Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Making Science Fun, Pt 2

Editor's Note: Guest Blogger Borna Kassiri was an intern at JBFC this summer, who worked to improve the science curriculum at Joseph & Mary Schools. To read the first part of his blog, click here.

When we last left off, I had tested out my lab curriculum and started meeting with the Joseph and Mary faculty about teaching the labs. Now that I have arrived safely at home and had a chance to reflect on my trip, I believe that my project wrapped up successfully!

Preparing for my first lab session, I brought the appropriate glassware I had bought into the Form 3 (10th grade) classroom. I saw the students’ faces light up with curiosity. These anxious, smart students seemed excited about having a chance to interact with chemistry.

 I vividly remember my first lab period. The chemistry teacher and I co-facilitated a lab called Forming Precipitates, where the students mixed two clear solutions (one of magnesium sulfate, or Epsom Salt, and the other of sodium carbonate, or Washing Soda) and produced a white, insoluble solid in their combined solution.

I introduced the lab and the concepts being explored (double replacement reactions), wrote out the procedure on the board, explained how to use the glassware, and told the students that they were free to perform the lab in groups. At first, they were apprehensive, not sure if they were able to perform an entire lab on their own. However, with a little encouragement, some groups started to grab some beakers and chemicals, and they began following the steps independently. The scene quickly turned into something I could have only hoped for. The students were talking to each other questioning their actions and clarifying the procedural steps. They were measuring water using graduated cylinders and obtaining the right amount of chemicals. The classroom turned into a true chemistry lab period. The students’ intense focus, curiosity, and hard work proved to me that they were really enjoying their interaction with chemistry. I just had to stand back and watch the science unfold.

You can imagine their faces when they completed the lab successfully. They were surprised, excited, and eager to learn about what they had just observed. All of a sudden, they bombarded the teacher and I with questions. It filled my heart with joy to see them so enthusiastic about the lab because, at that moment, I knew that they would really benefit from the curriculum.

Throughout the rest of my stay, the majority of my labs proceeded similarly to my first one, even with different grades (including Grade 7, Form 1, and Form 2). Each class brought their own enthusiasm and independence to the lab sessions. I ended the trip with the satisfaction that my lab curriculum would sustain through the efforts of the chemistry teacher and the Joseph and Mary faculty. Through my co-facilitation and meetings with the chemistry teacher, I am confident that he will be able to perform the labs with the students in the years to come. I cannot wait to go back to JBFC in the coming years to see all of the wonderful people and check in on how the labs are going!

Borna Kassiri is a Duke University Junior. He has visited JBFC two summers in a row.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Job Well Done, Pt 2

We have come to the second half of guest season, and I’m thrilled to share the amazing work and joy that our recent guests have given us. Our friends from Bronxville High school in Bronxville New York, joined us once again on June 27th with ten awesome volunteers. You could see that they meant business, trying to complete as many projects as possible in their two-week adventure.

Bronxville’s first task was to clean every classroom at the Joseph and Mary school. The students were on their three-week summer break, so it was a prime time to do some much needed refurbishing. They brushed and mopped every floor and wall in both the primary and secondary school, followed by taking all the rugs and washing them out. I know our Kindergarten, First grade and Second graders are all very happy about that. After the cleaning was finished, the next task was painting several walls in the Primary school that had gotten some unwanted markings on them.

At this point in the trip, a lone volunteer named Ben Ranger from Indianapolis arrived for a month

long trip. He was immediately welcomed by Bronxville to join the crew. With a full group of hard working volunteers, we decided to split Bronxville into two groups, we had a farm crew and a painting crew. The farm crew went out into the fields (the same ones that Brunswick had tilled and flattened) and cleaned the excess dead weeds, created beds for planting new crops, fertilized the new beds with manure, and planted mchicha (greens) and beans!

It has been such an incredible experience to watch this particular row transform from a weed and bamboo cluttered piece of land -- oh yeah, with a tree and giant termite mound in the middle of it -- into perfectly created crop row. I’m very pleased to announce, this row is now showing the first signs of growth of both the beans and mchicha seeds. It won’t be too long before we will be able to harvest them.

After the cleaning, farming and painting, Bronxville plus Ben did student-led lessons with several classes ranging from 3rd grade to Form 1, teaching our students a wide range of lessons from aerodynamics of paper airplanes to the water cycles on earth. I want to give a heartfelt “Thank You” to Bronxville for their amazing work.

