I know I promised blog posts, and I really have been trying! Internet access is extremely limited – I’ve only been able to get one once since I’ve been here, and it takes a looooooong time.
I’ve been in Tanzania for about a week and a half now, and it seems impossible to be able to tell you everything that I have intended to, but I will begin with what life is like, and then I will tell you the stories of some very special people.
Where am I right now?
I am in Dodoma, Tanzania, a SMALL city in the middle of the country. It consists of a small business district surrounded by rural areas, and “neighborhoods” ranging from extremely poor to (African) middle class.There are soo many people, but it is peaceful, and they’re very welcoming and polite.
Who am I staying with?
I’m staying with the Muhagachi family – Mama and Baba Askofe. Baba was just ordained as the bishop of Central Tanzania last year, a very honorable position. He is a very influential man. He likes to talk and educate me about African history, Tanzanian politics, the church ministry, and just about annyythinng. He’s very wise. And reminds me a bit of Bill Cosby.
Mama is the backbone of the ministry here. She is always working so hard caring for people in the community. On top of that, she makes sure I'm taken care of, along with all her other children -
Boke and Victor are 16 and 13 and in boarding school. Grace and Peace are my younger sisters, 12 and 7. Three cousins are staying in the care of Mama and Baba as well. Justini is 9, and Shangwe and Kibiro are my age, and so sweet :)
What are the "Living Conditions?"
I'm living in an African house with many people, quite like I do at home. There's electricity most of the time, although we have had to use the lantern almost every night lately. They have a squat toilet, and showers and laundry I do with a bucket in the same room.. which is my least favorite part of being here :P lol.
I have my own room sometimes, although there are almost always guests staying with us. I sleep with a mosquito net, but it doesn't prevent me from having 50 bites all over my body. Malaria is bad here, and I'm thankful that I am taking preventative medicine. People get sick with it ALL the time.
What am I eating?
Food is simple here. We have tea at 10 AM, Rice and beans at 3 PM, and Ugali (Corn Meal) and beans at 9 PM. Every day.
Food doesn't just sit around in pantries waiting to be eaten, so every meal is a gift that keeps you alive. And the days that something like peas are served... it's fantastic :)
What am I doing?
The work Lahash does with Iringa Road church here in Dodoma is mainly child sponsorship and home based care. Many days we walk from house to house across town, checking to make sure that people in the program have what they need to stay alive. Many people who have HIV, orphans being raised by grandparents, families in desperate situations...
There is SO MUCH need here. Being experienced by REAL people who have good hearts. Who feel love, joy, fear and pain all alike.
You know those videos that organizations play.. of dirty kids in tattered clothes.. they play emotional music in the background, hoping to tug at your heart.. But we often dismiss it as being too far aways to be real or urgent..
I drive down the street and it could be that video clip playing through my window. I really want you, my friends and family, to understand that everything that you have heard about places like this is no exaggeration. I visit houses of familier - cement shacks that on the inside look and feel like a cave. A family of 5 or 7 stay in this dark, stuffy 8x10 room, with a dirt floor, often no bed, often no food. Maybe a bowl of dried sardines and a bag of rice in the corner.
Please understand- I'm not jsut telling you the worst scenario I have seen. This is EVERY family I have visited.
I want to tell you their stories. I want you to know the names of those children in the tattered clothes. I want you to know what makes them smile and what they hope for.
I want you to hear about hard working Mommas.
THEY want YOU to hear.
And to know that this place is not far away. I'm here now.
They want you to know that Africans are intelligent, resourceful, loving and joyful. THEY want you to know this. They ask me to tell you this. They ask me to invite you to come here :)
The children in the sponsorship program recieve holistic care - spiritual, nutritional, mental, physical, educaational. Most have lost parents to AIDS, some are HIV positive themselves. It is ensured that they are going to school, being fed, and are in good health.
Each child has a story, deeply saddening, yet hopeful.
Let me begin.
A week ago I went with Pastor Manaseh, Mama Mariam, Leah, and our Kenyan friend Jeff walking for hours and hours. We visited two homes.
The first was the home of one of the kids in the program, his name is Charles. They had noticed a sudden change in his disposition just before he stopped coming to the program last month, so they wanted to find out what was behind this.
