Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Sarah Lawrence College students help with literacy

JBFC has been delighted to welcome students from Sarah Lawrence College to our campus for the second year in a row. This year’s group of 7 students, led by SLC faculty member Kim Ferguson, will stay at JBFC for nearly six weeks during their visit to Africa.

Students arrived on campus in mid-January, and they have stayed busy!  In addition to learning more about JBFC’s four pillars, participating in extra-curriculars, and Swahili lessons, the students have taken on projects that they will complete in the next month. 

In addition to assisting with creative staff development workshops, such as book-making, a major focus for Sarah Lawrence students is to pilot a six-week family literacy program. The goals of this program are to bring families together to read at home, identify barriers to reading at home, improve literacy in the whole community, and expand access to JBFC’s library.

Joseph and Mary Form Two (9th grade) students are assisting and they will be using information from this pilot program to partner with another school. We hope to develop a community service project to improve literacy in our entire village.

While promoting reading in our village, Sarah Lawrence students are also helping to improve reading and reading comprehension on our school campus. They're working with our Office of Student Development to conduct literacy and comprehension testing on all of our students and helping to create age-appropriate essay writing curriculums. We are so excited about the success of these programs so far, and the incredible potential moving forward.

Sarah Lawrence students also arrived during our Art Appreciation Month at JBFC.  They will be helping to integrate art across all subjects in preparation for our school-wide art show in February.  There are several talented artists in this group from Sarah Lawrence, so the timing is perfect!

Sarah Lawrence students are enjoying the campus and getting to know the girls at JBFC and the students at the school.  Hannah shares, “the girls at JBFC definitely make the experience for me, at least. They are amazing, so friendly and welcoming, and have taught me so much about themselves and myself.”

Linnie is returning to JBFC for her second time and says, “It’s a different experience coming back because I have been here before. How welcoming the girls have been is really shaping my experience right now. It does sound cliché, but it does feel like coming home. The girls treat other people like a family, or an extended family, it just feels like coming home and I like that a lot.”

In addition to assisting with creative staff development workshops such as book-making, a major focus for Sarah Lawrence students is to pilot a six-week family literacy program.  The goals of this program are to bring families together to read at home, identify barriers to reading at home, improve literacy in the whole community, and expand access to JBFC’s library.  We are so excited about the success of this program so far, and the incredible potential moving forward. 

 JBFC is so grateful for Sarah Lawrence College’s partnership, and the wonderful ways they are helping our students and our community during their stay.

Blogger Diana Booren is JBFC's Volunteer Coordinator. Feel free to email her  at if you would like to volunteer at JBFC's campus in Tanzania.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

JBFC Football is Back!

JBFC's Football (Soccer) Club is back!

After two straight undefeated seasons, the 2016 season is about to get under way. This year's team has some big shoes (or cleats) to fill. Roughly half of our starting line-up, Liku, Neema, Anna, Nyamalwa, Pelu, and Tabu have all graduated from JBFC's secondary school. A wonderful accomplishment for our girls, but a big loss to our soccer program. So 2016, may be a re-building year.

To get the girls geared up for the new season, they attended a soccer seminar hosted by Coach Amad from Marsh Athletes Center in Mwanza, TZ (Mwanza is the 2nd largest city in Tanzania about an hour away from campus). Marsh Athletes Center was started by the former head coach of the Tanzanian Women's National Team. Coach Amad volunteered to teach the girls for three hours. After visiting JBFC, he plans on continuing his training once a month. Amad coaches some of the top girls in the Mwanza region, including Neema and Liku, who recently joined his after-school club team in the city. Neema and Liku will also be helping Coach Amad as coaching assistants for their former teammates. It's a chance for them to continue to improve their leadership skills and potentially learn how to become coaches themselves.

After two and a half hours of practice that worked on dribbling, passing, receiving, and movement skills, Coach Amad held a half-hour long discussion with the girls. He told the girls about the importance of discipline and teamwork in life, not just soccer.

We hope JBFC's soccer program will continue to rack up the Ws. But win or lose, we believe their time on the soccer pitch is helping them to grow into confident, disciplined young women.  

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Chris' Transition

I have been spending as much time as I could in Tanzania for almost fifteen years. As soon as I could – about a week after I graduated college – I moved to Tanzania to live full time. I have loved every day in Tanzania. But after almost six years, I have decided to relocate to Tulsa, OK.

 To truly appreciate how difficult a decision this has been for me, you would have to know what it’s like to wake up to the sun cresting Lake Victoria or listen to the JBFC residential girls sing as the moon rises. I have lived and breathed this place for most of my adult life. JBFC and Tanzania is my home, but I made this decision for the future of this organization and all of the lives we’re helping change.

