Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Zanny U.S. Tour: First Steps

Editors Note:  JBFC Staff Member Seth Diemond describes the process of getting U.S. Visas for JBFC's students Zai and Danny.  Follow this link to help support their trip to the U.S.:                  Donate Mile for Mile

Pulling up in a three-wheeled rickshaw to the sprawling white and gray, security-laden fortress that is the United States Embassy in Dar es Salaam, I could hear Zai and Danny both take deep breaths and exhale.

“Let’s go!” said Danny, with his big eyes bulging a little more than usual.

One by one, the three of us jumped out of the rickshaw and into the morning heat and haze of Tanzania’s largest city. We approached the heavy metal door leading to the Consular Affairs office at the embassy and I spoke to the security staff through an intercom in the window. I handed them the kids’ green packets with their passports, receipts, and birth certificates. One more deep breath.

Preparing to travel abroad to an unknown place can be intimidating for anyone, but you would think even more so for two pre-teens from a small, rural village in Tanzania called Kitongo.

Over the past two weeks I have had the pleasure of helping Danny and Zai- two of JBFC’s students- prepare for their upcoming trip to America. Primarily, I was able to travel with them to Tanzania’s largest city, Dar es Salaam, and help them apply for their travel visas and interview at the United States Embassy. Over these past two weeks I have learned two things: 1) The application process for getting a U.S. visa is complicated, long, and can be frustrating. 2) Danny and Zai make an incredible team and are EXTREMELY excited and ready to get to the United States.

Traveling from our home at JBFC’s Mwanza campus to Dar es Salaam takes about 14 hours rumbling over pot-hole ridden roads, past hundreds of cows and goats, through the Rift Valley and over mountain tops, through Tanzania’s capital in Dodoma and the rains of Morogoro. Throughout 12 of the 14 hours on the road, Danny bombarded Zai (who traveled to the US last year) and I with questions about the possibilities of America:

“Where will we be visiting? Where will we stay? Will we go to the movies? What about Disney Land and Sea World?”

The excitement was as evident in Danny’s anticipation as it was in Zai’s nostalgia for last year’s trip. (Luckily for me Zai answered most of the questions!).
After arriving in the heat, humidity, smog, and Dar’s notorious traffic jams, Danny, Zai, and I would have several days to prepare for their upcoming interview at the United States Embassy. For me, I would use this time to tackle the administrative side of visa applications: the two-step online application process, payment at a local bank, providing current pictures of both of the children, and making sure that all of the supporting documents were in order and accounted for.

Zai and Danny would use this time to rehearse for their upcoming interviews- while no two interviews are ever the same, having gone through this process a couple of times in the past we were able to anticipate the questions that may be asked.

In addition to the basic questions covering name, date of birth, name of school, Zai and Danny would be asked more challenging questions during the interview. For hours on end, the two of them would sit role-playing their interview.

Zai would ask in her oh-so-American way “So, if I give you a visa, how do I know you will return to Tanzania?” or “Why do you wish to come to see America?” Afternoons would often consist of a constant back-and-forth giggle over pronunciations of “Massachusetts” and “Connecticut.”

The morning of the interview is always tense- Dar traffic makes arriving at the embassy by 8:00 am a challenge and the night before is often sleepless. In order to ensure that we would make it on time, we decided to hail a three-wheeled rickshaw instead of a cab. The rickshaws are popular in Dar because of their ability to maneuver in and out of (or even around) traffic.

After our final deep breath while speaking through the intercom at the check-in window, we would make our way through security (similar to security at an American airport) and wait for our turn in the Consular Affairs lobby.

While waiting in the lobby for an hour (though it seemed like three) I could see Danny and Zai both practicing their answers in their head silently. “Which states will you visit?” “How long will you stay in the United States of America?” “Which grade are you in?”
Finally, over the intercom, “Number 19, window three.”