It wasn’t all work though, plenty of evenings playing and laughing with the JBFC girls plus a 4th of July barbecue and a pizza party. Bronxville, it was a blast.

Sadly the group left us on July 11th, but soon after we were greeted by three other volunteers, Daniel Ungar, Ari Gootnick and John Pugh all from Los Angeles. Along with Ben who is still with us, they have sanded and varnished the girls’ dining hall benches, organized the art room and started our new project of creating the “Guest Garden.” This garden will be designed and maintained by all of our guests staying with us. This will allow our guests to see the garden grow from trip to trip.

It is such a rewarding experience to see so many people’s lives impacted by JBFC; see them become connected to our mission, and then see their desire to help JBFC any way they can. I can’t wait to see the impact our new group of volunteers have on us.

Again I want to say Thank You to Bronxville and all of our guests for everything they have done for us, words can’t describe how much it is appreciated.

Guest Blogger, Travis Purser, is JBFC's guest coordinator.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Usurping Ugali: The Battle for Better Nutrition

For many of the visitors we have each year at JBFC, especially our high school groups, two things are an essential part of their JBFC experience: permaculture and ugali.

Most of our guests spend time helping us improve the JBFC Farm by implementing permaculture design, which utilizes a variety of crops and land management techniques to capture as much water as possible and improve soil quality. They dig holes for various types of trees, plant annual alley crops, and participate in one or more discussions about how permaculture is impacting JBFC and the surrounding community.

Similarly, most of our guests try ugali, a starchy, bland, filler-food that is a staple all across Tanzania. They try it  once and for many, only once - the general consensus is that it is not very good (imagine a flavor-less play dough). However, many guests leave JBFC not necessarily understanding why we are working so hard to implement our permaculture projects and how these projects will hopefully lead to the extinction of the fan-favored ugali.  
For the past two years JBFC has been working with permaculture guru, Mark Shepard, and the Oppenheimer family to make our agriculture on campus more self-sustaining and to hopefully improve the local community’s understanding of sustainable, long-term agricultural practices.

The benefits for JBFC are clear:

  • Reduce our reliance on market-bought goods.
  • Increase the caloric productivity of our farm land.
  • Diversify food, plant and animal life.
  • Prevent erosion and improve the general health of our soil
  • Maximize energy production and storage (through photosynthesis)
  • Increase our ability to store water (and reduce water usage) in an arid African climate
  • Help improve the agricultural practices used by local farmers in our community, who traditionally have over-relied on staples such as rice, beans, and corn to feed their communities. And these are the crops that can deplete their farm land of useful nutrients, making it harder to match crop yields the following year.

All of this while also helping JBFC to become more self-sustaining (see also Chris’s blog about JBFC switching to solar power).
What does this all look like for JBFC and what does it mean for our old friend, Ugali?

On average, we are now serving our residential girls and staff roughly 120 servings of eggplant, zucchini, or greens every week directly from our farm (these vegetables usual come with rice or another side). At school, we serve an average of 300 servings (also usually eggplant, zucchini, or greens) to our students and school staff per week.
Our guests this year have gotten to help make, and then enjoy, the sweet and sour passion fruit juice that our girls regularly enjoy. Yonga and Bhoke can often be found sneaking off to climb one fruit tree or another in search of an afternoon snack.
On any given week our farm is now producing between 80 and 120 kilograms (176 and 220 pounds) of food- a consistent combination of passion fruit, papaya, sweet potatoes, sweet bananas, plantains, pomegranate, cucumber, onions, tomatoes, white eggplant, okra, comfrey (a perennial green), cabbage, and mchicha (a local baby spinach).
What does this mean in our fight against Ugali (and hunger)?
For every kilo of fresh, delicious, nutritious fruits and vegetables that come from our farm, we reduce our intake of ugali. This week we are adding a new weapon to our arsenal of anti-ugali tactics: breadfruit. Breadfruit is a starchy, green fruit that can reach the size of a grapefruit that tastes sort of like a potato or fresh bread, when cooked. It's considered by many to be a hunger/poverty fighting food of the future.
 Starting yesterday, we began planting ten breadfruit trees- each of which will eventually produce 450 pounds of its nutritious fruit per year. The average breadfruit weights roughly 13 pounds and can be baked, fried, steamed, sautéed, or served raw. We hope to plant 100 breadfruit trees between now and the end of the year, in addition to the 600 banana trees that have already taken root in 2014.
So, while future generations of JBFC volunteers will certainly come to learn about our permaculture projects and help us achieve our food security goals, hopefully they will be leaving the ugali experience behind.
Seth Diemond is JBFC's Campus Director and also manages JBFC's Permaculture Initiative.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

JBFC Goes Solar

JBFC is located in an idyllic rural village in Tanzania, called Kitongo. Set on the picturesque shore of Lake Victoria, we’re about 45 kilometers away from Mwanza, Tanzania’s second largest city.

