March 16, 2012


We woke up at 4 am to find that the pouring rain had come through our windows and soaked everything that was on the floor (namely our bags with extra stuff). As we scrambled to get everything off the floor and ready to start drying we wondered why we were bothering to wake up so early to go watch a marathon that clearly could not happen in this sort of rain. Despite our tiredness, we really hoped it would stop. The kids at the orphanage had been training for so long for the 5k Fun Run at the marathon, they would be so disappointed if it was cancelled.



The Springlands staff was out making breakfast for those who were not swayed by the storm, so we joined them amongst the calf-high water at 4:15am. Right as we headed to the road to wait for the Daladala that was supposed to pick us up, we got a text message from Dr. Greg that they were not going to make it on account of rain- what a bummer. Feeling disappointed, we trudged back to our rooms and hopped back into bed to sleep. Right as we were about to fall asleep, the phone rang again and it was Dr. Greg with a text that read, "We're back on! T.I.A.!" (this is Africa)The kids were not going to let a little rain stand in their way of running! We scrambled back outside and waited for them to pick us up in the dark.



10 kids were scheduled to run the race, but there were about 15 more of us there to cheer them on. We all wore matching red tshirts so we could spot each other. As we waited near the starting line before the sun came up, Dr. Greg explained to us how important this race was to him and to one of the girls running. Aziza, age 12, had been to India the year before for a serious heart operation. Prior to the operation, she could walk no more than a few steps without having to sit down because of her failing heart. After the operation, she has had to take things easy, but she said she wanted to run the race. This would be the hardest physical activity she had done since her operation. The oldest boy at the orphanage, Raymond (18), offered to run with her in case she had any problems, a very nice gesture as he would easily have been one of the top finishers had he decided to run on his own.


Once the race started, the rest of us (everyone under the age of 9) walked to the finish line to wait for the kids and cheer them on. One by one they raced by, covered in mud from the rain, but thanks to the red tshirts we were able to spot them all. Finally, it was just Aziza and Raymond we were all waiting for. One of the little boys spotted them and our whole group erupted to cheer them on for the last 100 yards. Aziza was clearly very tired, but still smiling as she finished the race. It was incredible to see her, especially knowing that without the help of the orphanage and the operation, she probably would not be with us today.


Afterwards, each of the participants got another tshirt that they all wore as we watched the famous runners (even some gold medalists from Kenya) finish the regular marathon. It was a great day for everyone, and I'm sure it will become an annual thing for the kids to look forward to.


A New Family

February 29, 2012


The other day we witnessed an adoption of 3 kids into the Kilimanjaro Orphanage Center. The kids, Brightness(3), Maureen (5) and Dennis (9) are siblings that lived in the Machame region of Kilimanjaro (close to the base of the mountain). Their parents died of HIV and their grandmother was very old and could barely take care of them, so Dr. Greg, Teacher and the orphanage decided to take them in. We drove up to their village one morning with a woman who knew of the family and had helped coordinate the adoption. We got to the house where we all saw the kids for the first time. They were all malnourished, had fungal infections on their heads and were VERY scared of being in the car. The official ceremony to give them to the orphanage took place with ourselves, the grandmother, local councilmen, the priest and "the commissioner of 10 houses" that we assumed owned the hut/house they lived in. Basically, the official process involved learning a small amount about the family (with a translator), shaking hands and then the kids were officially part of the orphanage's family after that. A sad note we found out afterwards was that the 3 year old girl is HIV positive, something that the family never told the orphanage because they were afraid they wouldn't take her in. Many people are afraid to admit to a child's condition if they are HIV positive because of the social implications that come with it. The orphanage and the school, however, always try to explain that once they have committed to taking care of a child, the child is part of their extended family (a recurring concept here... a family extends well beyond just those related by blood). Afterwards, we all went to lunch to celebrate their new home, something I am not sure the kids fully grasped, but they were very excited to have kuku na chips (chicken and fries). All in all, it was a really moving experience- especially seeing the grandmother crying, thanking god for giving her grandchildren a better life. We were very grateful to be included in such an important day and continue to try to look out for these kids and make sure they have the smoothest transition they possibly can. 

Kidole Gumba Juu!

February 16, 2012

It has been almost 5 weeks at school. Students have started to call us "Ceels" and "Leslie" instead of "mzungu" (white person). One fun contribution to KCF was teaching the students to say "Kidole Gumba Juu," which means "Thumbs Up!" Previously, the students attached no meaning to putting one's thumb in the air. One day in class, I was told to teach my 45 students something from America. The students gazed up at me, anxious to hear what I was about to say. I scrambled, nervously racking my brain for something that I could easily translate into Swahili in order to communicate to them. I wanted to teach them something fun. Hmm...they just learned body parts in English, I thought. So, I put both thumbs up in the air. I said loudly, "Thumbs up!" All 45 students yelled back "Thumbs up!" I asked the Tanzanian teacher for a translation, and she told me, "Kidole Gumba Juu!" All of the students giggled and yelled "Kidole Gumba Juu!"