JBFC is an ever-expanding organization. We currently provide refuge to 46 abused and abandoned girls and education to more than 300 students, serve over 200,000 meals to our students, staff, and residential girls every year. We employ more than 70 local Tanzanian staff at our school and on our farm, and provide quality healthcare for our immediate community. With Joseph and Mary School producing its first class of secondary school graduates, our organization is set to welcome new residential girls in Kitongo. We’re slated to break ground for our first building on our new second campus, which will mean as many as 10 new girls on that campus as well.

JBFC is growing rapidly, and so do our needs. JBFC’s reach and impact continue to grow and that means we need more resources to help more children and communities. To keep pace with our expansion in Tanzania, we need to step up our efforts to recruit more people who believe in this mission. By relocating to our headquarters in Tulsa, OK, I hope to increase our fundraising efforts and our presence in support communities throughout the U.S.

While I can understand why some of you might have concerns about this decision, I would like to assure you that our team on the ground in Tanzania is more than up to the challenge. I am extremely confident in our staff and management team in Tanzania. They have a very capable leader in Seth Diemond, the in-country Chief of Operations, who oversees all of our Tanzanian operations and programs, and Melinda Wulf, the Administrative Director in Tanzania, who manages our finances and human relations. They are backed up by our dedicated and hard-working local management team, who are the true backbone of our work in Tanzania.  This team will continue to run the day-to-day operations in Tanzania, as they have been doing for the past couple of years.

I will continue to take trips back to Tanzania several times a year to keep tabs on our development. And I will most certainly miss seeing our girls, students, and staff daily. But they are the reason I am taking on this new challenge. I have such a deep love for Tanzania and its people and I’m dedicated to making sure we can support the kind of change we’d like to see for the country’s most vulnerable.

My four boys decided to tackle this new adventure with me. Saleh, Jonas, Danny, and Paul are attending Holland Hall School in Tulsa, OK and are already busy at their new school and adjusting to their new environment (the cold weather is proving to be a particular challenge).

Thank you to everyone who has shown me and my family such kindness and support through this transition. I truly believe this move will enable me to lead JBFC’s continual expansion, allowing our organization to continue helping children and communities and alleviating extreme rural poverty!

Blogger Chris Gates is JBFC's Founder & CEO.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

The Year Ahead: 2016

Happy new year to all of our wonderful family, friends, and supporters around the world!

2016 promises to be a big year full of changes for JBFC. It marks JBFC’s 10th Anniversary. 10 years ago, JBFC was a small four-acre campus with just one building and seven girls. Today, JBFC’s first campus has grown to more than 70 acres and is home to 46 girls with 17 permanent buildings. Each and every one of you have fueled this tremendous growth over the past ten years. To commemorate our 10th birthday we will have a series of special events, so be on the lookout for more details soon.  As I look back on the last decade, I am so humbled by the thousands of supporters who have made this mission a reality. This year, we want to show you exactly what ten years of your heartfelt generosity has meant to hundreds of children and families.

We ended last year with a major milestone, JBFC’s first graduation of secondary school students. Among the twenty-eight Joseph and Mary School students who graduated in December, eight of the new graduates are JBFC residential girls. We’re beginning 2016 with another major milestone, those eight young women are leaving the nest. They are moving off of JBFC’s campus and into a transition house in the nearby city of Mwanza and attending a “short course.” This three-month course will give the girls the opportunity to continue to improve their English and learn new computer skills. In the fall, they will transition into more permanent programs – be it university, college or trade schools. We are extremely proud of these girls and all of the recent Joseph and Mary graduates and look forward to supporting them and their very bright futures!

As our older girls are moving out, soon we will have more girls moving in. JBFC hopes to expand our impact on vulnerable girls this year, by not only adding girls on our Kitongo campus, but also adding our first group of girls on our second campus.  We are planning to accept as many as eight new residential girls in the coming year. We will also begin our post-secondary training course in tourism at Papa’s restaurant. 

At the second campus, we will soon break ground on our first, multi-purpose building. With the construction of this new building, we plan to have our first ten girls on the second campus by the end of the year. With your support, we hope to grow the amount of girls we’re able to help from 46 to more than 60 by the end of the year.

As JBFC has matured as an organization, the challenges of running this organization have also changed. We have an amazing team on the ground in Tanzania. The management team, under the guidance and direction of our Chief Operating Officer in Tanzania, Seth Diemond, will continue to run the day-to-day operations. But my role as C.E.O. will be shifting to spend more time on securing resources so our organization can continue to grow. And to fulfill that role, I have relocated to Tulsa, OK. The move that has weighed heavily on my mind for the past year, but I am confident in our Tanzania team and truly believe this is what is needed to secure JBFC’s next ten years is as fruitful as its first decade.