 While we’re insulated from the pollution, traffic, and the other challenges of an emerging developing world city, we’re also isolated from some modern conveniences.

JBFC is off the grid. No power lines stretch far enough to reach us. And for a long time, that meant the moonlit, otherwise tranquil nights on JBFC’s campus were punctuated with the rumbling sound of our diesel generator. It was the only way to provide us with a couple of hours of power every night.

The diesel generator wasn’t just loud, it was expensive to run and maintain. JBFC was spending between $1,600 and $1,800 a month on diesel fuel. That’s almost $20,000 a year, which is almost what it costs for JBFC to house and educate our 44 residential girls. It was a huge expense that didn’t always pay off, because the generator often broke down, requiring expensive repairs.

In 2014, JBFC set out to wean itself off of diesel and harness the power of the brilliant Tanzanian sunshine. Thanks to a very generous donation from one of our long-term friends and supporters, JBFC’s entire campus made the transition to solar power.

Thanks to some generous donors in California, JBFC had already invested in a couple of solar freezers and saw firsthand what a difference they can make on campus. Powered by the sun, the freezers enabled us to stretch our food supply, holding dozens of pounds of meat. Now we were determined to put solar technology to work in other areas of campus.

In January, we started outfitting each of our buildings on campus with its own solar panel system. We’ve invested in two dozen solar panels for our buildings. It took a few months of tweaking and calculating energy needs for each building on campus, but they now have 24-7 electricity with minimal maintenance costs!

With lights taken care of, JBFC was able to tackle another major expense our diesel water pump. We have now replaced it with a large solar water pump. We’re now pumping 52,000 liters of water every day. That’s enough for our entire campus and to help out our neighbors. We provide thousands of liters of water to two different sites in the village.

We couldn’t have done it without our generous donors. By cutting our fuel costs, we are saving thousands of dollars every month. And that means more of your donation dollars are going to help lift Tanzanian children out of poverty.

Blogger Chris Gates is JBFC's Founder & Executive Director.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Volunteer Experience: Happiness in the Little Things

Editor's Note: Guest blogger, Rachel Dow, recently returned from her second trip to JBFC, where she served as an intern.

When I reflect on my time at JBFC what stands out the most is the beauty of the simplicity of life.

 From breakfast in the morning to the quiet phrase that ends prayer time at night, there is a common theme of finding happiness in the little things.

I could see this idea in tasks that I performed every day as an intern at JBFC. After waking up in the morning I found it in the quiet and peaceful start of my day that involved a delicious breakfast prepared by the mamas and eaten on the guest house porch. Then, as the work day would start I noticed it in the manner that both volunteers and JBFC staff, international and local, utilized their surroundings and had a lack of necessity for extraneous items that have become intertwined in everyday life at home.

Later, as the work day would come to a close and free time with the girls began the true beauty in this simplicity emerged. It came out in the smiles on their faces as they played with the pop top on my water bottle, the use of small stones to retrieve mangos 20 feet in the air, and the ability to make beautiful and elaborate bracelets out of nothing but simple thread. Eventually as we moved into reading buddies, dinner, and prayer time I would see it in the joy a book could bring, the use of nothing but stones, firewood, and a large pot to cook rice, and the way that one song-leader’s voice turned into a beautiful song sung by nearly 50 people.

As I look back on all of these experiences I have begun to take notice of how truly different they are from most aspects of my daily routine at home. This has really led me to question many aspects of the way that we, as a society, live in “first world” countries. So many of the things that we have grown to rely on, and that I can honestly say I can’t imagine my life in America without, are completely superfluous at the end of the day.

I believe that my ability to reflect upon these ideas is truly a privilege, and is just one of the many examples of how JBFC helps volunteers just as much as volunteers help JBFC.