Every student at KCF knows "Kidole Gumba Juu" even though most of them aren't in my class. Standing in line for uji (porridge) and lunch, students greet us by saying "Kidole Gumba Juu!" or "Thumbs Up!" Each day when we enter our classrooms students raise both thumbs and smile excitedly. Besides that, "Head and Shoulders, Knees and Toes," "The Itsy Bitsy Spider," and "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" have become other American classroom favorites. We think it's imperative to let kids have fun and sing because nursery school in Tanzania is quite rigorous. The students learn for 4.5 hours each day, studying math, science, Swahili, and English. With over 300 students in 5 classes,it is often difficult to give them individual attention and help. Working one-on-one with students in our classes has been our priority. Even though our Swahili is limited, it's amazing to help a student finally grasp how to count or how to write the letter E. We are so impressed with how much they learn in a language that is not their own.

Thumbs up to everyone at home. It's 100 degrees here--hope the snow is treating you well!



Our Daily Walk

February 9, 2012


The minute we walk out of the Springlands we are immediately greeted by about 20 people, most of whom are Zara day guides: Mambo, Hujambo, Habari yako, mzungu! Sometimes we feel we are getting tested on our swahili and try to answer correctly- we've actually gotten pretty good at it! Our walk takes around an hour, but it seems to fly by since we try to greet almost every person we pass. This is very customary in Tanzanian culture and we have come to recognize some of the regulars each day. 


Our friend Baragash from Zara taught us a shortcut on how to get to school and talked to the locals to inform them that we are teachers. First we walk down the abandoned railroad tracks along the dirt road where pikipikis (motorcycles) spit out more dust than we can ever have imagined (it has yet to rain here since we've arrived and it is usually somewhere between 90 to 100 degrees daily). We pass many children in their school uniforms, men working on pounding on metal, women carrying buckets on their head and numerous cows, goats and chickens. It is unlike any walk we've ever had before. 


After turning off from the railroad tracks, we pass through a field of people working on their crops. We still are unsure of what those crops are, but hopefully once the rainy season comes and they begin to grow we will see them sprout. When we get to the hindu cemetary with monkeys swinging through the trees that hang over it, we are officially in the forest. Storks, pelicans and a lot of birds we've never heard of before fly all over the place- it is incredible to see. 


After we cross the river over the rocks that the local people have set up (this might get dicey once the rain comes), we encounter our favorite family. They own a small stand of fruits, a few goats and they are always excited to see us. One old woman in particular waits for us everyday and starts "bah-ing" like a goat every time we pass in order to get a laugh out of us. It works every time because it is the most realistic impression we have ever heard and always catches us by surprise that it is coming from a 70 year old woman and not a real goat. 


Once we pass over a few more rivers, pass through a few more farms, we finally emerge on the dirt road towards school. Here the people know the school well, as many of the students live very close and walk partway home with us, so they refer to us as "mwalimu" (teachers) and call after us when we walk down the street. Seeing the Kilimanjaro Children's Foundation sign that the NSCDS students made is a welcome sight, only a few more blocks. Usually here we run into a few students and get to meet their parents, which is always fun. They jump into our arms and are so excited for school, which is encouraging for us since we sometimes question ourselves due to our lack of swahili. Our walk to school is just one of the great parts of our day- definitely a daily reminder of how lucky we are to be here and see these things we NEVER would otherwise.


We hope everything is going well at home!

The Shomba

January 29, 2012


The other day we went to the shomba (farm) with some of the kids from the orphanage. We all piled into the daladala (van that seats as many people as can fit... we counted 27 in ours) and headed out. It was great to be with a smaller group of kids because you could really get a chance to talk to them. Even though we don't speak much swahili and they know limited english, we were still able to communicate and get the basics from them (name, age, school, year, what they like to do, how they like the shamba, etc). Teacher's daughter, Severa, was particularly helpful as her english is top-notch.


