Thursday, February 03, 2011
JAMBO!! Expansion of Majengo Orphanage...
Jambo jambo jambo!! Finally i am able to get a moment to write to you, after an outstanding week with Matt and Ian here in Mto Wa Mbu visiting our Majengo Orphanage for the very first time to see for ourselves how it is since the government shut down 5 corrupt orphanages on the safari route and brought all 67 new kids to us the same day! Back home when this happened i had visions of uncontrollable mayham, and have to say I expected to see mobs of unruly kids with overworked staff worn down, all of them from the overloading of resources and facilitiles, spent and exhausted.
But I was wrong. That which I couldn't imagine possible to accomplish back home has been done here beautifully, and done well. And, it should be noted, without without our 'help' and 'assistance', thanks hugely to our local ICA group on the ground steerheaded by project coordinator supreme Charles Luoga, and his team of Peter, Glory, Kissa and Hamidu, the local village leaders Mayunga and Raymond and of course our wonderful Majengo staff.
What a relief and thrill to see for ourselves that first day visiting Majengo, to find the whole place filled with children, laughing, playing football and games of catch, throwing the frizbies, with little groups crouched down in circles taking turns at a game tossing pebbles into a rectangular system of little holes dug into the ground - like checkers. Some swinging up and down on swings or whirling around with hula hoops, or just hanging out in groups together, the older boys lounging under a tree acting cool and giggling girls dancing about, strolling along, holding hands, whispering amongst themselves. And the staff...greeting us, hugely smiling with warm welcomes and happy that we were there, shaking hands, introducing us to new staff, hugging hellos... Grayson, one of our teachers who has been with us from the beginning..hugging him with all my might whispering in his ear "oh my God, how has it been for you, are you okay?" both of us laughing and crying at the same time...the three Masai girls fresh out of fourth form secondary school examinations, huddling together as young girls do, gossiping and fixing their hair, some turning away as we approach, so painfully shy, and all of them, so beautiful...
I had been so worried back home.
We'd gone from a manageable, well-organized group of 28 kids living in, with another 20 or so living out, to a total now of 114 children - 75 living on site with 40 more kids living outwith relatives or friends, supported by Majengo. It is unfathomable to me how this group of people pulled it off, but they did, and did well. We held a huge staff meeting the very next day under a group of trees at the back of the compound while the children bedded down for their afternoon naps; we've added 8 new staff to our numbers, totalling 16 people: Killo and Martha, our sec and treas. who oversee everything, 4 cooks, 2 main cleaners assisted by 3 aforementioned Masai girls we've been supporting through secondary school for the last four years (thanks! Peg and Marion!), our 2 pre-school teachers Grayson and Glory, and 3 watchmen. We sat around in a huge circle, with Raymond, the village chairman solemnly opening this meeting with a one minute silent remembrance of two of our first founding donors, Tom Eberhardt and his wife Elinor from Minnesota who were killed last month while flying their small plane to a family New Years reunion in Texas. Then everyone spoke, one by one, describing how it was for them when these new kids arrived...
They'd been waiting and ready since November.
Back then, Jamie Bee from Warren and I made a trip over to help rent, renovate and refurbish two additional houses for the new kids we'd heard might come from a couple of orphanages on the main safari route. Maybe 20 kids we were told, and at that time we thought that was a lot. We had no idea what to expect. Glory, our teacher describes it like being a soldier standing ready and waiting for war to begin, waiting and waiting, but for weeks nothing happened.
And then all of a sudden, between Xmas and New Years, within a two-day period and without a moment's notice, a fleet of government trucks pulled up and poured 67 new kids onto our doorstep, filthy and dirty covered barely in tattered rags, poor, sick and hungry, a few carrying scarf-wrapped bundles of clothing, a crumpled photograph, a pen, a pencil, but most came empty-handed.
One thing was for sure, every one of these little kids were scared to death not knowing what in earth was happening to them.