Danny’s turn. Walking to the window together, I could see the touch of nervousness in Danny’s always-confident stride. Speaking to the friendly officer, Danny answered each question methodically and accurately, never once stumbling on “Massachusetts” or “Connecticut.” Asked whom he knows in America, Danny answered, “there is Bibi Nancy and Jim” confidently before sneaking me a quick look with a small smirk on his face.

“Approved, you can pick up your visa tomorrow at 2:00pm. Have a great trip!”

“Number 20, window three.”

Zai’s turn. Zai, a seasoned pro at visa interviews, walked up to the window with a big smile on her face: “Good morning!” she said. After asking the easy questions, the officer at the window asked Zai: “So you have had a chance to travel to the United States, what was your favorite place.”
“California, because I got to go to Disney Land!” answered Zai with a giggle.

A bit surprised, the officer responded “I like that answered- I am from California!”

After a couple more questions, Zai, too, was told “Approved, you can pick up your visa tomorrow at 2:00pm. Have a great trip!”

Walking out of the waiting room, all three of us held our breath in partial disbelief until we pushed open the heavy metal door and stepped into the embassy courtyard. Simultaneously bursting into laughter, we high-fived, hugged, and jumped up and down. Danny, practically jumping out of his Khaki’s and shirt, yelled, “We did it guys! We really did it. I can’t believe it.”

Back in the rickshaw, I asked Danny “are you happy?” and “what will be the first thing you want to do in America?”

“I have never been more happy and I want to go to Disney Land!”
Help bring Zai & Danny to America! ‪#‎Zanny‬ 2015
It’s about 8,000 miles from JBFC in Tanzania to the U.S. We’re trying to raise $1 for every mile they have to travel. This week help us bring #Zanny to America. If all our followers gave just $5 we’d have the cost of their tickets about covered! Share this post on Facebook, tell your friends, tag your favorite pics of Danny and Zai with ‪#‎mileformile‬. Mile for mile, your support can make two Tanzanian kids’ dreams come true.
Donate Mile for Mile

Friday, March 6, 2015

A Day in the Life of a JBFC Employee

Editor's Note:  Anna Dorfman joined the JBFC team in January as an assistant to JBFC's Founder & CEO Chris Gates.  In her blog, she describes what it's like to work for JBFC.

The voices of fisherman headed to the lake, blend with the cheery chirping of the colorful birds, geese singing and a slight trickle of raindrops hitting the tin roof. I wake to the daylight eagerly peaking through the gap between my nearly translucent curtains and window, and the chatter coming from the Maasai under the mango tree reminds me I’m in Tanzania.I take my anti-malarials persistently reminding me of their importance on my nightstand and head to the dormitory style bathrooms in the guesthouse with my water bottle ready to brush my teeth.

Once I’ve taken care of the necessities I put on a vibrantly colored knee-length skirt made for me by Edwin the local tailor. “Habaraza asubuhi,” I am greeted by Mama Katherine and Fatuma. A delicious omelete is prepared and ready for me with freshly brewed coffee on the living room table. I converse briefly with the volunteers over breakfast and check in to make sure they are set for their daily projects.

I head to my office in the administrative building for a morning meeting with Chris, the founder and CEO of JBFC. We go over emails for the day that I pre-loaded at my house through the 3G hotspot from my work phone. Then the international team meets to discuss the progress on all active projects on campus. Once everyone has their duties, I get started on my never-ending to-do list.

I negotiate prices and availability for flights on behalf of a high school group coming to volunteer through our local travel agent. Then I update the JBFC Google Calendar and ASANA (our project tracking system). I respond to email inquiries, and update the campus inventory list. I research upcoming projects on spotty internet: paper making, college/university options in East Africa for the JBFC Girls’ transition after graduating Form 4 from Joseph and Mary Secondary school.

Then I walk down the dirt road past the Maasai tree, and the local fisherman carrying their daily catch, I glance to the right and get a glimpse of the white sails gliding through the Lake. As I approach the Joseph and Mary schools, I am greeted by smiles and “mambos” from the children in their brightly colored uniforms. 

