Monday, July 25, 2016

JBFC Girls Beat the Odds

There was tension in the air – nerves, laden with sadness, and a sense of the unknown.
Imelda glanced around the familiar landscape, while her sisters dutifully carried her mattress, bags, and supplies to the car.

This was it… this was the moment when we’d say good-bye.

Hugs were exchanged, tears flowed, prayers were said and well-wishes were given.
It was one of the most bittersweet moments of my life. Imelda is our first girl to leave JBFC to continue her education.

As I watched the girls say good-bye, I couldn’t help but feel like I was witnessing a miracle.
To understand what this moment means for Imelda and for JBFC, you have to take a step back.

First of all, without the love and support of all of our friends, Imelda wouldn’t have found a home at JBFC. She could have been another statistic, begging on the streets, not attending school. According to the Education Policy & Data Center only one in four 15-24 year olds in Tanzania have completed 7th grade. The numbers are worse if you’re a girl, and even worse if you’re poor, and you live in a rural village.

So the first miracle is that Imelda and JBFC’s other seven residential girls finished the 7th grade (or primary school).

But our girls continued to beat the odds. For every 10 girls enrolled in primary school in Tanzania, only about four transition to secondary school. 41%. That’s about average for sub-Saharan Africa, but still in the bottom 12% of the world.

So six months ago when I watched Imelda and seven of her sisters at JBFC walk across the graduation stage that was another miracle… another achievement they weren’t supposed to attain. They did what many girls in Tanzania rarely do. They have graduated from secondary school.
Now, a little background on the Tanzanian education system. In Tanzania, to continue your post-secondary education, students in their last year of secondary school or Form 4 (which is the US equivalent of 11th grade) have to pass a national exit exam. Based on these test results, a student can continue to Advance Levels (Form 5 & Form 6), which is the first step towards achieving a university education, or the student will be placed in the community college system. If you fail the exam, then you can pursue vocational programs or apprenticeships.

In Tanzania, only 8% of girls in 2012 transitioned to A-Levels or Form 5.

Eight out of 100.

At JBFC, Imelda, Eliza and Anna all are heading to Form 5. 

So it’s with this knowledge that I watched the tears, I watched as Imelda held her sisters close, before climbing into the car to start the next phase of her life. I wanted to cry too… but I also wanted to shout for joy and thank the heavens!

The next day I had the privilege of joining JBFC’s COO in Tanzania, Seth Diemond, in taking Eliza and Anna to their Form 5 boarding school. They’re attending an all-girls boarding school about three hours away from JBFC’s campus in Kitongo. The school was tucked away in the hills and the sounds of students singing welcomed us to the campus. More than 500 girls attend the school. And one of the instructors, who registered the girls, proudly showed off their Form 6 examination results – a 100% pass rate. The campus was well cared for, safe, and filled with some of Tanzania’s brightest young women… and our JBFC girls were among them.

I will say I have never had more empathy for my parents, who dropped me off at college nearly 700 miles away from home, then when it was time to leave our girls. Nerves had gotten the better of them and they were in tears. Growing up is hard to do… and letting your kids grow up is equally as hard.

As we drove away, the pride chased away the sadness as I remembered just how much these girls have overcome to get here. I’m confident they will adjust and rise to the occasion just as they have so many times before.

Imelda was placed at a school a little farther away in Moshi. But her teacher said she had already fallen in with a group of girls from Mwanza (the biggest city closest to JBFC) and was getting along fine… just like we knew she would.
Anna and Eliza's new school.

JBFC is a family, so these good-byes are merely farewells. We will see these girls again on parents’ day and holidays. We’re checking in with them regularly to make sure they’re cared for and studying hard.

We still have five girls to place in college and vocational programs. There will still be more sad good-byes and hopes for the future.

But this is the promise of JBFC.

Taking vulnerable children, who might have been forgotten and ushering them into a productive adulthood. Thanks to all of you, who have provided for their home, their meals, and their educations, we’re fulfilling that promise.

And we can’t wait to see what these girls do next.

Guest Blogger, Ashli Sims, is JBFC's COO in the United States.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Blessing by Design

She was a too-thin little girl who came to us with just the dress on her back. Even the sandals on her
feet had just been purchased by the social welfare officer, who removed her from the home that couldn’t meet her needs.

Salma came with nothing. Nothing but a smile that will crack your heart wide open, a mind craving to learn, and a spirit that even her rough start in life couldn’t break.

Salma has flourished on JBFC’s campus. Three square meals a day has started to fill out her small frame. And she’s picking up English faster than I would have thought possible. She shines as she helps lead prayer, adding her little soprano voice to her sisters, like she’s lived here her whole life instead of just a few months.

But while we’ve wrapped her in our love, she mostly wears hand-me-downs too large for her petite frame.

