dedicated to chronicling JBFC’s whirlwind trip around the U.S.

Founder & Executive Director Chris Gates returns to the US two times a year to help raise money and awareness about our mission in Tanzania. In the Spring, we have been fortunate enough to bring several students from Tanzania. This year, Chris brought 18-year-old Elizabeth and 10-year-old Zai with him.

Elizabeth, one of JBFC’s oldest girls, is a veteran traveler. This is her third trip to America. She told Chris, “I want to learn how to find my way around airports. Because I want to study abroad. And if I study abroad, I need to know how to travel.” So this intrepid 18-year-old was put in charge of airport navigation.

Zai is the youngest girl Chris has ever brought on an international trip. “I chose her despite her age, because Zai has an incredible English skills, she’s at the top of her class, and she’s got great behavior.” Zai is also a favorite among guests to JBFC because of her outgoing personality and winning smile.

This is Zai’s first trip to America and her first ride on an airplane. Once they reached cruising altitude, Zai looked at Chris and said, “flying is pretty normal.” It was on her first descent from the clouds, when the plane was preparing to land, that the 10-year-old grabbed Chris’ hand and said, “Ok, this is a little bit scary.” Once on the ground she flashed the smile that lights up her face, signaling she was fine and ready to try again.

It took the crew 41-hours and four different planes to reach U.S. soil from Tanzania.

Their first stop: San Francisco, CA.

 JBFC would like to thank our gracious San Francisco hosts the Enthoven family, in particular Martha Enthoven Stid, who served as our main hostess, guide, and new best friend.

The JBFC crew kicked off the journey at beautiful Stanford University, where the girls learned how to scooter with Martha’s daughter Isabelle and Elizabeth got the chance to quiz someone on the American higher education system.

San Francisco was filled with lots of adventures from gliding across a college campus to hiking through the California redwoods in a nature preserve to visiting the San Francisco Zoo.

The girls were joined by some more new friends and also got a chance to walk across the Golden Gate Bridge as the fog was rolling into the bay.

The Enthoven family was kind enough to host a reception for JBFC to introduce them to some of their friends from the San Francisco community. Founder Chris Gates spoke to roughly 30 people about JBFC and our work in Tanzania. And it was immediately apparent, we were on the doorstep of Silicon Valley, from all of the technology questions we received.

JBFC met a lot of new friends in San Francisco and even got to catch up with an old one at the California Academy of Sciences. Sonaz Safari, who visited JBFC in August of 2013 stopped by to see the girls and get an update on JBFC's work in Tanzania.

But Eliza & Zai’s American Adventure had only just begun. Next stop: San Diego.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Yoga at JBFC

JBFC was lucky enough to have a real life yogi here on campus for the last few months. Elisa Masso has since left us for Thailand to receive her yoga certification, but not without leaving her mark here with us.

Over the school break, Elisa led yoga classes several days a week for the JBFC girls. I attended a few of these classes and it was great to watch the girls grow throughout the weeks.

Early in the sessions, the girls were often reluctant to attend and apprehensive about this whole yoga thing. Then came the giggles as they watched their sisters attempt down dog and grow
their trees.

In Tanzania, people like to get really close, nothing like the boundaries of personal space we keep up in the US. So getting them to spread out in the school dining hall could sometimes prove a challenge.

My first day, Nyalmalwa was close enough to whisper in my ear that I was doing cobra wrong. I had to take special care not to plow Dotto in the head as I moved into warrior.

By the end of Elisa's time with us the girls were counting down the minutes to their next yoga practice. Some even took their mattresses to the dining hall in lieu of yoga mats.

I've since seen some of the younger girls, Rachel and Salome, perform the series that they learned from Elisa in their dorm room.

This was a great program over the break to both keep them active and work on their emotional well-being. As for me, it got some muscles moving that I haven't used in awhile.


Blogger Melinda Wulf is JBFC's Administrative Director.  

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

JBFC & Right To Play

JBFC launched a partnership in 2012 with Right to Play, a global organization that uses the transformative power of play - playing sports, playing games - to educate and empower children facing adversity.

Right To Play staff members came to JBFC’s Kitongo campus to train our teachers and work with student volunteers on the curriculum which uses games to teach students about subjects like health and conflict resolution. Several of JBFC's Ambassadors attended training in Toronto to work with Right to Play on creating a brand-new tennis curriculum.
 Almost two years later, JBFC's Joseph  & Mary School teachers are still using what they learned from Right to Play facilitators.
Second grade teacher Mrs. Zaina recently led her class in on the Right to Play games - Spiders. The class started with a stretch and a warm up activity. Mrs. Zaina then led a short discussion about what spiders eat and how that affects the environment around us. The game then started with two spiders in the middle and children on either side having to run by them without being tagged. Those who are tagged then become spiders.

Spider madness ensued....


And a whole of smiles...

After 20 minutes of this massive game of tag,  Mrs. Zaina led another discussion. She asked questions like: "Did you feel safer running from the spiders or being home in the safe zone? Why?"
She then followed up by asking what the children do to be safe at home- the answers included:
- washing our bodies to prevent disease
- washing our clothes
- sleeping with a mosquito net
- playing to be happy
- eating healthy food
- drinking clean water

After the discussion the children participated in a cool down activity by pretending to pick mangos from a tree, out them in a basket, and eat them.