I enter the Library and begin the session for the creative writing club I run after school on Tuesdays. Color poems are on the agenda this week, so I pass out a worksheet with an example and a template for writing one. I run into some barriers teaching kids of varying ages metaphors and similes, but luckily some of the older girls step in and help explain to the younger students. Salome a spunky 5th grader shouts for my attention so she can show off her Poem about the color green that she concludes beautifully, “Green feels like I am at the moon dreaming.”

After clubs, I walk through the girls dorms to say hi. Some girls are washing their clothes by hand, while others help prepare dinner in the dining hall, many girls are already working diligently on their homework, and I chat for a while with hair braiding girls sitting on the stoop. After getting my hair done, and sang Adele’s someone like you enough times I head back to the guesthouse for yoga. As I roll my mat out on the porch facing Victoria’s waves meeting the shoreline, I take a deep breath in and feel overcome by gratitude. Namaste.

I take a shower to rinse off the drops of dew that have accumulated on my clothes from a productive day under the Tanzanian sun. Then I head down for Ugali and eggplant with the JBFC girls. The bell rings at 8 on the tree and we head back into the dining hall for prayer and the beautiful melody of appreciation and awareness are sung in Swahili. I end my day with goodnight hugs from 45 amazing girls and my heart feels warm as I tuck in my mosquito net and lay down to reflect on my day.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Coming Home

When travel abroad turns into living abroad, as so often happens, there comes a day when your “destination” has become home, and your (former) “home” becomes a destination. 

After spending the past couple of months traveling in the United States, I was reminded, rather emphatically, how much JBFC truly is home (though I do miss my family, friends, and especially my parents tremendously!). 

Having been back on campus now for a week, I have compiled a list of the top ten things I missed about Campus while spending two months away from JBFC:

1) The girls’ voices at prayer. Whether crammed into their dining hall with them during nightly prayer time or hearing their voices from the rock house as they float over the hill, I can truly say that hearing the girls singing their songs again has brought to my attention the level of comfort that this brings to my life on a daily basis. While in the states, I would often find myself singing these songs (I do have a wonderful singing voice!), and just as often receive strange looks from passers-by. Nothing like the “Mambo Sawa Sawa” accompanied by thunderous clapping.

2) Walking past Dorm A’s window. As many employees and guests know, as soon as you hit the gate a back-and-forth of “Hi so-and-so, Hi girls!- Hi so-and-so, Hi girls!” begins until safely out of sight. This is a guaranteed pick-me-up that makes up for Tanzania’s lack of Dunkin’ Donuts and Turkey

3) Salome, Bhoke, Getu, and Shida hug competitions. Now, even on the worst of days, and there aren’t many at JBFC, nothing can turn a mood around faster than walking down the stairs and hearing Salome shout out “Whoever hugs Massawe first wins!” and getting trampled by four girls.

4) Rice and Beans/Chris’s cooking: For the majority of people who have worked for, lived at, or visited JBFC, they probably know one thing about me: I love rice and beans. I more than love rice and beans- it is a major part of my being. I missed eating rice and beans daily so much that I even cooked a Tanzanian bean recipe in America a couple of times. That said, Chris is an amazing cook. Fajitas, BBQ, curries, soup, salads and more. I missed Chris’s cooking a lot- just not quite as much as the girls’ rice and beans.

5) End of the day with Chris, Melinda, and Travis. At most jobs, socializing can be a struggle. You get out of work, feel tired, go home, and go to bed. It is such a pleasure to be able to spend some free time day-in and day-out with the greatest people in the world (other than JBFC’s 45 girls!).

6) Girls Government meetings: Hands down, Girls Government meetings have been a highlight of my year. Saturday afternoons spent discussing pressing issues on campus, eating pizza, and solving the world’s problems. In America, there was no way to re-create this (I would have gotten some really strange looks!), and I am very much looking forward to my first meeting since being back. 

