Thursday, October 20, 2016

Spreading the Joy of Reading

Something magical has happened at Joseph and Mary’s library in 2016- and I am not just talking about Zai’s love for Harry Potter (though that is pretty magical!).

First, a little background. JBFC offers quality, affordable education to our surrounding community, one of the central pillars in our holistic approach to development, through the Joseph and Mary school. From the littlest learners in pre-school through the young adults in Form 4 (equivalent of 11th grade), JBFC is changing lives and helping young Tanzanians reach their educational goals.

In order to help give our students a competitive advantage in what is fast becoming a global economy, Joseph and Mary students are taught all of their subjects in English from their first days on our campus. One of our favorite tools in helping our students learn English is to instill them with a love for books. In order to do so, JBFC has built an on-campus library and stocked it with over 3,700 books for book-lovers of all ages, thanks to our Book by Book Campaign. It's the only lending library in our village, in fact the only library for miles around in any direction.

Joseph and Mary’s library has been popular with staff and students since its grand opening in the summer of 2013. But this year sparks have flown, light-bulbs have gone off, and Magic School Buses have started soaring beyond our wildest dreams.

At the end of last year and the beginning of this year, JBFC administrators and school staff began brainstorming ways to expand the impact of our library/literacy programs and to make our services more readily available to a broader section of our community. At the same time, visitors from Sarah Lawrence College in New York proposed the idea of starting a “Family Literacy Program” based on projects that they had run in various parts of the world in the past.

And, just like that, Joseph and Mary’s library became magic.

Since January’s push-start from Sarah Lawrence College professor Kim Ferguson, Joseph and Mary’s Dean of Students, Samo, has organized family literacy workshops for students and their families from six different grade levels at our school. Over the course of a five-week program for each grade, students and their primary caregivers attend a weekly Wednesday-night family literacy session at our library from 4:00pm to 6:00pm.

With the goals of promoting literacy at home, encouraging parents to actively participate in their children’s educations, and expanding accessibility to Joseph and Mary’s library, families gather together weekly for various story-telling games, art activities (bookmark making, for example), and a community dinner. Samo, along with our Literacy Coordinator and various classroom teachers, help instill parents and caregivers with the tools they need to support our students at home. On average, roughly 20 parents come per session, including many JBFC staff members.

Our students and their families aren’t the only people who have gotten a little bit of magic out of the Family Literacy Program. As part of their required community service for school, Joseph and Mary’s Form 2 students have played a major role in the development, implementation, and follow-up of the Family Literacy Program since its start. Assisting with everything from pre- and post-surveying, translation, food preparation, and even providing child-care to parents with young children, our Form 2 students have become experts in this community-based initiative.

Having completed the five-week program for pre-school, kindergarten, first grade, second grade, third grade, and Form 4, 2016 has been a successful year. Mr. Samo, Mr. Simon, and our Form 2 students, however, have a different idea. With the end of the year fast approaching, our Family Literacy Team will be completing the program for fourth graders and fifth graders in 2016 before picking up the program again next year.

One measure of the success of a program is the amount of community buy-in that it gets. On this point, our Family Literacy Program has been a home-run. I asked Samo, our Dean of Students and the person in charge of the program, what his favorite part was and got an immediate, playful chuckle from him. “The best part? The best part is to see the parents come, listen, and also realize ‘Oh! We are part and parcel in educating our kids!’”

If you are interesting in donating books or dollars to our Book by Book Campaign, please review the guidelines by clicking here!

Guest Blogger, Seth Diemond, is JBFC's Chief Operating Officer in Tanzania. 

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Staff Spotlight: Mr. Fred

Editor's Note: In continuation of our Staff Spotlight segments, JBFC would like to introduce our supporters to Mr. Fred, a man that has been a central figure at Joseph and Mary Primary School for several years. Mr. Fred is the Head of our Primary School, and also teaches the 7th Grade.

How long have you been working at JBFC?:

I've been working at JBFC for 7 years.

What is your position at JBFC?:

I am the Head Teacher of Primary School and Grade 7 teacher.

What are your responsibilities at JBFC?:

As a class teacher, I have to teach the subject daily and help the struggling students in my glass by guiding and counseling. I also have to make sure the class is arranged and clean. Grade 7 is the ending grade in Primary School here in Tanzania, so I have to prepare my students for the National Exam. Right now we have a 100% pass rate!

