Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Bringing The Classroom To Life

Editor's Note: To continue with last week's blog regarding updates to our flagship campus, this week's blog focuses on the developments and improvements made to JBFC's Science Lab. US Expansion Coordinator, Travis Purser, writes about the last time he laid eyes on the science lab and his excitement about the future of education for our Joseph and Mary students.

The screams of excitement from familiar voices, sounds of waves and the glowing night skies are irreplaceable. Even the annoying sounds from the mosquitoes and lake flies’ wings fill me with joy in my return to my other home. Everyone says ‘there’s no place like home’, but what do you say when you have two homes? Going to JBFC is never a vacation or trip, it is returning home. However, even after spending nearly two years at JBFC, every time I return I am constantly surprised with new things that have developed on campus.

Before I left in 2015, a new science lab was being constructed for Joseph and Mary’s Form 4 graduates, in order for them to complete the necessary practical experiments required for the national exam. The original science lab, an open area with multiple windows and walls decorated by paintings of the periodic table and colorfully filled chemistry beakers, had only one table in the entire room. A far-cry from the picture you see today.

Today, the entire room is filled with sink holding, granite topped tables, Bunsen Burners and every type of chemical equipment a high school could ask for, much less a rural Tanzanian school. I sat in on a couple labs in my most recent trip and had the chance to watch Mr. Mikera (pronounced Mr. Mikela) demonstrate an experiment to a class of wide-eyed students. He poured one clear liquid into a beaker filled with another clear liquid, and the beaker turned pink. The amazement and pure fascination displayed on the student’s faces gave me a smile, and then subtle tears. I knew what that room was before and what it was meant for, but nothing prepared me to see first hand what that room was actually doing.

To further add to the education experience that JBFC offers its students, JBFC has constructed a new set of classrooms, which will be home to a VETA (Vocational Education Tanzania Authority) program. Here, we will teach and educate students in hotel management, accounting, English, computer fundamentals and basic business strategies. Upon completion of the two-year program, graduates will receive a certificate in Hotel Administration. This will be a wonderful option for students who may not have the opportunity to go on to Advanced Secondary for Form 5.

Seeing the original plans and ideas for the science lab and all of the dreams JBFC had for hands-on learning come to fruition only validates my excitement for what the future of JBFC will entail.

Guest Blogger, Travis Purser, is JBFC's US Expansion Coordinator. 

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Campus Revisited Four Years Later

Editor’s Note: Last week, JBFC Founder and CEO, Chris Gates, Executive Assistant, Amanda Winge, and US Expansion Coordinator, Travis Purser, returned from a two-week trip back to JBFC’s flagship campus in Tanzania. This was the first time back for all three in many months (and years in Amanda’s case). While some things never change, like the excitement and joy of seeing the residential girls, students, and staff, there were also many big noteworthy changes on campus which we feel we need to share!

This was my first trip back to Tanzania since 2013 when I worked as the Guest Coordinator on campus for 5 months during the summer. It was thrilling to see how much the girls have grown in the last four years, and I was so touched that they even remembered little jokes that we had from back then. I was also really happy to see so many of the staff members again. One thing I can say about Tanzanians is that no matter how long you’ve been away, they will welcome you back with open arms and treat you as if they saw you just yesterday! Even the residential girls who have been added to Bibi Mimi’s home since I left in 2013 acted as if they had known me for years. There are no such things as strangers on campus!

While I couldn’t get over how tall some of the girls were or how mature they looked now, one of the most striking moments for me was seeing the campus in the daylight on our first morning. Talk about changes! Areas where guests helped plant plants and mulch in 2013 are now totally taken over by huge producing plants. It’s actually difficult to see certain livestock pens and views of buildings because the plants are so tall. Bananas trees, pomegranate trees, pepper plants, rows upon rows of lettuce (just to name a few), and kale have totally taken over large parts of the farm. And goodness is there so much kale. While JBFC first introduced permaculture on the JBFC farm in 2012 and I could see some of early results during the summer of 2013, the farm has truly flourished these past few years and it's great to see all of the produce being used in the dining halls and know that our students, residential girls, and staff are truly receiving farm fresh, nutritious meals.