As you can see from the smiles on the kids' faces, this activity was a lot of fun. But it also got the kids thinking about some important life lessons.

We're glad to have partners like Right to Play in our mission to end poverty.

Blogger Seth Diemond is JBFC's Campus Director.

Monday, February 3, 2014

JBFC Difference: School Clubs

I recently wrote about the excitement of opening a new school year at JBFC and Joseph and Mary Schools and the promise for the future that comes with that. This excitement is shared across Tanzania, if not the world. However, there is something that we do at JBFC and Joseph and
Mary Schools that sets us apart from education in the rest of Tanzania- school clubs.

In my five years of working with schools, NGO's, and students in Tanzania, I have very rarely come across school clubs that actually meet- extra-curricular activities that are an integral part of our
development into well-rounded, well-educated, capable, leaders in America. These activities are even more important in Tanzania where a strict curriculum and a lack of access to resources, information, and tools stunt interest and make it hard for students to gain the knowledge and skills that are often found outside of an official curriculum.

This year, Chris, Melinda, and I will be partnering with our Tanzanian teachers to pass on their knowledge, interests, and skills to students outside of the traditional classroom setting.

This year's clubs will include:

1st Grade English Competition

-Our pre-school through 3rd grade students will be participating in English games and competitions every Friday to improve their basic understanding of the English language.

-Chris and one of our science teachers, Mr. Cornelly, will be leading a poly-culture club to pass along to our students the skills that our poly-culture experts have taught us. They will be learning techniques in sustainable agriculture, methods to be self-reliant as they become young adults, and the joy that comes with working on a farm to provide your own food.

Budding Young Journalists
-Melinda will be co-leading a journalism club that will eventually produce a school newspaper and a year book and in the process improve our students' writing skills.

Neema R during Debate Club

-Mr. Freddrick and I will be co-leading a debate and current events club that will pass along our passion and knowledge of world events to our students and train them in speaking in front of groups, sharing ideas, and the importance of valuing different perspectives and viewpoints.

Debate Club trying not to laugh during tongue twisters

Jonas laughing during Drama Club

-A reading club led by our librarian, Mr. Simon, will involve students in reading groups and book clubs to improve their reading and comprehension skills. The ability to read in English and to appreciate the value of books is an integral part of educating the next generation of Tanzanian leaders.

-Other teachers will be leading clubs in arts and crafts, music, and drama.

Something so often taken for granted in America and often under-appreciated is helping us revolutionize and re-define education in Tanzania and in our effort to create well rounded, well-informed, global leaders.

Blogger Seth Diemond is JBFC's Campus Director.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Why I Can't Wait to Return

 It’s hard to believe, but I’m getting ready for my 5th trip to JBFC. I spend most of my time in the US, helping raise money for the organization and keeping supporters informed about what’s happening in Tanzania. But visiting JBFC in Tanzania is my favorite part of the job, despite the marathon series of stuffy plane rides it takes to get there.

These are my top 5 reasons why I can’t wait to get back to JBFC:

1) GIRLS!!!!!

This is #1 for a reason. These girls have captured my heart. From the young, sweet ones that still come snuggle beside me at prayer service; to the too-cool-for-school teenagers, who despite the bravado have tears in their eyes when they say good-bye; to the young women, who are growing up (faster than I would like) to be such smart, interesting people.

2) JBFC’s Growth

JBFC never ceases to amaze me. The way this organization has taken root in our little village of Kitongo is nothing short of miraculous. Chris Gates keeps driving us to be better, more efficient, and more impactful. And it shows in our physical footprint. We’re not just adding acres; we’re nurturing farmland. We’re not just erecting structures; we’re building libraries and science labs; we’re not just expanding, we’re growing a center of the community. You all make that possible and I can’t wait to see it for myself, so I can report back to you about the many changes and improvements. I’ve drafted my good friend & videographer, Jonathan Wooley, into joining me in Tanzania yet again. So we will be documenting JBFC’s growth and broadcasting our progress every month on JBFC’s Youtube channel.

3) Chris Gates & the JBFC Staff

Chris is truly one of my best friends. He’s inspiring, hilarious, driven, smart and has a huge heart. So it’s no coincidence that the team he’s built around him is AWESOME. Seth & Melinda are terrific cross-continental co-workers and I can’t wait to find out what I can do to make their lives easier, so they can continue to make such huge differences for kids. Also, they’re all a lot of fun. So, I’m looking forward to kicking back on Chris’ back porch, which overlooks Lake Victoria, and hanging out with them. I also can’t wait to see Rachel, Mzee Kitula, Mama Mary, Gertruda, Samo, and Edith, all of the behind the scenes staff members who are the backbone of the organization.