As the Head of Primary School, I have to supervise all the activities in the school: Teachers' duties, cleanliness, etc. I also need to attend the government's meeting representing our school, prepare the budget for the whole year, report all the activities carried in the school to my superiors on a weekly basis, recruit new teachers when necessary, enroll new students to our school...and much more!

Why did you want to be a teacher?

When I was young, I went to school and really liked my teachers who were also guiding me. I was truly inspired by them. Also, I like taking care of the students at school. Being a teacher you also serve the community.

What is your favorite part of your job?

My favorite part is teaching. I really enjoy it because I like talking to the kids. I like to involve them in the lessons so they can be more active and participative.

What is the biggest challenge you face?:

The biggest challenge is, without any doubt, the pressure we (teachers and students) feel with the National Exam. I feel all this pressure because I want all my students to pass in the best possible way, so more and more students want to be enrolled in our school. Also, I feel pressure because the parents of the students want their kids to pass for them to join Secondary School. Same with the government that wants all the students to perform well. At the end, there are a lot of factors around me and I can feel all that pressure.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Pam Kohlhoff Blog

Editor's Note: Among JBFC's many visitors this past summer, was Pam Kohlhoff, a teacher from the Bronxville School in New York. The Bronxville School has had a long-standing relationship with JBFC, bringing groups of students to our campus in Tanzania since 2009. We have many wonderful supporters from the Bronxville area, and were so thrilled that Pam Kohlhoff was able to visit this year after hearing about JBFC for so long. While on campus, Pam hosted a Writer's Workshop for the 3rd Grade students from Joseph and Mary Primary School. Here is her story.

As a third grade teacher at the Bronxville School in New York I’ve had the chance to learn about JBFC through the testimony of local students and families who have close ties with the JBFC family. For several years now I dreamed of visiting the school and this summer my dream became a reality. Along with two rising seniors from Bronxville High School, I spent fourteen days at JBFC and I must say it was one of the highlights of my entire teaching career of 31 years!

When asked what I wanted to do while visiting, I knew the answer instantly. I wanted to hear these kids tell their stories. I wanted to learn as much as I could about their lives, family, school life and culture. So I decided to “launch" a Writer's Workshop based on work done by the well-respected researcher, educator and writer Lucy Calkins. The philosophy behind a Writer’s Workshop and Lucy’s work is that children should generate personal pieces, using material from their own lives.

As I prepared for the trip, I thought about some of the texts I’ve used over the years to motivate and inspire students to think about what makes a good personal narrative. Titles such as Thunder Cake by Patricia Polacco and Come on Rain by Karen Hess were among the books I carried from Bronxville to Tanzania knowing I would offer them as models for the children.

Once there, it was so much fun to watch the faces of the kids as they sat on the floor in group. I especially loved how they wanted to read and reread the books throughout the week. After each day, I donated a book to my host teacher, Judy, and she was extremely grateful.

Lucy and Nan, the Bronxville rising seniors who worked on this project were so excited to bring materials to the JBFC so each student could have their own “notebook”—a sacred place to keep their stories. I was thrilled, too! We handed out traditional black and white marble composition books and materials such as magazine photos and stickers so the kids could “personalize” them. This was VERY exciting for the students. Lucy and Nan even brought a Polaroid Camera along so they could take pictures of each student and then add the photo to the cover of their book for the ultimate personalizing touch.
Throughout the week, we read and wrote stories about people, places and small moments that we consider important and memorable. The last step was asking kids to share their writing with the group. This was something new for them. At the end of each writing period, students volunteered to share their story and had the privilege of sitting in the “Author’s Chair.” At first, they were very shy and hesitant. But by the end of the first session, the kids were so excited they were all begging for a turn!

As I look back at my time at JBFC, I keep thinking of how proud the students were to tell their story and to realize that they had an authentic audience. During my last mini lesson with the kids, I asked them to promise to write often and to realize that everything they have to say counts. I have a feeling, one day, I just might see a published book displayed in a library or bookstore written by someone in Miss Judy’s third grade class at JBFC.

Guest Blogger, Pam Kohlhoff, teaches the 3rd Grade at the Bronxville School in New York.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Experience JBFC

Traveling to our campus is often a life-changing experience for our volunteers.  You can check our updates on Facebook and read the blogs about the events on campus, even start to recognize some of the girls, but seeing it for yourself is an entirely different experience.  This year we have welcomed 150 volunteers to our campus. For many individuals though, the thought of traveling to rural Africa alone is a little daunting. 