Seth Diemond, JBFC’s Chief Operating Officer in Tanzania sends our US team weekly highlights from campus, and while he has mentioned how much produce continues to be harvested from the farm every month, reading about the amount of produce and seeing it with your own eyes are two very different things. The farm staff continue to do an excellent job maintaining the farm using the skills they have learned in the various permaculture seminars.
Another big change to the face of campus are the buildings. I remember groups of volunteers helping re-build Papa’s café in 2013 when Lake Victoria started to overtake the original building along the shore. The new Papa’s café is beautiful, the staff is well trained, and the food remains incredible! In addition to Papa’s, there is now an administrative building which was just a foundation and pile of rocks when I left. Now, JBFC staff members are able to work and hold meetings in their offices near the secondary school, and will soon be able to watch students coming and going when the neighboring VETA classroom opens its doors in the Fall. Several buildings have received some facelifts (the girls’ dorms, for example, received new glass windows), and it was great to see fresh coats of paint in many classrooms.

It was so thrilling to see all of the amazing changes on our flagship campus, and I can’t wait to return! 

Guest Blogger, Amanda Winge, is JBFC's Executive Assistant.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Staff Spotlight: Ms. Deo

Editor's Note: This Staff Spotlight highlights Ms. Deo, who has been a superstar on JBFC's campus for seven years. She has had a variety of roles and has taken on more and more responsibilities over the past couple of years. Ms. Deo currently serves as the Head of our Early Years Program, teaches Pre-K, and serves as a matron in Bibi Mimi's Girls' Home!

How long have you been working at JBFC?: 
This is my 7th year at JBFC.

What is your work? What are you responsibilities?:

I am a teacher and a matron. I am the lower grade headmistress, Pre-K teacher, and the assistant matron manager. I take care of the girls, supervise the work that must be done (when the matron manager is not here), and help and advise the girls with school, etc.

What is the biggest challenge you face with your job?:

The beginning of the year, dealing with all the new kids that come to school. It is their first year of school and they come fresh from home and we need to teach them from their mother tongue to Swahili, and from there, to English. So the beginning of the year is really complicated. It takes a long time to start teaching because we have to create a good relationship with each one of the students and prepare them to cope with this new environment.

What's your favorite part of your job?:

Teaching is my favorite part. I like it because it comes from my heart. It's what I've always wanted to be!

What are you looking forward to this year?:

I want to gain more experience, to cooperate with all the workers, to try my best to make sure that all the kids that I have will pass to the next course, and to fulfill all my responsibilities.

After spending several years as our primary Pre-School teacher and building the educational and social foundations for class after class of our students, Ms. Deo last year assumed the role of Head of our Early Years program. She now supervises the teaching, curriculum, and programs for Pre-K through 2nd grade. Last year she also moved into Bibi Mimi's Girls Home as a matron in Dorm A, furthering her impact on our community and, more importantly, our residential girls. After excelling in the role of matron and and assistant manager at school, she was promoted to Assistant Girls Home Manager mid-way through the year last year. She now helps supervise all programs at the Girls Home- supervising the girls' academic development, running our self-defense training, advising the girls, and filling in as the Manager of the Girls Home when our head matron, Mama Maggie, isn't on campus. 

Ms. Deo is a rockstar in every sense of the word and we can't wait to continue to see her continued impact on all of us.
Ms. Deo instructs some of the JBFC residential girls during a self-defense class.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Feeding Hungry Minds And Bodies

Editor's Note: Thanks to the development of JBFC’s permaculture farm, not only are our students receiving meals twice a day, but they are also getting essential proteins and vitamins from the beans and vegetables grown on our very own campus.

As long as I can remember, I have always gone to school with either a PB&J sandwich and sliced apples or some money for lunch at the cafeteria. But if you attend a government school in Tanzania, those luxuries simply don’t exist. Government schools do not provide any form of meals for their students and many families cannot afford to send their children with food. Tanzania has always struggled with child malnutrition, specifically in rural areas.

