Journal Entry: Tanzania, April 2014

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TANZANIA               April 2014

The Sun is Shining on Tanzania

I arrive in Dar es Salaam in the afternoon from Kigali, Rwanda.  I did not get my visa for entry at home so I know this will take time.  Unfortunately, I have forgotten how unorganized this process can be.  You must understand I have landed in an African country close to the equator.  They do not waste their air conditioning on those entering the Country.  It is HOT, and the multitude of bodies makes it worse.  After landing we fill out an immigration form.  That is easy.  Now I have to figure out where to go.  I ask a woman, and she points straight ahead.  Then to my right I see an official collecting passports and money.  They charge $100 for a visa to enter Tanzania.  He takes my passport and money and hands it to another official behind a window.  It is scary to see your passport being shuffled around.  This is happening in a crowd of people, body to body, all of us hot and sweating.  Now for the waiting.  Names are called randomly, and there is much pushing and shoving.  It is truly a chaotic scene, almost comical if you look outside of the bubble.  Finally my name is called, and I have been set free for another year.

My first order of business is using the ATM machine; then buying soccer balls.  With money in hand I locate the store I frequent year after year.  Amiji and his family are doing well.  His father who has turned ninety remembers me and asks many questions concerning my family.  Off I go with soccer balls in tow, ready to surprise children playing the game.

Maria, my partner from African Reflections Foundation, has started the drilling of the two wells I am funding.  We travel south to the Mkuranga District to monitor the process.  The first well is at the Dundani Primary School.  The well is drilled, and the concrete which will support the holding tank is setting.  The solar panels will be installed and working in three more days.  There are 665 children attending this school.  The classrooms are few, and the ones they have are barren, with floors of sand and crumpled concrete.  Then I see the headmaster’s and teachers’ offices.  The room is as barren as the classrooms, and the teachers are sitting on the floor grading homework and doing lesson plans.  There is not a chair or a desk in sight.  I feel awful.  Awful.  The teachers are battling overwhelming odds for themselves, as well as the children.  I feel overwhelmed because I know there is so much need everywhere I look.  First potable water, then add other items one at a time.  I take a deep breath and move on, but the sadness does not leave me.

We travel to the Magoza Primary School and Dispensary.  They are located within fifty yards of each other which is perfect for the usage of the well.  It also bodes well for the security of the solar power with two groups keeping watch.  The village leader informs us they have lions in their village.  I am so naive that I think he means they are in a pen.  We agree to follow the leaders to see the lions.  We drive for twenty minutes on a path meant for goats, not a vehicle.  We continue through the brush with branches slapping at the car until we cannot drive any further.  As we stop I see one man loading a rifle.  He says he is going to shoot the lioness and take the three cubs.  I have a bad, bad feeling and refuse to join the group hunting for the lions.  It is high noon and very hot.  The lioness will be resting during the heat of the day, not on the move.  Plus in the high, thick brush she will be hard to see.  I feel good that Mother Nature is on her side at this moment.  I offer another option to the leaders.  I have seen signs for a zoo in the area so I suggest they ask the zoo to trap the lions.  When that fails I suggest they call the President of Tanzania, Kikwete, for help.  I do not want to see these animals killed.  The villagers are afraid for their lives and their children’s lives, and I am a foreign woman who does not live in this remote area.  I am definitely prejudiced for the lioness, but again I do not live here.   The hunting group returns within fifteen minutes having had no luck in finding the animals.  That makes me feel better for now.

Leaving this area I ask to see where the villagers have been getting their water.  We stop the car and walk a short distance to the one tall tree in the area.  There they have dug into the sand at the base of the tree where they have found water.  Actually I think they are smart because the tree is surviving through its roots, and humans will also survive with this water.  The hole is quite deep so a young child could fall in and drown.  Plus it is dirty, dirty water, but it is water.  And we all need water to live.

I go to visit the District Commissioner for the Mukuranga District.  I know Mercy from last year, and she greets me warmly.  I asked the Minister of Agriculture to once again meet with the recipients of the goats and chickens at the Dundani School before I distribute them.  The students and their parents need to know how to care for these animals so the entire village will benefit from the offspring.

As we drive through the countryside, I notice a big change from one year ago.  There is a lot of development, both residential and commercial.  Do not picture residential as we know it.  Picture driving south on the only paved road, looking in the distance at the multitude of palm trees, and seeing some different colored tin roofs scattered among the palms.  That is progress.  Apparently they have discovered oil in this area so roads are being built; people and foreign countries follow.  Mercy said the Chinese and South Koreans have already opened factories in this area.  I also met a man from Denmark who is exploring hydro-power west of Dar es Salaam.  He sees this happening in the near future.  The sun is definitely shining on Tanzania.  I hope the US will somehow get involved before it is too late.