That’s why I am so excited that we are trying something new in 2017.  We’ll be offering three Experience JBFC Trips, unique opportunities to see the campus for yourself.  Participants will travel with a JBFC staff person from the U.S. with a small group of other JBFC supporters and spend 10 days exploring our campus and volunteering.

Volunteers will have the opportunity to get to know the girls, read with a reading buddy for most days of the trip, serve in our dining hall and on our farm, and experience all that JBFC has to offer.  JBFC staff will share about the opportunities and challenges that the organization is facing, as well as some of the exciting programs and innovations we are working on. 

No trip to Tanzania would be complete without seeing the Serengeti first hand.  Volunteers can go on a one-day safari from JBFC’s campus during their stay, or stay a few days longer and dive into all the Serengeti has to offer. 

These trips are open to individuals, families and even high school students.  It’s the perfect chance to take that trip to Africa you’ve always been thinking about, or to get a chance to meet the girl you sponsor in person.  Since you’ll be traveling with our staff, you won’t have to worry about any of the details of getting there, and you can start enjoying your trip right away. 

Trips will take place in February, May and July of 2017 and spaces are limited.  If you’re interested, I’d love to talk with you more about this opportunity and help you get signed up for this incredible adventure.  We truly hope everyone can have a chance to experience JBFC for themselves, and would love to have you part of these first few trips!

Guest Blogger, Diana Booren, is JBFC's Volunteer Coordinator. If you are interested in going on an Experience JBFC Trip in 2017, please contact her at:

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Congratulations, 7th Graders!

Editor's Note: JBFC is celebrating its 6th class of primary school graduates. More than two dozen 7th graders graduated last Friday, including five of JBFC’s residential girls. Hundreds gathered to celebrate the students’ achievement. Here’s some of the highlights of the day from JBFC staff and girls.

"This is my favorite time of year. The Guest of Honor who came for the government gave an
important speech to our graduates concerning our school and JBFC at large. He promised to assist us in anything we need from the government- especially registering VETA when we are ready and other areas concerning education [he is the overall school inspector for our district]. Parents and graduates were very happy because the ceremony was wonderful and the school provided food, drinks, caps and gowns. The entertainment was wonderful also from students and the graduates really enjoyed. The graduates promised to do well in the future and promised that their results would make us proud."
-Fred, grade 7 class teacher and Head Teacher

"My Favorite part of graduation was getting the certificate. Also, the Guest of Honor was great, because he gave us a lot of character advice. Also I liked getting a gift from my mom- I was happy she came. I can't wait to start new subjects in Form 1."
-Pendo, 7th Grade Graduate

"My favorite thing at graduation was the way the teachers all organized their dress and surprised everyone. The music was also amazing- especially the "Glee Girls" (JBFC girls singing group). I’m excited to have new teachers next year and, of course, I will pass the exam!"
-Nyamisi, 7th Grade Graduate

"My favorite thing was singing by all the entertainers. The best group was the JBFC Girls Group (Glee Group). The leaders from the government was good and it was nice to have them there, especially the Guest of Honor. I was also really happy to get a football certificate. My advice to next year's group is to work hard from now on, so they can do well."
-Neema, 7th Grade Graduate

"My favorite thing was the way the teachers dressed. They were beautiful. Also, I was surprised at how many people came- there were so many! The music and entertainment was really fun. I am excited for form one for new teachers like Kidapanda and Boniface."
-Rahema, 7th Grade Graduate

"My favorite part of graduation was getting certificates- I got five! I got one for best in science subjects, best overall academics, sports (football), leadership, and my diploma. The Guest of Honor was also great and said lots of good things about JBFC. The Glee Girls, Happy's group, sang amazing. To next year's group- study hard and achieve your goals!"
-Laurencia, 7th Grade Graduate

"As an administrator, I am extremely proud of how our teachers, staff, community, government
officials, and JBFC girls came together to honor and celebrate the achievements of our 7th graders and their families. Changing hats for a minute and thinking about how proud our five JBFC daughters were to finish 7th grade, get their diplomas, and receive various awards was  something that our entire JBFC family should appreciate for a moment. To Pendo, who struggled this year, but eventually excelled with a little extra support, to Lau who received five certificates ranging from athletics, to academics, to leadership, to Neema, Nyamisi, and Rahema, who are all leaders in and out of the classroom, your JBFC family is proud of you and we can't wait to see all of your future successes!"
-Seth Diemond, JBFC COO in Tanzania