The average daily income for a Tanzanian is still under $2 a day, and the average number of children per woman in rural areas is about 6.3 compared to 3.6 children in urban areas. In other words, rural families have more family members to feed with roughly the same daily income. This ultimately leads to a higher rate of malnutrition in rural settings, which is one reason why JBFC focuses on addressing rural poverty. 
JBFC recognizes that if children are to spend 8 hours a day at school, food must be provided for not only their physical growth, but educational growth. After all, who can concentrate when they are hungry? For this reason, JBFC’s schools provide both breakfast and lunch every day to all of its students, and have done so since opening in 2010.

Through different volunteer groups, JBFC has monitored the Body Mass Index (BMI) of its students, as well as students who attend the local government school located just down the road. The government school does not provide meals like JBFC. By taking the numbers that we have recorded thus far, and comparing them to the CDC’s healthy children and teen’s BMI chart, we can calculate how many of the total students from each school fall within the unhealthy range.

We are very proud to state that the percentage of Joseph and Mary students who are unhealthy is 22.7%. That is almost 4% lower than the 26.6% unhealthy percentage at the government school. This may not seem like a lot, but it is an incredible step in the right direction for JBFC’s students. 

While we are very fortunate to have the ability to support our students and continue to help them lead healthier lives, we also believe that every school and family should be able to provide food for their children. That is why we have reached out to support our neighboring government school to help design a school garden. This garden not only helps to bring in extra food for the school, but it also teaches the students different farming methods which could help their families increase crop yields, and ultimately lower the percentage of malnourished children in the entire community.

Guest Blogger, Travis Purser, is JBFC's Expansion Coordinator in the U.S. Travis worked as the Guest Coordinator and Campus Director in Tanzania in 2014-2015. 

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

First Impressions: JBFC's New Volunteer Coordinator

Editor's Note: We asked our new Volunteer Coordinator, Jeff DeViller, and his wife, Bethany, to write a bit about how their first month on campus has been. Despite some initial issues with luggage arriving, they now seem quite settled in on campus. Here are their thoughts:

We have officially been living in Tanzania for the last month and what an experience it has been. JBFC has certainly exceeded our expectations at every single turn!

We arrived on a Wednesday in mid-January and were greeted by all of the girls the moment we set foot on campus. Despite being late, they surrounded our car and bombarded us with hugs, handshakes, and 48 names I had no chance of remembering. We definitely felt welcome!

I think we both had been careful to not have unrealistic expectations for our first days in our new home, knowing that it would come with both joys and difficulties. We have both been totally blown away and find ourselves reflecting on how thankful we are on so many levels. I think people back home often wonder what you give up to move across the globe, but we just keep thinking about everything we have gained already.

The karibu-culture (“Karibu” is Swahili for “warm welcome”) continued as we were introduced to the staff later that week at an all-staff Holiday party. There were over 70 new faces, and we found ourselves having to prove we were up to being part of the team during staff competitions. While I pulled my weight during the potato sack race, I pulled everyone’s weight as the anchor in tug of war. There was a lot of cheering, and we had a lot of fun!

The thing that stands out most, though, is of course the girls at Bibi Mimi’s. As often as we can, we spend time with them, whether it’s during prayer, meals, or just a Saturday morning. We still don’t know all 48 names, but we now know the majority and have felt really blessed as they’ve opened up their lives to us and welcomed us into their home. Certainly there’s a lot of teasing that happens (it goes both ways!), but it’s been a real pleasure. Only a month in and we can’t imagine leaving!

If you’ve read the JBFC blog before, you know that prayer time often stands out to volunteers and other visitors to the campus and I am no exception. Every night that we’re able, we head down to the girls’ dining hall at 6 p.m. for prayer. It involves a combination of singing, offering thanks, and making announcements, but it’s the singing – mostly in Swahili, but with a little English sprinkled in – that fills the small cement building with the tin roof.
The people we have had the joy of starting to get to know have definitely been the highlight this month. From that first staff party to our first night at prayer I’ve made it my goal to learn them one by one. I think one of the simplest ways to show your genuine interest in people is just to know their name and make a point of using it. When you’re the new kids on the block everyone seems to know your name and it just kills me every time I mess up a name or mistake one of the girls for another. Everyone has been so gracious but the more comfortable they get, which is the goal after all, the more comfortable they are throwing in a few fake names just to throw you off… It’s been a challenge but so exciting to sit in prayer taking everything in and look around realizing that with each passing week I know a few new names, and – of course – a few more stories to go along with them.