4) Prayer Time

There is no picture for this one, because an image just can't capture it (although we will keep trying). Prayer time at JBFC is one of the most special parts of the day for me. When I’m at home, having a rough day, I turn to my phone and play the recordings of the girls singing at prayer time. Something clicks – my perspective shifts and whatever the “huge” problem was becomes miniscule. There is such a sense of peace and spirituality that washes through the room at Prayer Time. In that moment, you can see the hardships that are so often hidden behind our girls beautiful smiles. But it’s a burden that becomes lighter surrounded by so much faith and love. These are the moments I cherish and the ones that fuel my work for the organization.

5) Tanzanian Sunrises

There’s truly nothing like it. It’s unparalleled beauty and the kind of sight that restores the soul.

Blogger Ashli Sims is JBFC's Director of Development.



Monday, January 27, 2014

JBFC's Teacher Training

Editor's Note: Last week, we told you some exciting news - our Form 2 students (US equivalent 9th grade), in their first year to sit for the Tanzanian national exams, passed with flying colors outscoring every other Form 2 student in our district. This week's blog from Administrative Director Melinda Wulf talks about the foundation JBFC lays to make that kind of student success possible. And it all starts with our teachers.

 Each year, we spend the two weeks before school starts hosting a teacher development. This is an opportunity that teachers at other schools in Tanzania don’t have. We use our own experience, and bring in experts and materials to help our teachers learn and grow as educators.

This year we are lucky enough to have an educator specializing in literacy with us, Tracy Todd.
Tracy’s background, along with materials provided to us by Sarah Lawrence College’s Childhood Development Institute, helped kick this year’s teacher development off on a strong note.

Day one included a discussion with the teachers about taking your classroom outside and learning from nature and the environment around us. I can’t think of a better atmosphere to implement a program like that.

Thinking back to my grade school experience, the most exotic animal we had exposure to was a third grader's pet porcupine that was brought in for show and tell. The only flowers we had on the playground were dandelions.

These kids have rows of banana trees to learn from, fences lined with passion fruit, and eggplants the size of your head. They get to witness the birth of baby pigs, pluck a chicken, and learn anatomy from a butchered cow.

On day two of teacher development, we had a discussion about values and setting good examples for the students. As we discussed a key value, cooperation, one of our secondary teachers Mr. Cornelly piped up with a suggestion.

We could show the students a bee hive and talk about how the bees work together as a group to create honey. It was a simple suggestion, but it was exciting to see the message from the day before stick with the teachers.

I talked to the teachers at Joseph and Mary about the school clubs we want to have this upcoming school year. Permaculture is a huge initiative at JBFC, not only does it help sustain us, but it teaches our kids skills they can use later in life to provide for their families. So, of course we want to have a permaculture club, no 80s pop band pun intended.

Again, Mr. Cornelly was very excited about the potential of teaching agriculture in the classroom, and then taking them outside to see it in nature. To allow the students to experience it firsthand, rather than read or be told about it is one of the great benefits of JBFC.

We are hopeful these teachings, plans and discussions will carry into the classrooms and ultimately provide an incredible educational experience for our students- one that would otherwise be unattainable in Tanzania!

Blogger Melinda Wulf is JBFC's Administrative Director.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Back to School

January is a special month all across Tanzania- schools open for the year, students, some for the first time, dress in red, blue, green,  yellow, orange, or white uniforms with polished black shoes and head off to their first day. Textbooks are assigned, though paper-back, are covered by students in newspaper or paper-bags and doodled on just  as they are in the states. Parents, at least those who can afford it, send their children off to school with new clothes, new supplies, and a bit of pride (and maybe a tear!) just as mothers and fathers across America do.

On Monday we opened school for the year at JBFC's Joseph and Mary Schools. As JBFC administrators, Chris, Melinda, and I all got to spend a moment as proud parents as we sent the JBFC girls, gleaming in their uniforms and sporting new back-packs, off to their first day of school. This is a special moment for students and parents alike- my mother still (jokingly) sends me messages saying "I hope you get the teacher you wanted!" (she did this on Monday).

This year it hit hard. It is one of those moments that JBFC's impact on our girls is most noticeable. If
it wasn't for JBFC, these girls would never get to experience this day- the excitement of a new teacher, their own notebook, and the hope for the future that comes with education. I hope, and am confident, that the JBFC girls will remember this day in the future as something a bit special.

We ended last year on an exciting note. In Tanzania, 4th graders, 7th graders, and Form 2 students (9th grade), all take national standardized tests to determine if they are eligible to move on to the next grade.  Passing is not a guarantee- in fact, in most of Tanzania, the majority of students fail. At Joseph and Mary, 100% of our students (many of them JBFC residential girls) passed in 4th grade, 7th grade, and Form 2, an amazing feat. Proud we are.

 This year brings plenty of excitement of its own. Those amazing Form 2 students have now moved on and become our first ever form three class and are well on their way to graduating. Last year's 7th graders have now moved on to form one, becoming our newest batch of high-schoolers.

Eight adorable children have come to school for the very first time as pre-schoolers (pictured napping, all except for Esther). After two weeks of intensive professional development, our teachers (some new, some old), are more prepared and eager than ever to train the next generation of leaders.

 We are confident that come December, as we close another year at Joseph and Mary, we will have many more exciting announcements in our fight to provide and improve education in the places where education is needed the most.

Blogger Seth Diemond is JBFC's Campus Director.