I am excited to visit Dr. Amani at his clinic in Kisarawe 2.  I want to see if my well from two years ago is working, and if the water that I piped into the Clinic last year is being used.  We pull up, and once again he has added something with his own money.  He bought another holding tank of 10,000 liters and put it high in the air on concrete pillars.  The water is now gravity fed.  Concrete is expensive, and he paid for it out of his own pocket.  I love this man.  The well now has solar power, thanks to the government.  African Reflections Foundation has also given him a solar panel so there is now electricity in the Clinic.  I cannot imagine doing any operation in a dark room without running water.  We have changed that.  I am so happy with the Doctor, the Clinic, and the well.


Each day I leave Dar es Salaam and go south to see the wells I have funded in the past.  Usually I stay in the villages, but the conditions have deteriorated where I used to stay.  They are unsanitary and perhaps not as secure as I would like.  So, better safe than sorry.  The drive from site to site takes at least thirty minutes; usually closer to an hour.  That gives me time to think.  Today I was very sad thinking about the chances a child has to succeed here in a remote area of Africa.

The chances are slim that they will even leave the area where they were born.  What gives one person the drive to change their life?  How does a child succeed in school under the worse possible circumstances?  The drive must be internal, and you do not realize you have it until sometime in your adult years.  You just do what you have to do to succeed.

Thinking along these lines as we drive, I get sadder and sadder thinking about the odds these children have to surmount.  We arrive at the Kitomundo Dispensary where I funded a well last year.  There are women and girls waiting to fill at least fifty buckets of clean water.  My sadness turns to happiness in seconds as I see this scene.  The well is overflowing with water, the water is accessible, and the females are getting clean, clean water.  Helping one person at a time is a beginning.  That is all I can do.

Good news has greeted me this year in Tanzania.  With the two wells I am funding on this trip, the total number comes to sixteen in my six years in Tanzania.  Out of that number only five are solar powered.  I started with generators, and then moved on to solar power.  It is more expensive, but more cost efficient in the long run.  African Reflections Foundation asked the Renewable Energy Agency of Tanzania for a Grant based on my yearly donations.  The REA agreed and added solar power to five of my generator powered wells.  I am so happy.  I visited each site to make sure the water was flowing.  The Government is taking an active role, as they should, in helping the remote villages.  We are asking them to do the same with my remaining generator powered wells.  I see this as such a positive step for the future.

Once again I am buying goats and chickens.  I have specific instructions from two people (no names to protect the innocent) to name goats for them.  I can do that, and I will remember who I gave these animals to so I can chart their progress yearly.  When I visit my well in Golani, several of the local women stopped to say hello.  I asked about the goats that I gave two years ago.  One of the women said she had an offspring to sell.  My ears perked up because I was in the market for animals.  Soooo, I bought a goat from this woman that I gave a goat to in the past.  How wonderful is that?  We are both happy, and another family that I give it to will be happy too.  This is like hitting the lottery and being able to share it.

I thought it would be easier to buy a large amount of goats this year because one year ago we arranged with the Masai to get the goats.  However, once I arrive, the Masai said it will take weeks to supply me with goats.  I do not have weeks, I need them NOW.  I see Hadiga, a woman I gave goats to five years ago.  Her group of women now has thirty two goats.  I am elated.  However she will not sell any to me.  I cannot figure out why.  My driver who is also my interpreter tries to tell me, but he really cannot speak English.  Perhaps the herd gives them power as women, perhaps they will get a higher price from someone else.  I am still puzzled.  So back I go to Mama Foyo who will find them for me.  We agree on a price, I send the money, and then I get a call saying she needs more money.  Not from this person!  We agreed, I paid, she accepted.  I stand firm, and she reluctantly agrees.  I get my goats for the price we had originally agreed on.  I hear her tell someone I am a strong woman.  She means she cannot bully me.   If that is strong to her, then I am strong.

The chickens are easier.  Two years ago I gave chickens to women in Kisarawe 2.  They now have over two hundred and fifty chickens.  They gladly sell chickens to me at the going price.  I am happy for them, for me and for the children who will receive them.

I ask the Headmaster at the school where I am drilling a well to identify the neediest students who will receive an animal. I have done this in the past, and it seems to be working.  They and their parents come to the school to sign the contract.  The District Commissioner’s office meets with them to explain how to care for the animals.  I explain to all that they have to give the first female offspring to a family without an animal.  This is reenforced often.

This year I am doing something extra for all of the children.  I am buying each child a new 3 liter (80% of a gallon) jerry can.  I chose this size so all of the primary school children would be able to carry it.  They can fill the can at school with clean water from the new well and take it home at the end of their school day.  They will now have their own clean water to drink at home.  Not all of them live near a well so their water source may be contaminated.  Hopefully this will be a successful project.  If it works as I think it can, I would like to continue this in the future.  To me one well + one clean jerry can =’s one healthy child.