Our new house is on top of the hill and we’ve spent each weekend slowly making it into a home. My
favorite spot in all of Tanzania is sitting on the front porch overlooking the lake with a cold drink after a long day! There’s usually a cool breeze and the view is beautiful. The three dogs that roam JBFC often join us to enjoy the shade and watch as people and lizards meander by on the road below.

It’s not all great though: the bugs! Oh, how we were unprepared for the bugs. Attracted to light, lake flies will often fill a room in less than an hour if the light is left on at night. We’ve quickly gotten into the habit of pretending like it’s a power outage at home every evening and using candles instead of the overheads. It doesn’t attract the bugs and makes our home all the more cozy!

The bugs have been fun getting to know, but honestly I’ll take it as long as none of the eight-legged variety ever feels comfortable enough to touch me. Small inconveniences are an easy price to pay when you have happy kids around you 24/7, a soft breeze with a beautiful view, a beautiful language and culture to slowly learn about, and so very much more.


Most of this month, we have spent getting oriented to JBFC. This includes formal presentations on the history of JBFC, the policies, and permaculture, as well as less formal days shadowing various departments. We have spent time in the dining hall (where I embarrassingly cut my finger), working on the farm (digging holes, picking beans, and watering plants), and observing classrooms. My favorite so far has been helping with the “Individual Education Plan” program where volunteers are matched with students struggling with their English-skills. My pairs and I have been reading different novels and I’ve had to describe, act, and sound out the meanings of many difficult words.


We have been doing such a variety of things in hopes of learning a little bit about all the different parts of JBFC that play their part in keeping it in motion. Sometimes I feel a little like the blue-collar worker in our relationship (Jeff is as effective on a computer as I am on the farm or dining hall). So, I’ve really enjoyed the times we get to jump in with both feet and get dirty. Those times could be hoeing on the farm, helping with the reading program, playing games with the pre-schoolers, or more recently creating an inventory and organizing the supplies at the clinic. Everyone is so welcoming in the different departments that it makes it easy to feel like a part of this team.

Each new day has brought new joys to our lives and we are excited to continue to grow as a part of the JBFC team. Mainly though, we’re just glad it’s not snowing!

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Looking Ahead: JBFC Goals for 2017

Editor's Note: While we will continue to improve and expand several programs that we currently have in place on our flagship campus, 2017 is going to be all about expansion! Here are our some of our biggest projects that we are looking forward to this coming year.

2nd Campus- BUCHOSA

One of our biggest goals this year is to officially break ground on JBFC's second campus! After
seeing the improvements in our local community via JBFC’s mission, the regional government specifically asked us to move into a new district called Buchosa. This is an area that has no other NGOs or children’s homes, and is greatly lacking in education and healthcare services. While the campus will take several years to complete, we look forward to starting construction on our first building and implementing some agricultural projects this spring. Ultimately this means JBFC will be able to provide more vulnerable girls a safe home, more children a quality education, and be the catalyst to lifting an entire community out of poverty through our healthcare, permaculture and community empowerment programs.

Joseph and Mary

The Joseph and Mary Schools are coming off the most successful year to date, with our primary school ranking 18th in the nation out of more than 8,000 schools and or secondary school successfully graduating its second class. Not only is our school becoming well known for its academic prowess, but we are also devoted to molding the next generation of responsible citizens in Tanzania through our Office of Student Development (OSD), which oversees all of our extracurricular programs.