When we came, he was home alone, although he should have been in school. Charles is 17 and was just able to begin attending school I believe when he joined the program. He was able to skip ahead to the 5th grade, but we found out that he hasn’t been in school since last month.
When he came out of the tiny cement house he shares with his mother and little sisters, he looked so sick. His eyes were half open and glazed over and his face was sweaty. We all sat down in front of the house and Mariam tried to get him to talk about what was going on, although he didn’t want to. He stared at the ground and spoke quietly, but unearthed what was really going on.
His father is employed but has another wife and another family. Whatever he makes goes to feed them, not Charles and his younger sisters. His mother tries to make money by digging in the dump for bones which can be ground into chicken feed. Whatever money she makes from this, she will often spend on “home brew,” home-made beer, which could potentially kill someone if they got ahold of the wrong batch. Charles admitted that he had been using and selling marijuana for the past two years, but does not use it anymore, which probably would explain the poor condition he was in – malnutrition and withdrawal. We looked inside the house, which basically consisted of blankets and a few buckets on the floor, and the only food we could find was two rotten pieces of bread. That was all the food they had. The reason that Charles hadn’t been in school was that his uniform was torn and much too small. His shoes were split in half. Children who are not in proper uniform will get sent home from school. Just the other day a child was sent home for not wearing socks. Also, I believe that the house they are living in doesn’t belong to them. If the owners come back at any time, they could be evicted.
The good news is that we took Charles with us to the market and got him new shoes and brought his family some food. He was smiling when we left. Hopefully it does the children good, because parents will often sell the food or clothes their family is given, and just go buy home brew. It’s desperation.
The other good news is that I was able to sponsor Charles' little sister, Mariam. She is one of the most solemn little 10 year olds I have ever seen. And now even when I go home, I will have a permanent connection with them, ensuring she gets what she needs to grow up strong, despite situations like this.
The second home we visited is a family that they have been working a lot with for the past couple weeks. Leah and Leisha (The girls from the US) had told me a lot about them.
Mama Sedam is paralyzed on one half of her upper body, I was told, because of domestic abuse. She is literally single handedly caring for her 24 year old son, Chimanga, who is completely blind, and her little son, Sedam. They had been living in a tiny 8X8 room attached to her mother’s house, until she kicked them out sometime last week. Leah and Leisha had arrived just in time to find them trying to move their belongings down the street, many of which were not worth saving, and helped them move into a new place. When we visited, Chimanga was sitting outside of the house, very cheerful. They say he likes to look his best, and won’t go to church unless his clothes are clean and he has shaved. He is also very good at singing and repairing shoes. This family is in desperate need of better living conditions. They are currently in a maybe 10x8 mud house, with no food. They have so few resources – The mother can only use one arm and the son cannot see! How can they make money to eat? So the some of the church staff are working to try to find a better place for them to live, and to help them start a micro-business, selling charcoal or fixing shoes… The problem is that there is so little extra money. There is only so much that they can do. They also understand that it is so much more than just trying to use money to fix a problem, or always buying food for a family when they need it. That would put the family in an even worse spot than before when the assistance stops. They work on sustainable living, which is where the micro-business comes in. They want to work to help families be self-sustaining, not dependant on a program, which is so good.
Another big problem right now is Malaria.. Two of the children in my new “adopted family” have had to go to the hospital for Malaria treatment in the past 3 days. Here it’s just a fact of life. Everyone gets it, and hopefully recovers. Shomary, the driver for the church is the sweetest guy. He has kind eyes. His daughter died of Malaria last month. 4 years old.
The really great news about things like this is that it opens up so many opportunities for you and me. This program operates on very little money, but a LITTLE can change everything.
It can help Mama Saddam set up a small business, it can ensure that Charles and Mariam have more than just moldy bread to eat..
So please, let these people matter to you. Theyre not just a character in a story, because I have taken their hands, stood in their houses, held their children.. They have so many lessons to teach is about resiliance and grace and sincerity. So please see them. Please love them... As much as you love me, or more. :)
(I hope everything in this blog makes sense.. it is assembled from random things I have written throughout the week.. I miss you all, I'm doing well. Peace :) )