It is the day to officially open the wells and turn them over to the schools.  The first well is at the Dundani School.  The teachers have taken time to decorate and put ribbons to cut in front of the tank.  It looks quite festive.  When I speak, I tell them the well is “their well”.  They need to take pride and ownership in this well.  I tell them I will return in one year to check on it.  We cut the ribbon, and the water flows.  I hand out the goats and chickens to the students and their parents.  They are nervous and do not know how to hold the animals.  I show them, one by one.  They lose some of their trepidation, but are still wary of their animal.  On to soccer uniforms.  Everyone is excited; the teachers, the school children, and certainly the team.  Next we hand out a new jerry can to each child.  I see in front of me a sea of white jugs.  As they hold the jugs over their heads, it looks like giant snowflakes coming from the sky.

We move on to Magoza to open the second well.  It is equidistant to a school and a dispensary.  It will also serve over 2000 people in the village.  The people in all of these areas look poor, but the villagers here appear even more in need.  Their clothes have few buttons, and almost all are barefoot.  They want to thank us for the solar powered well so they present us with coconuts, sugar cane and a chicken.  The coconuts are a natural resource, but a rooster is valuable to this community.  I feel awful.  I should be giving them chickens, not vice versa.  We have to accept their gifts or they will lose face.

As I begin handing out soccer uniforms, a man with a machete approaches me.  He is speaking loudly as he waves the machete in a somewhat threateningly manner.  I gather he is not happy by his actions, and I ask others what he wants.  It is a set of soccer uniforms, but he does not look like he plays any sport.  I tell him the uniforms are for the children.  I do not feel in danger, but I am relieved when the village leaders remove him quickly.

I have one set of soccer uniforms to deliver before I leave.  We go to the Mjimwema Primary School south of Dar es Salaam.  The Headmaster brings the team, and I hand out the uniforms.  Off they run to the back of the school.  They change in the open, throwing off their old school uniforms, and run back, actually smiling.  When I take pictures here, the children usually put on their serious faces.  This time they are smiling because they are so proud.  Classmates are looking out of spaces where windows should be and smiling with them.  I am so happy for them.  My driver looks at me, smiles and says good, good.

I went to visit the Comprehensive Community based Rehabilitation in Tanzania (CCBRT) today.  It is my third year visiting this hospital and donating for fistula operations.  A donation of $5000 will pay for fifteen operations.  Erwin Telemans is the person in charge, and I am impressed with him as a person, as well as a CEO.  He is optimistic concerning fistula patients and their future.  The Hospital opened a new ward just for fistula patients in 2013.  They can now handle seventy five patients at a time and have operated on 713 patients last year, surpassing the projected number.  The Hospital has opened two satellite clinics in other areas of Tanzania.  Erwin estimates there are almost 20,000 women in Tanzania needing treatment, with 3000 new cases each year.  This number is decreasing in the large city of Dar es Salaam due to improved maternity health care.  CCBRT is also a hospital for childbirth so these women have a doctor to deliver their children, decreasing the fistula problem.

I went to the Fistula Ward to meet some of the women.  As I walked to the entrance, a woman of about thirty was running inside because the back of her gown was totally wet.  This is a symptom of urinary fistula.  Everyone in this Hospital understands, but many outside do not.  Another woman sitting outside the Ward told me if she stood up, she would also soil her gown.  She was waiting for her operation.  A woman of 24 said she was back for the third time, which is not unusual.  The doctor told her she had not healed properly after the last operation.  I am glad she has not given up.  Another woman of 78 was walking around with a basin and her drainage tube.  Imagine having a fistula problem for over twenty years.  The last woman I spoke with was embarrassed when I asked her age.  I thought she did not want to tell me, but she did not know her age.  She was not young, and I envision her walking miles from a very remote village to come to the “big city” alone.  This takes strength and courage.  I applaud her.

My time in Africa is coming to an end for another year.  I miss home, but I will also miss these wonderful people when I leave.  In Rwanda and Tanzania I have been very fortunate to have people on the ground that are invaluable to me.  I am so grateful for their help.

After you read this Journal, hug your child and everyone you love.  We have so many advantages having been born in the US.  We live in a house with a floor and doors.  We flip a switch and have electricity.  We turn a faucet and have clean water.  We have a bathroom, not a hole in the ground to use for our needs.  We can take a bath or a shower because we have running water in our houses.  We attend schools that have floors and windows.  We have more than one piece of clothing to wear.  We have as much food as we need.  As a female we have an equal chance at an education.  We have been born in a country where we have many opportunities.  Be thankful for everything you have.  

Karen Flewelling