Rachel Dow, Tulsa, Ok, is a rising senior at Holland Hall High School and a JBFC Ambassador. She served as an intern this summer at JBFC, helping launch the Joseph & Mary Yearbook and lending her organizational skills to JBFC's donation closet.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Papa's Cafe

Editor's Note: This blog was written by JBFC's newest international employee, Lauren Lesch.

Not only does JBFC provide a home for girls and education for students, JBFC also operates a restaurant that makes delicious, farm fresh food!

Papa’s restaurant began two years ago with the multi-purpose mission of providing training for under-privileged youth in skills to navigate the service industry and as a way to support JBFC's overall mission to end rural poverty.

Guests and volunteers of JBFC can enjoy breakfast, lunch and dinner at Papa’s and majority of the food comes straight from our own garden. We are proud to be the only farm to table restaurant in the area! Papa’s serves more than 40 meals a week to guests, as well as, local visitors who drive in from town just to enjoy a meal with us. A few of the popular dishes on the menu recently include chicken satay, bruschetta, filet mignon, spinach lasagna, stewed okra, roasted potatoes, and chocolate zucchini cake.

Is your mouth watering yet?

When guests visit Papa’s they are greeted by a hospitable staff lead by John, head waiter, Moses, head chef, Fatuma, head of housekeeping along with Deborah and Violet who help make everything run as efficiently as possible. Some members of the Papa’s staff worked in other areas of JBFC, before working at Papa’s. John for instance started as a Masaai guard watching over the JBFC campus before joining the Papa’s team. John says that he thoroughly enjoys his new position because he gets to meet new people, improve his English and create friendships with guests.

Likewise, Deborah began working at Papa’s 2 years ago as a farm hand. She is now happily a part of the Papa’s team and enjoys making pizzas and playing with the dough.

Just as our current Papa’s staff gains important experience in the service industry, we hope that in the future some of our own JBFC girls who aspire to be restaurant owners or hotel managers can also begin their training at Papa’s once they complete school. JBFC is creating a training program that will teach customer service, budgeting, time management, communications, culinary and housekeeping skills. Our goal is to be able to provide bright futures for our staff and girls and this is one way we hope to accomplish that.

So remember, next time you visit Papa’s you will not only receive delicious food in your belly but you will also be providing better work opportunities and education for our girls and local staff members. This is a cause we can all toast to!

Guest blogger, Lauren Lesch, is an administrative assistant to JBFC's Executive Director, Chris Gates. She joined the team in April and moved to Tanzania in May from Texas.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Making Science Fun

Editor's Note: Guest Blogger this week Borna Kassiri is one of JBFC's summer interns. This is his second visit to our campus in Tanzania.

Mambo!? My name is Borna Kassiri and I am one of JBFC’s interns for the summer of 2014, a resident for a total of eight weeks. I am a rising junior at Duke University studying to receive a Bachelor of Science in Evolutionary Anthropology, hoping to become a medical doctor.

I come to JBFC through a program called DukeEngage where Duke completely funds student projects that are in conjunction with NGOs all over the world.

In order for DukeEngage to accept my proposal, I had to prove that my project was beneficial and legitimate. I submitted a proposal that described JBFC and how my plans fit into JBFC’s mission. Luckily, I had come to JBFC last year as a general volunteer.

On my trip last year, I noticed that, when asking the girls and students what they wanted to be when they grew up, not very many of them were interested in pursuing the sciences.

Soon, I came to understand why the sciences were not so attractive to the students I spoke with. The reason I became so intrigued with science and medicine is because I have always had the opportunity to interact with the sciences throughout my education through labs and demonstration. It is hard to fully understand and appreciate sciences, like chemistry, biology, and physics, without incorporating visual and interactive components.

So, I contacted Chris, Seth, and Ashli asking if they would be interested in the creation of a science laboratory curriculum, so the students of Joseph and Mary could also interact and, hopefully, come to appreciate the sciences, as much as possible.

However, I think one of the most important aspects of my project is that I planned to co-facilitate the labs with the chemistry teacher at Joseph and Mary. The reason this is crucial is because it promotes the sustainability of my lab curriculum long after I leave JBFC. I believe that the most successful endeavors at an NGO like JBFC truly focus on sustainability and reproducibility. The past month I have been here, I have tested my labs to make sure they worked in my current setting and I have started teaching the curriculum to students and teachers alike. Stay tuned for another blog by me detailing the experience I had with the students, teachers, and labs I taught after my time here ends!
 If you would like more information about volunteering at JBFC or the Summer 2015 Internship Program, please click here.