7) Mama Maggie (and the rest of the Mamas!): It is hard to not feel at home when in their presence. I have never met anyone more excited by each individual or as attuned to their needs and preferences as Mama Maggie and her staff. Mama Maggie is quick with a joke, a hug, or some advice, whatever
is needed.

8) Living with Melinda: I had a TON of great roommates during my trip to America. Chris, Ashli, Chris’s family in Delaware, Chris’s family in Tulsa, my sister and her family in California, and, best of all, my parents. Melinda, it is nice to be back!

9) Getu’s smile, Eliza’s sarcasm, and Liku’s laugh, etc.: For those who know the JBFC girls, these don’t need explanations. Each girl has left an impression on me that I carried with me on this trip.

Monday, February 2, 2015

A Very Special JBFC Holiday

Editor's Note: Guest Blogger, Ron Gates, is the father of JBFC's founder. It's been seven years, since he's visited the Tanzanian campus. In his blog, he shares how JBFC has changed and tells why a JBFC holiday is so special.

It has been seven years since my last visit to JBFC’s Kitongo campus. Needless to say things have changed a bit since the last time I traveled to Africa. There were only two houses on campus and only seven girls. The conditions were a lot rougher than what I experienced during my recent visit. The seven girls are now women, too!

I’ve been asked why it took me so long to get back. I have no good answers. Each year I wanted to find the time, the money, but then another year would pass. My son would come home two or three times a year, which satiated my need to see my son. He would bring JBFC girls to America, which gratified my wish to stay connected with them (at least some of them). However, it has been ten years since I’d spent Christmas with Christopher. It was time…this was the year.   

Christmas at JBFC really started on Christmas Eve. There were five adults wrapping presents for 50 children. It became an all day affair. Our JBFC girls (and a few boys) were the recipients of numerous gifts (which all needed to be wrapped). Getting gifts from America to Tanzania can be somewhat problematic. The problem isn’t really associated with transportation…it’s with the wrapping. You can’t wrap the gifts ahead of time - security and custom officials frown on wrapped gifts. This little ‘security’ issue caused five adults to spend all day wrapping gifts.

The day was finally upon us – it was Christmas! The look on all the girls’ faces when they entered Christopher’s house and saw the ‘mountain’ of presents under the mango Christmas tree was magical. Controlled chaos was how the morning played out. Laughing, giggling girls were in abundance. Joy, cheer and love filled the room. Our day of wrapping labor was worth every minute – just to see the anticipation and excitement on the girls’ faces when a gift was handed to them.

The girls call me Babu. This is a Swahli term for grandfather. I’m not too thrilled with the translation, but I like the name. It reminds me of the Disney movie – Jungle Book and its main character Baloo. Being the oldest on the campus did afford me some luxuries; I got to stay in the very nice bungalows, everyone thought I was too old to carry anything and I guess they thought I was too old to help prepare food and drinks. It was nice to be waited on hand and foot. 

I grew up with a lot of music. We had to play at least two instruments and if we didn’t practice, we didn’t get to eat. No one missed a meal, though – we enjoyed playing and singing. It was part of the fabric of my youth. I wanted to bring some of my ‘music’ to JBFC. I brought seven ukuleles - one for each house. They were all wrapped and opened on Christmas. I entertained the group with a few songs on the ukulele. 

The other musical feat I wanted to achieve was singing with the JBFC choir. The girls have magical voices. I brought a CD, which contained a song called, “Angel in Blue Jeans.” This is a song by the group ‘Train’ and I thought it would be a perfect a capella song for the girls.

 We practiced and performed on Christmas for the group. The girls were fantastic. I was clearly the weak link in the performance. At least I added some levity to the rendition

They had a party for me on my last night. It was heart warming to put it mildly. There was more ukulele playing, singing and tears. Did I learn the correct pronunciation of all of the girls’ names – no. Did they all touch my heart – yes. Will I wait another seven years to go back – absolutely not!  