The operation had been done swiftly in the early morning, the government health and legal officials sweeping in with official documents, rounding up the kids, and bringing them to Majengo. Guardians of each child were informed of the relocation by local government leaders, but lied to by former directors of the five shut down orphanages who incited them with rumours that their kids were being held in an unsafe place without food and proper care. The next day a large group of guardians descended on Majengo to take back their kids. Police were brought in with government social workers checking identification of guardians and children to verify that each child was indeed a vulnerable orphan in need of assistance, and not a director's relative padding the numbers in his orphanage to better lure in tourists.
Eventually our numbers decreased from the initial 67 kids down to a more manageable number of 43 live in new children adding to the 28 we already have, plus 40 kids living out. The whole thing adds up to 114 little kids for which we are responsible, between the ages of 9 months and 14 years - the most vulnerable and destitute of the lot.
While I am at it, we learned a few days later that the government's preference and intention is to always support orphaned children within their own community in homes of relatives and neighbours, and only in the most dire cases with kids with no one in the world to support them, will they license children into an orphanage setting. Consequently 40 of the children initially brought to us were taken back into their community, with an arrangement that we donors of the Majengo orpananage, would do our best to support them and their families with basic needs: food, medicine, uniforms and educational costs.
Story after story that bright sunny afternoon, each one fascinating in itself, and all recollected with knowing nodding of heads and great communal hilarity - easy to laugh at in retrospect - of the immense onslaught of filth and dirt, desperation, confusion, exhaustion and behavioural problems experienced in those first days - these new children stampeding the kitchen at mealtime, pushing and shoving to get at food and gobbling down great amounts of it, coming back for seconds and thirds, pretending it was their first time. In between meals, they ate everything we were told: leaves off the trees, flowers and even mud and garbage off the road - so impoverished and starved were they from the diet of their former homes. Our cooks went crazy at the beginning. Hadija and Nuruanna assisted by everyone who could help: our sec and treasurer, the cleaners and teachers and even our ICA staff raced over to help - the men pushing up their sleeves and working alongside the women, shockingly for African custom, men doing 'woman's work'! We hired two more cooks, Saumu and Mariam, along with everyone clocking 12 hour days, chopping, cooking and feeding over 100 people at each meal, three times a day, every day!
Ordering food was impossible getting the right amounts...the daily run became an hourly event, racing off to the market buying more and more rice, maise, cooking oil, flour in bulk, our carefully planned budget ricocheying (sp) out of control, with regular visits to the ICA office asking for more and more money....and how to plan menus? These new kids had never tasted meat, chicken, vegetables, fruit, eggs ever at their former orphanages, their diet consisting of porriage gruel and corn, now blown away by new foods and tastes, lots of them, consistently, and three meals a day.
And how about the heaps and mounds of washing...endless lines of t shirts, pants, skirts, underwear, blouses, shirts and uniforms pegged up together alongside three households of billowing sheets and towels blowing hot under the bright African sun. Let alone scrubbing years of filth off the kids, and keeping the houses and grounds clean. Hats off to Witness and Janet, our 2 main cleaners and Tatu, Aziza and Mwanahamisi, the three Masai girls brought in to help with the crisis. The work was, and is endless...
On top of it all, these new kids hadn't been given a chance to learn right from wrong, or taught responsibility and respect for properties. Things were being broken, beds, tables with kids jumping up and hanging from the shower spout pulling it down, toilets with cracked pipes spewing a misty haze of water across freshly-washed bathroom floors. One of the boys leaping from one bunk bed to the next crashing down into an accordian of rumpled sheets, matresses and broken splintered timber. Sec Killo in charge of maintenance throwing his arms in the air. Freshly, planted trees and flowers yanked from carefully-tended raised beds, to the immense frustration of very helpful German volunteers Berndt and his wife Rosie who'd come for a few hours and stayed now for 3 months, toiling each morning adding special lovin and hugs to the kids. Agh!! they describe over beers at the Carwash...they too throwing their arms in the air...oh, the mayhem!
