Friday, November 21, 2014

Working for a Good Education

Guest Blogger Lauren Lesch shares how JBFC's work study students work hard for a good education.

JBFC runs the Joseph and Mary Primary and Secondary School on campus. Close to 300 students are enrolled including our 44 JBFC girls and other children that live in the area. It is a private school so there are school fees associated with attendance which can be paid with cash or surprisingly through bartering…say one family that raises cattle for a living can trade a cow for a daughter’s education or say another family are rice farmers, they can provide "X" amount of bags of rice for our school lunches for one of their son’s to attend school.

We also have scholarship programs for star students in the area that simply cannot afford it. These girls and boys vary in age and grade and have agreed to working after school to help beautify the campus in various capacities in order to contribute in some way to their school fees while donors and special friends of JBFC in the US cover the rest. Some days they pick up trash, tend to the gardens, plant seeds, water crops, etc.

Afterwards they walk home and some are then responsible for watching over their siblings, making dinner, and then doing homework. It’s a long day for these students but a good education is worth it all. An extra benefit is that when guests are on campus this group of students works with them after school which allows relationships to form and gives them an opportunity to practice their English.

All visitors of JBFC participate in a village walk that includes a tour of the public school that is within walking distance from the Joseph and Mary School. The differences between the two are vast. There can be an upwards of 300 students per class, per teacher. The classrooms are not tiled so some rooms have massive holes in the ground, chalkboards are unusable because they’ve been written on and erased so many times, there are not nearly enough desks so 3 students share 1, and breakfast or lunch is not served so students walk home (sometimes miles) for something to eat, which they may or may not get, and then walk back. Sometimes its just too much work to return, so they miss the rest of the school day entirely.

I am so impressed with how the Joseph and Mary school recognizes these challenges in the area and tries to create a school environment that combated them. Most of our star scholarship students walk past the government school everyday on their way to Joseph and Mary and as 6th grader Peter says “at JBFC we have more choices and better opportunities to study English and travel outside of Tanzania.” He hopes to one day be a doctor, another young man hopes to be a football (soccer) coach and another an engineer.

These students have such big dreams and at JBFC we want to do all we can to make sure each one of them succeeds.

Lauren Lesch is from Dallas, TX, she worked in Tanzania for six months.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Home Away From Home

Guest blogger, Travis Purser, came to JBFC as a volunteer and ended up joining the staff. After serving as the volunteer coordinator, he's now training to be JBFC's next Campus Director.

After 10 life-altering, wonderful months in Tanzania, I finally made a trip back to the United States for a little vacation and a chance to visit friends and family.

Besides having the opportunity to indulge in some old time guilty pleasures ( I'm talking about you What-A-Burger and Chick-Fil-a), I had the unique chance to witness the complete shock on my mom's face as I walked through the door for the first time in many months. I have a love for good surprises and couldn't pass on the opportunity to make her heart rate jump. I have to give a special shout out to Chris, Ashli and Carene for helping me in my devious trickery.

Coming back to America has reminded me of the previous luxuries I use to enjoy, such as the junk food locations listed above, air conditioning, fast internet, Sportscenter and, of course, Baseball. But shortly after my return I had a feeling of loss.

I miss Tanzania!

I miss the beautiful sunrises that cover the morning skies in mesmerizing oranges, reds and pinks. I miss the sound and sight of Lake Victoria waking me up every morning with breathtaking scenery.

I miss the smell of freshly dug dirt from our garden.

I miss my friends who I have become so accustomed to seeing, talking and laughing with on a daily basis.

But most of all I miss the beautiful smiling faces of the strongest, most amazing people I've ever had the gift of meeting.

Until you have witnessed first hand, you cannot understand the true joy that fills your heart when you see the JBFC girls laughing, experiencing the privilege of sitting together as a family taking part in the most beautiful serenade that is prayer time, the sweet hugs good night and I love you's spoken every night...Nothing on this planet has ever given me such joy and peaceful certainty as my new family.

To everyone who has ever been a part of JBFC, from Chris Gates to all of our Directors, the volunteers and ambassadors, the hard working Tanzanian staff who continuously keep our campus running smoothly, I am forever grateful! My life has been changed because of you.

 I miss you all, and can't wait to go back home!

Travis Purser is training to become JBFC's Campus Director. He now lives in Tanzania full-time.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Road to Better Health

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

JBFC New Faces: Paskazia Emmanuel


 Editor’s Note: JBFC recently hired Paskazia Emmanuel as our new campus nurse. She will also serve as JBFC’s newest matron. We sat down with Paskazia (pictured wearing pink fourth from the left) to ask her a little bit about herself and why she wanted to work at JBFC.

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

One Year Later: Lessons Learned at JBFC

Saturday, October 4th, marked my one-year anniversary at JBFC in Kitongo, Tanzania. As anniversaries often are, the day was one of reflection and a sense of accomplishment. I’ve learned so much from the kids and staff of JBFC, yet I know I still have so much still to learn.

 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 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

Preserving Water

"You don't miss your water until your well runs dry." - Old Proverb

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

Graduation Day

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.

And, then, only an hour late (amazing by Tanzanian standards on a normal day), we started the ceremony. The graduates walked into the hall- well, actually, they danced in unison as they processed in front of their classmates, teachers, parents and friends. They took their seats, and the ceremony was on its way.

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!

Some boring speeches were given (by me), and the certificates where passed out as the graduates walked across the stage. There were 9 graduates in total- 7 of whom where either scholarship students or JBFC girls. While it is our smallest graduating class to date, we are incredibly confident in their academic ability and so happy to continue our tradition of success at Joseph and Mary Schools. One in five Tanzanian children who enroll in primary school don’t make it to graduation (World Bank, 2012) like our Joseph & Mary kids did.

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.