Which is just one of the reasons the call we received from Gretchen Scott Designs has meant so much to our family.

Designer Gretchen Scott called JBFC’s office last month and told me she wanted to donate some of her clothes to JBFC. I tried to explain we have nearly 60 ladies on campus, including girls and matrons. She insisted she wanted to donate hundreds of items to JBFC. I told Gretchen that I didn’t want to ask for too much. And I really didn’t. But all I could think of were JBFC’s girls. We’re now 51 girls strong… more than half of them teenagers. We’ve seen so many growth spurts in the last year that many of our girls have outgrown their clothes. So when Gretchen insisted on providing multiple outfits for all of our girls and our matrons, all I could say was thank you and send up a prayer of gratitude. This offer couldn’t have come at a better time for girls like Salma and her sisters.

Our volunteers from Bronxville High School worked with Gretchen Scott Designs to bring the donations to JBFC in Tanzania. When they started unloading all of the bags of clothes, my heart swelled. It was overwhelming. 558 dresses plus more than 60 cloth bags. We were able to provide every single girl on campus with new clothes and every matron got something (they seemed truly tickled to be included).

Our girls’ faces lit up as they went through their bags and discovered the brightly-colored tunics, shirts, and dresses. They squealed as they took off to try things on and all started cracking up when several of them came out of the dorms dressed in the same outfits.

It was Christmas in July.

I cannot express how much it meant to our girls to have these new clothes. I saw one of our matrons walking in her brand-new tunic and I complimented her on her outfit. She got the biggest smile on her face!

And then there was little Salma.

She couldn’t stop smiling when she opened her bag full of clothes. She put on her new outfit. Then fashioned herself a flower crown and dissolved into a fit of giggles.

Thank you Gretchen Scott Designs for your generous heart and helping make some girls and women halfway across the world feel beautiful and special!

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Staff Spotlight: Diana Booren

Guest Blogger, Diana Booren, is JBFC's Volunteer Coordinator. She works closely with our supporters who wish to volunteer in the U.S. and visit our campus in Tanzania. Here, she explains how she became involved in the organization and the responsibilities she has as a Volunteer Coordinator. 

I have known about JBFC for many years, even though I just started working here about 9 months ago.  My parents live in Tulsa and my sisters attended Holland Hall.  My dad shared with me about the work a Holland Hall graduate was doing in Tanzania and from the start I loved the model of JBFC.  My husband, Scott, and I have been delighted to support the work that JBFC does from a distance as we were living in Philadelphia and Louisiana.  When we moved to Tulsa about a year ago, I was eager to find out how I could volunteer and continue to support the mission locally. 

After a few months of volunteering in the office, the job for Volunteer Coordinator became available, and I began work at the end of September last year.  JBFC has such a creative and holistic approach to alleviating poverty, and it is exciting to be part of these innovative solutions and developments within the organization. 

As Volunteer Coordinator, I work with both our Tulsa-based volunteers, as well as, with all the guests who visit our campus each year, school partners and our Pen Pal schools in the U.S.  Volunteers here in Tulsa are a vital part of what we do, helping with mailings, fundraisers and office tasks.  While it isn’t quite as exotic as volunteering on our campus in Tanzania, the work of our U.S. volunteers makes it possible for us to continue to change the lives of the children in our care.

With over a 150 visitors coming to campus each year, there are dozens of arrival schedules, itineraries and details to keep track of. In any sort of international travel there are always the challenges of missed or cancelled flights, lost luggage and other mishaps, but our staff in Tanzania does a fabulous job being flexible and making the best out of these challenging situations. 

Since I’m based in the US, I work with the guests and interns preparing for their trips, and then send them off to Tanzania!   Sometimes it’s challenging not to be able to see the whole experience through, but it’s fun to be part of the excitement leading up to an individual or group traveling to Tanzania for the first time.   It’s also really wonderful to be able to read some of their experiences in the debrief forms that they complete at the end of their trip, and see how they want to remain connected to JBFC after their trip.

The advice I would give to anyone traveling to our campus for the first time is to view it as an adventure.  Try to not to go into with too many preconceptions and just take it in moment by moment. 

Of course, if anyone is interested in getting more involved with JBFC, I’d love to work with you here in Tulsa or help you plan a trip to Tanzania!  You can contact Diana at:

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Back Again: JBFC's Returning Guests

Editor's Note: JBFC hosts more than one hundred guests on campus every year. A substantial portion of those guests are on their second, third, or even fourth trip to JBFC's campus in Tanzania. In this blog, we talk to some of our friends for whom one trip just isn't enough. They explain what keeps them coming back and how much JBFC has changed over the years.

Kristen - intern and 3-time volunteer
* Tulsa, Oklahoma
* University of Oklahoma, Majoring in Elementary Education
* Date of last visit: Summer 2013

What brings you back to JBFC?: "I like returning to JBFC because of the relationships I have formed with the residential girls. The organization's steady growth continues to draw me back to campus too. I love to see Chris' vision come to life and make such a visible impact!"