“The 7th grade graduation ceremony was wonderful this year. I am really proud of how hard our staff and students worked to make it all come together. I am extremely proud of our 7th grade girls’ accomplishments and look forward to seeing them shine in Secondary School. My favorite part of the day was realizing all of our teachers had secretly arranged for matching outfits. We’ve worked really hard this year to build a stronger camaraderie between our primary and secondary staff as well as between all of our students and all of our teaching staff. It felt really good to see all of our teachers from both schools celebrating the accomplishments of our 7th grade class, together, as one.”
-Melinda Wulf, JBFC Administrative Director

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Climbing Kilimanjaro - Part 2

Editor's Note: From October 24th through October 28th, JBFC is hosting Trek Tanzania. It's a walk-a-thon, where we're inviting our friends around the world to walk the same number of steps that it would take to climb Mount Kilimanjaro to benefit JBFC's healthcare clinic. Guest Blogger and JBFC Administrative Director, Melinda Wulf, has climbed Mount Kilimanjaro THREE times! Here, she describes the second part of her summit on her first climb in 2013. The first part of her trek is chronicled here.

Day 4

Happy and healthy, we enjoyed our trek through more alpine desert. This was a short trekking day and we arrived at base camp in the afternoon. We sat in the mess tent with our guides eating popcorn and playing cards, laughing a lot from the altitude. We had hiked just 2 miles but climbed 2,000 feet and were now over 14,000 feet which was the highest altitude any of us had ever climbed. We were giddy thinking about summiting the next day.

Day 5

We woke up around 1 am with our tents covered in snow. We piled on the layers because we knew it was going to be a cold one. We gathered in the mess tent eating cookies and drinking warm tea and coffee. Our nervous anticipation was back. We had all been preparing for this was the moment for quite some time. 

The first few hours of the summit were switch backs on the mountain. I couldn’t see much other than the guide in front of me, which was probably for the best. The wind was pretty fierce and my layers were working but I was having issues with my gloves. My liners were not warm enough but with the fatter ski gloves I’d brought I couldn’t hold onto my trekking poles. I sucked it up and used the liners hoping I wouldn’t get frost bite.  The water in our water bottles was starting to freeze and I was feeling nauseated from the altitude.

Just around sunrise we reached Stella point which marks the end of the switchbacks and is a short resting point. I really wasn’t feeling well at this point and the guides had to take my head lamp from my head, as it was light out and I hadn’t even noticed. The distance from Stella Point to Uhuru Peak only takes about an hour to walk, but it felt like a marathon.

The walk was pretty surreal as we reached the glaciers and eventually the summit, 19,341 feet. It was a bit chaotic at the top with people that had achieved their goal and were posing for pictures with the infamous sign. We couldn’t stay long at the summit because of the altitude, but got our pictures with the sign, the glaciers and our awesome guides.
As we started walking down the mountain, we started breathing easier and my headache and upset stomach went away. Our water melted and we started stripping off our layers as the sun warmed everything. Exhausted, we “skied” down the scree on our boots and our butts back to base camp for lunch. We were greeted by our porters with a cold Fanta and big smile. I remember choking up at this point just feeling so proud of my accomplishment.

Day 6

On the last day, we walked out of the park pretty quickly. We all smelled pretty bad and couldn’t wait to get back to our hotel to take a shower. We took once last glance at the peak of Mount Kilimanjaro through the trees. Most, don’t ever look back but something got under my skin that week. I went on to trek Kilimanjaro 2 more times after this, but have since retired. The bonds I’ve formed with my guides, porters and climbing mates are some of my most cherished friendships.
Do you think you have what it takes to reach the top of Mount Kilimanjaro like our brave Melinda? Join us for Trek Tanzania and see just how far you can make it! Grab some friends and family, create your own team, and see if you can walk the 89,480 steps it takes to climb Africa's highest peak (steps are counted collectively). All proceeds from our inaugural walk-a-thon will benefit JBFC's Health Clinic. 

Register by clicking here, and don't forget to like our Facebook Page: JBFC's Trek Tanzania