Guest blogger Ron Gates is a JBFC board member in addition to being JBFC Founder Chris Gates' father.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

JBFC New Faces: Alyssa Doty

Editor's Note: JBFC recently hired Alyssa Doty as the Office Manager in Tulsa, Ok. In her blog, she explains why this is a "perfect job" for a former missionary kid.

As the daughter of missionaries I was fortunate to spend most of my childhood in Venezuela. This opportunity not only made it possible for me to easily learn a second language, it also instilled in me a love for travel and for learning about other cultures. When I returned to the U.S. for college my plan was to finish my degree and then to go live “overseas” again.

Life, as usually happens, took a bit of a different turn than I expected and I have been living for the past five years in Tulsa, OK (which – honestly - is a very different culture to me). Through the years I have had the opportunity to work for a number of great organizations, such as the Salvation Army Boys and Girls Club, and to use my Spanish skills in a program with Latina women to help reduce diabetes through lifestyle changes. I have also been able to travel to different parts of the world such as Israel, Egypt, and last summer to Nicaragua.

Through all of this I have been on the look-out for the “perfect” job: one where I could continue to live in Tulsa but work for an organization that impacts and makes a difference in the global community. When a friend told me about the job opening at JBFC I was elated (I’m pretty sure I e-mailed Ashli that very afternoon). The more I learned about JBFC the more it seemed like a perfect fit for me. Its focus on sustainability, the Tanzania community involvement, and the multi-pronged approach to reduce poverty are important aspects for an organization I work for. The focus on empowering girls was also a selling point for me as a firm believer in creating equal opportunities for girls and boys.

Evidently the JBFC staff thought I would be a good fit, too, (or else there were no other applicants) and I began work as JBFC’s Office Manager two weeks ago. I am excited to join the JBFC family on this journey and to play my part as one of the U.S. staff. The only thing that makes me sad is that it will be a while before I get a chance to visit Tanzania and meet the girls. In the meantime I will get to know them through their pictures and letters I send to sponsors, the stories volunteers bring back, and through the beautiful pictures on the blog and web page. I will work on my Swahili and read all the books I can on Tanzania. I am looking forward to getting to know all of the U.S. supporters who make it possible for the vision of JBFC to continue. I’m sure you will be hearing from me at some point. Please feel free to email me or call me or come grab a cup of coffee with me and we can practice our Swahili together.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Back to School: 5 Years of Making the Grade

Today is Joseph and Mary School’s first day of classes for the 2015 school year.

Students began flowing in at 8 o’clock sharp for morning assembly. They gathered in their royal blue shirts in courtyard of the primary and secondary schools to sing the national anthem in unison. Afterwards they met their teachers, got their desks ready, and then headed to breakfast in the dining hall (one of the two meals provided by JBFC to all students to prepare them for a productive day of learning).

Today is also special because it is the 5th anniversary of the opening of the Joseph and Mary schools. (To read more about why JBFC's school is called Joseph & Mary, click here)

When we opened our doors in January of 2010, I never dreamed our school would come so far this quickly. This time five years ago, we opened our doors with just 60 kids. But we were soon overwhelmed by the demand for quality education in our area and we were soon filling 100 seats and ended the year with twice that.

I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised by the response to Joseph & Mary. Our neat U-shaped block of classrooms, stacked with desks and chairs, filled with books and learning toys, each headed by a certified teacher, was a far cry from the local government school just a few hundred yards away. That school was the reason we were determined to open Joseph & Mary in the first place. At the time, it had 900 students and three teachers. Hundreds of kids crammed shoulder to shoulder in classes with no learning materials and, often, no adult supervision in sight.