We hope to not only continue the academic successes of 2016, but we plan to improve the development of “the whole student” in 2017 through this OSD. While this may seem like a common term and idea here in the West, it is a very unique approach to education in East Africa. We feel this is one of the main reasons JBFC has seen so many successes in our educational programs. Students at our Joseph and Mary Schools participate in community service, learn about sexual and reproductive health, debate gender roles, and participate in a number of clubs and activities like soccer, track, debate, and choir, ultimately helping to round out the educational experience of our students.
On top of all of this, JBFC plans on hosting 40 family literacy nights in 2017 so that it’s not only the children who are involved in education. Family Literacy Nights piloted in 2016 and were an instant hit. Now, we hope to improve literacy of our entire community and help the parents of our students understand the role they play in education.

Girls' Home

We’re expecting! That’s right- the most exciting thing in 2017 for Bibi Mimi’s Girls’ Home is that we are eagerly waiting for 5 new girls to join our family. We have had 13 girls transition from our residential program in the past couple of years, which has left several beds open for more vulnerable girls. This means these new girls will be part of a loving family, be able to receive a top-ranked education, and learn what it means to be a powerful, successful woman.


Since implementing our permaculture approach in 2012, JBFC has seen exponential growth on our farm and is harvesting its benefits daily. In 2017, JBFC hopes to plant 1,500 hundred trees on our campus, meaning there will be more than 5,000 trees in total, start a tree nursery that can be used by our own farmers and the surrounding community, and total more than 2 TONS of produce every month from our farm. This means more protein and nutritious veggies for our girls, students, and staff. And, this means a more sustainable campus for our organization. But, JBFC is not stopping there. We anticipate to start using our permaculture practices as a living classroom, helping both our own students and neighboring farmers realize how they can better utilize their land, feed their families, and make a profit. This, after all, is core to what JBFC is all about- alleviating poverty!


One of the greatest things an organization can do to make a healthier community is to educate people on how to prevent illness. And, that is what healthcare is all about for JBFC! This year we are looking to make major strides in educating our students, staff and community on health related issues. We plan to conduct 12 school-based health seminars, four community based seminars, and 12 seminars at Bibi Mimi's Girls’ Home focused around various health-related topics such as water-born illnesses, Malaria and HIV/AIDS. Furthermore, JBFC is expanding its clinic in 2017 so it can test and treat more diseases that affect our children and community.

Papa's Cafe and Training Program

Papa’s has always had a two pronged goal. First, we hope to have some in-country income through the operations of our restaurant and lodge. Second, we hope to educate underprivileged youth from the community in the skills they will need to thrive in tourism- one of the biggest industries in Tanzania. While we will continue to improve on first goal and increase business to our restaurant and lodge, JBFC is most excited to start its official tourism training program in the fall. This two-year program will equip our graduates with the equivalent of an associates degree and set them up to be extremely successful in this booming industry.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Staff Spotlight: Mr. Simon

Editor's Note: This Staff Spotlight features Mr. Simon, JBFC's librarian! Not only is he instrumental in running our library, literacy evaluations, reading club, and Family Literacy Program, but he is also an incredibly positive force on campus. Last year, Mr. Simon joined the Office of Student Development, where his impact on students has only grown. 

How long have you been working at JBFC?:

I have worked here since 2011.

What is your position? What are your responsibilities?:

I am the Literacy Coordinator. This means dealing with students and giving them books to read. I have to make sure that I give them the correct level. For this, I measure them and talk with their teachers. If there is any student with difficulties, I have to inform the teacher so we can help him or her.

What is the biggest challenge you face?:

The biggest challenge is having students not willing to read novels because they think it won't help them to pass their exams. I try to explain to them that improving their English level will help them not only in their exams, but also in their future life. 

What is your favorite part of your job?:

My favorite part is doing the literacy check because it shows me the students who have difficulties in their studies and, by doing so, I can help them.

What are you looking forward to this year?:

I would like to see a big improvement of the students in reading. Through this, they will improve their concepts to even answer their exams in a better way.

Mr. Simon has been an integral part of the Joseph and Mary Schools and our larger JBFC community since 2011. Simon spends a lot of time advising students both in IEP and informally, running sports programs, and building friendships with staff and parents.  He helps organize and execute everything from literacy programs to sports to Planned Parenthood programing and clubs.