We had no idea what to expect, so we kept asking questions like how many animals are on the farm? And what sorts of plants do they have on the farm? Each time we were met with laughter, so we just waited to see. Turns out that the shamba was a little different from the typical "farm" we expected. It was actually a rice paddy, something neither of us had any prior experience with. We walked across the small walkways (raised mud with grass) as if they were balance beams- very cautiously with our arms out, trying not to fall. The kids, however, raced across them as if it were second nature. The kids laughed at us again since our shoes were still on-- we really had no idea what we were going to do on the shomba. They instructed us to take our shoes off and wade into the paddies... we were going to weed the rice plants.
For those of you that don't know, a rice paddy is a bunch of plants in rows that stand in muddy water that comes up to about mid-calf. In order to weed them you need to wade through and reach down into the muddy water and pick out everything that aren't rice plants (about 50% of the field). Needless to say, we were both lost when we walked into the water- which ones are rice plants? is this a rice plant? is that? With the help of the kids (some as young as 7) we finally got the hang of it, but it was HARD work. Each person would make piles of weeds in their arms up to a few feet high, then discard them on the side. It was 39 degrees celsius that day (about 102 fahrenheit) and we were out there for about 3-4 hours.
With the 20 (or so) kids, 4 teachers and us we were able to finish one section of the rice paddy during that time. It was quite the experience, and we really started to get to know some of the kids, which was really fun. They loved our sunglasses and each took turns wearing them throughout the day. Despite being out there for so long, as well as developing stinging cuts on all of our arms where the rice plants cut us, hardly anyone complained throughout the whole thing- and this was their day off! We ended up having a great day at the shamba and were glad to get the experience- definitely not something we expected to do while we were here.
Hope all is well at home!
Ceels and Leslie

January 24, 2012


We wanted to write you and tell you about our initial reactions to being here, and especially at the school, so here goes:


After about 24 long hours of travel, we arrived at the airport beat tired and just wanting to go to sleep. Immediately upon leaving the terminal, however, we met Teacher and Daniel (another teacher at the Kilimanjaro Children's Foundation) for the first time and he could not have been more welcoming. He explained to us that he was very excited to have us here and kept wanting to make sure that we would have a good time. We assured him that it would not be a problem and that we could already tell that we would have an amazing experience.


When we arrived at school for the first day, no one could have prepared us for what would come. Immediately upon seeing us enter, all of the kids on the playground swarmed to us. We have never felt so welcome in a place where we knew no one. The kids were all so interested in seeing us, touching us (particularly our white skin and hair... two things they were fascinated by) and just generally being around us. Admittedly, that did become harder over the next week as it is difficult to always have at least 6 kids hanging on you every time you step out of the classroom, but it is a constant reminder of how lucky we are to be here and how happy they are to be at school. We have never met kids that are so eager to learn. They sit in tiny desk rows with about 4 people crammed into a spot that would comfortably fit a large adult. Every time they ask someone to come to the board to say something, each of them raises their hand for the opportunity, even if they have no clue what the answer is. 


Seeing the kids at school really helped us put everything into perspective. They have so little- about one broken pencil and one notebook per student in a small classroom that has 40 kids in it- but they do not complain and keep trying their hardest to keep up. It is amazing that some of them are only 5 years old but are learning things in English that most kids back in the US do not know at that age, and definitely not with such a lack of resources. One thing we did notice and mentioned to Teacher was that the size of the class does create a large disparity within the class. With a teaching style that is mostly based upon repetition, something we have been working on little by little to steer the teachers away from, the same kids are the ones that know all of the answers, and it seems it would be easy for some of the other kids to be left behind. We brought this up to Teacher and he said that he will work on making assessments so that the classes will be evened out- thus far most of our suggestions have been met positively and they are just trying to keep up their reputation as the best preschool in town. 


One of the greatest things we see is when we drive away with Teacher after school. Almost every person in town knows him, admires him and always says hi to him. Driving out of the school, all of the kids in the class chase after his car waving bye to all of us inside. Even after school they are equally excited to see all of us and the sound of TEACHER TEACHER echoes all the way until we get away from the dirt roads and on to the faster main road. It just goes to show what an amazing person he is and the impact he has had on the whole community. We can honestly say we have never met anyone else like him in our lives. He recently moved closer to his orphanage so that if there are any problems during the night he can be there more quickly to help. He takes children into his home from school and the orphanage that have medical conditions that leave them uncared for (anything to HIV to diabetes to kidney problems) and treats their illnesses out of pocket. This is all on top of the work he does all day long at the school and the orphanage. He is truly inspiring. 


We cannot wait to continue to experience everything that Tanzania has to offer. The people here are so welcoming, usually telling us that we should just "be free." Everyone at the Springlands has offered to teach us swahili and we have been trying to take them up on the offer as best we can. Thus far our time here has been very rewarding, but also very challenging. We see things here we never could have imagined seeing at home, but it is amazing how the people here just continue to make the best of everything because that is all they know.