 And the difference in clear not just in appearance, but in academics. Our students consistently outperform surrounding schools (government schools and other private ones). We’ve had our struggles and in the beginning the learning curve was steep, for our students and for JBFC, as an organization. But we prove day in and day out that good teachers, access to quality tools, and hard work pays off.
In 2010, none of our students spoke a word of English, and now they can communicate in English as a second language. Joseph and Mary has been ranked in the top 3.5% of schools in the entire country. 100% of our students have passed the Tanzania national exams every year, since we opened. That’s truly something, when you consider most of Tanzanian students fail the national exam every yea
While we’ve accomplished a lot in the last four years, but we are, by no means, slowing down. We want our schools to continue to succeed, so we have set our sights on these goals to make sure Joseph & Mary students thrive.
Education Goals for 2015:
JBFC is lucky and grateful to have some wonderful school partners throughout the U.S. They have helped tremendously with teacher development. While professional development is expected and often required for American teachers, it’s a little harder to come by in rural Tanzania. Thanks to our partners, our teachers are learning new teaching methods and strategies and are regularly incorporating them into the classroom.
I especially want to recognize Robbin Hawkins and Kim Ferguson from Sarah Lawrence University in Bronxville, NY, who helped run an entire week of teacher development last week. These two women were wonderful additions to our teacher training, providing unique insight for our staff members. We can’t thank them enough for sharing their time and talents. We hope we can continue to grow this kind of support from our international partners in 2015.
While I’m excited and thrilled to begin another year at Joseph & Mary, this one is a little bittersweet. Because this year, we will say goodbye to our first graduating class!
I cannot believe that these students are ready to graduate and go out into the world. These students who started secondary school in my living room, because we had no secondary school at the time, will now be heading off to higher education, training programs, and work. I am so proud of these students. According to the UN only 1 in 4 Tanzanian students is even attending secondary school, let alone graduating. I can’t wait to see what these bright young men and women do with their education.
We are hoping to prepare all of our students to be not only good students, but also good citizens of the world. We especially hope to prepare our graduating seniors to go out into the world as intelligent and independent individuals with strong JBFC values and that they will share what they have learned with others.
Blogger Chris Gates is JBFC's Founder & CEO.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

JBFC in 2015: Big Plans, Goals, & Dreams

As an eternal optimist (this is no shocker to those who know me well…or even slightly well), New Year's Eve is always an exciting time for me.
It is the one time of the year when you are supposed to look forward. You make promises and goals for the next year, and it is actually socially acceptable to dream. So, in honor of the season's spirit, I wanted to share with all of you a few things I am excited about for JBFC in 2015.


First and foremost, I am excited to see our first batch of students and girls flourish into their next phase of life! Thirty students, eight of which are our own JBFC residential girls, will be graduating our secondary school and moving on into the world.
 Some of them will be getting apprenticeships and jobs, some of them will be going to trade schools, and others will go on for higher education. No matter what the path, I am excited to see these girls we have spent almost eight years raising grow into beautiful, young women, who are truly making an impact on their communities.


But, 2015 doesn’t just mean the graduation of our girls- we as an organization are graduating! We have been growing rapidly for almost nine years and 2015 will be no different. However, 2015 will represent some significant milestones – we are growing in Tanzania, adding a second campus in an entirely different community and taking in an entirely new set of neglected girls. We are also growing in the U.S., adding more staff and moving into a new office. We are not only graduating our girls, but we, as an organization, are growing and maturing.

And we’re not going to stop there.

We have goals to improve production on our farm (which is already producing more than 400 pounds of produce weekly). We have goals to officially start our trade school at our on-campus restaurant, Papa's, training eight underprivileged youth per year in the tourism industry. And, we plan to provide healthcare education to our community through regular seminars on various topics to improve the health of our entire community.

I am excited for the ride ahead, but most importantly, I am excited to share this ride with you. Each and every single one of you is a valuable member of our JBFC family and only with your presence can all of our 2015 goals become a reality. I look forward to being in touch and seeing and speaking with all of you in 2015!

Happy New Year!!!
Chris Gates is JBFC's Founder, CEO & Head Dreamer