But as many things are changing, the heart of what we do – ending poverty for hundreds of children and families – is still the same. We’re hoping to continue to spread our mission and our message to even more people in 2016. We anticipate welcoming many new faces,  including volunteers from Lawrenceville in New Jersey and Women Empowering Nations (hailing from Oklahoma and Texas). We will also welcome back students from Sarah Lawrence College, Cornell, Duke, Deerfield Academy, Steamboat Mountain School, Holland Hall, Bronxville, and Brunswick. With so many wonderful partnerships, we would like to suggest that people apply early for volunteer positions, because slots are going fast.

2016 will be a big year. But we need YOU to help turn all of these big dreams into reality. You have helped us transform a community over the last decade. Children are healthier, better educated and better prepared for their futures. Parents are stronger, more informed and better able to care for their families. Each and every one of you has played a role in those transformations. You have been the catalyst for change in this community. The spark has been lit, but now is the time to fan the flames. Please continue to work with us to end poverty one child, one family, one community at a time.

Friday, January 8, 2016

In Memoriam: Ray Batchelor

The JBFC family is saddened as we mourn the loss of a man who was one of the first people to believe in this mission. My grandfather, Raymond Batchelor, passed away on Saturday, January 2nd.

“Papa,” as he was lovingly referred to by family and friends all over the world, worked his entire career in the oil and gas industry and was a very active supporter of many community organizations.

While many of you know the role that my beloved grandmother, Janada "Mimi" Batchelor, played in inspiring me to start JBFC. The truth of the matter is there would be no JBFC without Papa. He was one of the first supporters and driving forces behind the founding of this organization.

When I first decided that I was going to start a non-profit in 2005, I had just finished high school. I faced many obstacles and a lot of skepticism. I heard time and time again, that I was too young, too naïve, too far out of my depth. 

It was Papa who believed in me from the very beginning. He knew I was following the path that I was meant to be on, and his constant love and support of me and JBFC's mission to alleviate extreme rural poverty helped create the organization that impacting the lives of more than 400 children and families every day.

When we officially registered as a nonprofit in 2006, Papa helped fund the purchase of our first four acres of land in Kitongo. He helped secure the funds to begin construction of our first building. Because of his support, we were able to accept our first seven residential girls in 2007 and we have never looked back!

This is an extremely poignant time for Papa's passing, because this year marks our 10-year anniversary. It was 10 years ago that he believed in my vision, 10 years ago we purchased that first piece of land, and 10 years ago we began changing lives in rural Tanzania.

As we look back and reflect on our last ten years of work, I can’t help but be extremely humbled and grateful to the man who helped secure our first plot of land and supported us the entire way. I am so happy that Papa was able to see all of the amazing developments and changes with JBFC over the years and I know he was extremely proud of the work everyone does day in and day out at JBFC.

We will celebrate Ray "Papa" Batchelor's life and legacy on Monday, January 11th in Tulsa, OK. We will all be a little worse off now that Papa isn't in our lives. But we know his generosity and kind spirit will live on through all of the lives he has touched half a world away.

In lieu of flowers, the Batchelor Family would appreciate your contribution to JBFC's Ray Batchelor Memorial Fund, so his memory can do what he did in life, make the world a better place.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

JBFC Year in Review: 2015

As far as years go, 2015 has been one of the fastest yet for all of us at JBFC. It is hard to know where the time has gone. As I sit here, thinking back on all that has been accomplished thanks to your generous support, it’s clear that things have been moving here at JBFC this year!

The first thing that jumps out when I think about this year is our first class of graduating secondary students. Twenty-eight students walked the stage on December 4th to receive their diplomas. These students have been trailblazers… they were also our very first 7th grade class five years ago. They have been the leaders of our school- and were the first ones in each class to set the 100% pass rate on all national exams- a fact we are still able to boast this year!

JBFC’s Joseph & Mary Schools is proud of its accomplishments, but we continue to set our sights higher. This year we committed to developing the whole students and making sure no child gets left behind. Mr. Samo took on a new role as the dean of students and is leading our new office of student development. That office is charged with developing our technology program, character education and improving literacy. I believe all of the efforts put in place this year will really pay dividends in 2016.

Our school also got a big boost from our science-loving supporters. You all have done so much to help outfit Joseph & Mary’s new science lab. You’ve donated supplies and lab equipment. And our friends at Grumeti Reserve stepped up to completely renovate our lab, transforming it from a simple classroom to a fully-functioning lab, complete with new lab tables, sinks, and burners.