How have things changed since your last visit?: "Since it has been three years since my last visit, campus has definitely grown! The new Papa's location is finished and in use, there are administrative office buildings, the library is full of books, the science lab has counters with sinks and equipment, there is a greater variety of plants and animals, the lake has risen, and many environmental projects are in the works! The kids have also changed! The first graduating class has moved out and now there are younger girls here. There is a different energy on campus without the older girls, but the new girls are adorable, sweet, and funny. I can't wait to get to know them better!"

Anything you are surprised by this visit?: "I'm surprised by how many girls remember me after two summers away!"

What advice do you have for new guests?: "Do not be afraid to step out of your comfort zone. Although coming to Africa is a big leap for most people, continue with a brave and ambitious mindset during your stay. Even if an activity isn't part of your normal routine, give it your all!"

Anna - 4-time volunteer
* Tulsa, Oklahoma
* Oklahoma State University, Majoring in Psychology
* Date of last visit: Summer 2014

What brings you back to JBFC?: "The girls single-handedly bring me back every year!"

How have things changed since your last visit?: "The farm has grown so much and is so successful. I got to plant some of the seeds that are now used as food, which is awesome to see! The girls' English is almost twice as good now too!"

Anything you are surprised by this visit?: "The success of the school. It is doing so well and the teachers seem to have a lot more control and seem to really be enjoying their jobs."

 What advice do you have for new guests?: "Spend as much time getting to know the girls as possible! They each have unique personalities and deserve to be cherished as individuals. Also, be very conscious of your surroundings - you're in a very different culture. Go out of your way to be extra respectful to everyone you encounter. How you treat them is a representation of you and your group and it can leave a lasting impression of western visitors."

Rachel - 4-time volunteer
* Tulsa, Oklahoma
* Yale University, Majoring in Cognitive Studies
* Date of last visit: Summer 2015

What brings you back to JBFC?: "The meaningful relationships I've formed with the girls!"

How have things changed since your last visit?: "The farm has gotten much bigger. The girls' English continues to improve, and the teachers seem better."

Anything you are surprised by this visit?: "Nope!"

What advice do you have for new guests?: "Work at getting to know the girls. Keep a journal your first summer. Try to spend time just hanging out and helping at the girls home instead of just sitting at the guest house. Become friends with the international staff...they rock!"

Friday, July 1, 2016

JBFC's Graduate Girls Update

Eight of JBFC's residential girls graduated from Joseph and Mary Secondary School last December. They were part of the school's first graduating class and they're the first group of JBFC's residential girls to move off of campus and pursue higher education.  

JBFC established a transition program to help our first class of graduating girls make the leap from living on a campus surrounded by family to living independently. All eight girls moved into a group home in the city of Mwanza at the beginning of the year. While they remained under the supervision of a matron, for the last six months the girls have learned how to run their own household (including paying bills), volunteered at a local primary school, and taken a computer class to keep their skills sharp, while they awaited their Form 4 exam results.
Scores on the Form 4 national exam determine the girls' future prospects. Those who score in the top percentile can continue on to Form 5, which is the first step to pursuing a university education. Those who score the second highest can be placed in training colleges, and the rest pursue vocational training. The Tanzanian government places students in programs based on individual test scores and available openings. With the help of JBFC's Social Worker, Felista, our girls have completed their applications and are now anxiously waiting to hear where they will be placed.

In the meantime, each of the girls have now completed 100-150 hours of community service at a local primary school, called Isenga Primary. The girls volunteered as teaching assistants, helping students with reading and math skills. JBFC also enrolled the girls in computer courses through VETA to help them increase their familiarity with technology. 

JBFC's COO in Tanzania, Seth Diemond, asked the graduates what challenges they've faced since moving off campus, what they have enjoyed most about their computer courses, and what they are looking forward to regarding their futures.

"There have been a few challenges with living away from JBFC. The first was meeting new people. It was hard for me to make friendships with new people. I had many friends at school and I was used to being around my JBFC sisters, so meeting new friends was challenging. The second challenge for me was living in a new place. I miss the whole family at JBFC - I also miss dad because he has moved to America. I have really enjoyed our VETA computer course. I have loved learning a lot about computers and now I am able to use Microsoft! We have a water bill now so we are learning to be careful with how we use water! I want to study mining because I want to protect Tanzania's minerals."

"What I miss most is the people, and by people, I mean my JBFC family because all the people at JBFC are the reason why I am who I am right now. I am really excited to reach the next level in my education. The hardest thing about living on my own is that I have to take care of myself and use my own thinking capacity to do good things and to know the difference between good and bad without having our parents' help."
(Neema has been playing club soccer with Marsh Sports Academy, and is getting ready to start a one-month long intensive soccer camp)
"My favorite part about living in town is playing soccer, because I have made many friends and I get to meet some of our leaders like the Regional Commissioner. The thing I miss most about JBFC is the girls and the administration! I would like to study Social Work." 
"It has been challenging making new friends and volunteering at Isenga Primary School. I enjoy teaching, but the kids can be very very stubborn! What I miss most about being at the JBFC campus is playing and having fun with all of the other girls. I hope to study dentistry so I can help people with their teeth."

"There are many changes we have had to learn to deal with living in town. At JBFC we have solar power, but in town we have to buy our electricity. Transportation on the bus every day also costs money, so we are learning how to budget. I want to be a lawyer now because I want to help people who have problems."
"The most challenging part of living away from JBFC has been staying in a new place. I have really enjoyed working with the kids at Isenga because they are very welcoming! I have applied to study community health and journalism!"


 "I have missed everybody at JBFC, even the workers! The think I am really looking forward to is meeting new people at college, getting new teachers, and studying! I want to study nursing."

"The thing I miss most about JBFC is the education and the way they have helped me. I have loved learning about computers at VETA and now I know many programs because of these classes. It has been a challenge at times because there are so many students in the class and living in town has been challenging because it is very different from Kitongo. I am also excited to learn so many more skills at college in August!"

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

First Impressions: JBFC's Summer Interns

Editor's Note: JBFC welcomes guests throughout the year, but summer is our busiest time of year. And this year is our biggest year yet for college interns. We are hosting 8 college students on our campus in Tanzania this summer. 

From helping with school clubs to individualized education plans or IEPs to specialized projects, JBFC's interns are contributing in various ways throughout our 70-acre campus. The following is a brief introduction of the interns who are new to JBFC and their first impressions of the campus. 

* Originally from NYC, now living in New Jersey
* Cornell University, Majoring in International Agriculture and Rural Development

"It's a beautiful campus full of smiling, friendly people that all seem very committed to the mission of the organization!

I was surprised by the complexity of the campus and the extent to which sustainability influences structures. I was not expecting to see English being used and taught all over campus, and I am excited to grow closer to the JBFC girls as I work closely with them in several projects!"

* Rochester Hills, MI
* Cornell University, Majoring in Environmental and Sustainability Sciences

"It is beautiful and the girls seem to love it here. The diversity of flora and fauna is stunning, as is the diversity and intellect among the girls.

 I'm surprised by the innovativeness of the campus (permaculture, solar power, gray water systems, etc.). I did not expect to have the great, mutually beneficial conversations with students and teachers that I've had. I'm most excited about leading a Nature Lab Club and creating the seminar for teachers."

* New York City
* Cornell University, Majoring in English, Minoring in Spanish and African Studies

"The JBFC campus has beautiful surroundings and is full of enthusiastic kids, dedicated staff, and carries a strong mission and vision.

I've been most surprised by the mostly Tanzanian employees (which is great), the extreme heat, and all of the livestock on the farm! I am excited to learn about new cultures and see more of Africa."

* Fairfax, Virginia
* Cornell University, Majoring in International Agriculture and Rural Development with a Minor in Education.

"My first impression of the campus is that it is very welcoming and hospitable. There's a close-knit community and I am happy and excited to be here!

I'm really surprised by the campus layout - I expected it to be much smaller and closed off to outsiders. I did not expect such interconnections between JBFC's four mission areas - refuge, education, agriculture, and healthcare. I look forward to experimenting with new crops and techniques in the garden."

* Ithaca, NY
* Cornell University, Majoring in Environmental and Sustainability Science

"I'm impressed by how open and beautiful the campus is, and very surprised at how close it is to Lake Victoria. Everything is a little more scheduled than I expected, but I'm excited about getting to know everyone so they they feel comfortable around me."

* Ethiopia
* Cornell University, Majoring in International Agriculture and Rural Development

"It is absolutely beautiful here. I was surprised by how well-integrated the campus is with the local village. The entire campus is a lot more rural than I had expected, which makes its presence in the area a lot more influential. I am most excited about making an actual impact here."

Monday, June 20, 2016

Children of Africa Day 2016 - The Day in Pictures

Editor's Note: Though Children of Africa Day was June 16th, you can still join the celebration!

The JBFC Family had a wonderful day celebrating our girls on June 16th! Here is a glimpse into how our guests, staff, and children spent this special day!

Our guests were busy preparing a delicious Hawaiian themed meal!

Administrative Director, Melinda Wulf, and Paula Casimiro decorated mango-pineapple upside down cake.

One of JBFC's summer interns, Kristen, helped serve the amazing meal!

The day was full of singing, swimming, game playing, and lots and lots of dancing!

We are so grateful to have so many supporters and friends who could share in this wonderful day with us!