JBFC’s school isn’t the only part of campus that’s gotten spruced up in 2015. Thanks to our friends at 200 Orphanages, the girls got new furniture, a new storage shed, and a fresh coat of paint for the dorms. This year our family is also enduring a bittersweet milestone as we are currently in the process of saying farewell to our eight graduating residential girls.

Now that they have completed Form 4 and are continuing on their education, they will soon be beginning the next phase of their lives off of JBFC’s campus. But this isn’t really good-bye. JBFC is committed to helping these girls achieve their goals. They won’t find out their exam results until April of 2016. In the meantime, they’ll be living at a JBFC transition home in nearby Mwanza and taking extra classes to make sure they’re ready to continue their education. While I am so proud of these young women, we will definitely miss their leadership on our campus in Kitongo. We will be extremely excited to welcome even more girls to the JBFC family in 2016!

JBFC’s farm continues to provide tons of farm fresh meals week in and week out (over 400 pounds of fresh produce weekly), and our trees continue to grow big and strong. Thanks to your support and the hard work of our farm workers and kitchen staff, we were able to serve more than 220,000 meals to our students, staff and residential girls this year.

JBFC’s clinic also hit a milestone, celebrating a full year of improving the health of our community. Our clinic was able to treat more than 1,100 people this past year! All of these things on campus were made possible by your support.

2015 was also a great year for our volunteer program. We welcomed our first college study abroad partner, Sarah Lawrence College (Bronxville, NY) in January. And we continued to benefit from the hard work and generous hearts of more than 75 volunteers from all over the country. They have been instrumental in farm projects, tutoring at school, improving literacy, and of course, building relationships with our girls and staff.

JBFC also welcomed two new staff members in the US. Alyssa Doty is nearing the end of her first year as JBFC’s Office Manager. And Diana Booren joined the team as our new volunteer coordinator. Both Diana and Alyssa are making sure we can promptly serve you in the U.S. and grow our impact in Tanzania.

All of this wouldn’t have been possible without you. Thank you so much for all of your love, prayers and support. You have helped us truly change the world in 2015. And we’re just getting started.

2016 will mark another major milestone for JBFC. We will celebrate ten years of ending poverty and changing lives in rural Tanzania. We wish you the best as you each of you wrap up 2015 and look forward to seeing you and sharing an incredible year in 2016!

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Family Christmas at JBFC

One of the few hard parts (for me, anyway!) about living in Tanzania is being away from my hometown of Portland, Maine during the holidays. Starting at around Thanksgiving and lasting until my birthday in early January, I am constantly filled with memories of homemade pies, decorating a Christmas tree while listening to “The Polar Express,” going to see the annual performance of “A Christmas Carol,” and, last but not least, SNOW!

While the faces of my JBFC family may be different than those faces back home, the messages woven through the traditions are the same: love and family.

In Maine, I am hard pressed to remember a Christmas day celebration with more than 20 people; at JBFC, we average between 60 and 70. In Maine, we can regularly expect a couple inches of snow and temperatures in the teens; in Tanzania, we hope for a drizzle and temperatures hover in the mid 70’s.

In Maine, my Dad bakes a pie; in Tanzania, Melinda bakes brownies. In Maine, four or five people mingle while preparing the feast; in Tanzania, our Form Four girls along with a dozen other helpers frantically prepare gravy, mashed potatoes, chicken, biscuits, and more for what seems like a full two weeks leading up to the 25th.

In Maine, we go to “ugly sweater parties;” in Tanzania, the girls wear Christmas themed dresses made by Ashli’s family. In Maine, we have Santa Claus; in Tanzania, we have “Dad” (Chris). In Maine, we sing Jingle Bells; in Tanzania, our Farm Manager turned Choir Teacher turned recent college returnee leads the girls’ choir in a rousing version of “Mambo Sawa Sawa (Everything is Okay, Okay).” 

As we get ready to celebrate another Christmas at JBFC (my third one here!), I have started to get accustomed to new memories and new traditions (along with memories of the old). JBFC operates on a day-to-day basis as a family and Christmas is no exception. While we all may come from vastly different families, from different places, and with different backgrounds, I have come to learn that Christmas at JBFC is a Christmas founded as much on love, family and tradition as anywhere in the world. It is a day where we all take a break from our busy lives- the girls from school and work and our staff from their daily duties- and we all come together and are reminded of how fortunate we are to be part of such a wonderful (and large!) family.

From our JBFC family to yours, we wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Blogger Seth Diemond is JBFC's Chief Operating Officer in Tanzania. This is his 3rd Christmas at JBFC.