But everyone couldn't stop talking about the great changes they'd seen in the children in such a short four weeks - scrubbed clean and shining, they were flourishing. Bright open happy smiling faces. They lined up at mealtime quietly awaiting their turn, confident now that there would be enough for everyone. Our youngest, little Anna, at 9 months, so weakened by lack of food and care she had the body of a very sick, on-the-verge-of-death three month infant. Today, even scarily small and frail, she smiles easily in the arms of her new mama our cook Hadija, with the strength to sit by herself.
Every staff person began their talk with heart-felt thanks to God and all the donors out there who have given them this opportunity to work at this incredible place, never complaining about the burden of all this extra work. Big thanks always to the ongoing support of our families and friends across the United States, Canada, Sweden, Germany, Australia. Know that your generous donations through the years have enabled these children who stand up in class with: "thank you for giving us a chance". Matt gifted a nice bonus to each staff member for their hard work, reiterating our requirements for each one of them: absolute and complete honesty, competence in their jobs, hard working and above all, they had to love these kids as their own.
We made a list of needs: Saidi our watchman asking for uniforms, shoes, flashlights and 30 bows and arrows for his two new security guards, Laiza and Maulidi; our cooks a long list of monster pots for cooking rice, maize, ugali, 6 water jugs, chipati frying pans, basins and pails for washing up, utensils for 100 people, plates, bowls, spoons...spatulas, wooden sticks..the list is endless. Our cleaners need mops, brooms, boxes of detergent, soap, aprons, rubber gloves, even gum boots...field trips and parties four times a year with goats, special food with an eye for both Christian and Muslim celebrations, our food costs tripling, medical visits to the hospital for malaria and HIV AIDS tests, an outbreak of chicken pox with 16 little smiling faces covered in spots...and good, ongoing medical care thanks to a great relationship with Sister Monica and the Catholic mission with regulaar visits to their infirmary right next door...
The list continues, with Grayson and Glory asking for primary and pre school text books, exercise books for all 114 kids, pencils, pens, reems of paper, bicycles, tricycles and sports things for the playground..ah what else...a 5,000 litre water reserve tower and tank, kitchen scales, an outdoor dining area for 100 people, with metal poles holding up a thatched grass roof, tables and benches, shelving for 8 bedrooms, bulk food storage, and office and a kitchen expansion....plus a TV, DVD player for Walt Disney, and radios....later...
We have no electricity as of yet, we paid for the hookup in December for all three houses, but so far they are operating in pitch darkness every night after 7pm, getting 77 kids ready for bed by flashlight...and yet we are assured as always, it will come, just be patient, wait!
Ah...patience...wait, just wait....for us A type North Americans not so easy....
Why? why can't they just do it? What is the problem? But always it is, wait, just wait....
Ah....om...whatever it takes to relieve the stress, and yet...one week into Africa and my nasty November case of shingles begin to itch, just a little, Monday...I get to the doctor yesterday morning just within the 72 hour limit for anti virals...this time it is very mild, only a few rosters making their way along my nervous system and dancing, as they say in Africa, always in waiting if you have had chickenpox to erupt into a full fledged very painful bout, but thanks to Dr. John i have fended it off this time...breathe.....
It is over access to money, always, over money and the lack of it here. Not there hopefully, here. If you don't bring it over in US dollars...you can't depend on your ATM card to work..it may, or it may not. And mine works only at one bank in the whole of Tanzania and always a challenge to get to that bank - one branch of which is mobile. So when i am desperate, which is a constant, we race from village to village to catch this truck on banking days, to withdraw yet another bundle of Tanzanian shillings. I never have enough and always need more. We transfer from Canada or America easily to our ICA Moshi headquarters account, but it can take a week, and then a few days to get it down into Mto Wa Mbu Majengo, and always, when i am here in times of transition, or crisis, I need it now!! Hence the dancing shingles, not good for my system - so next time I will come prepared!
Oh my gawd!! day two of writing this..
Yesterday steaming happily along and wham!! the electricity crashed. Blackout!!!
I lost a whack of writing, it is so very frustrating...but you just sit quietly, if you can, and breatheeeeeeeeeeeeeeee...
Just posted the above part..hope you can read it..and thanks to everyone out there sending me emails...sorry for the quick responses and hope you have a moment to sit back and read a bit of this.. Where was I with yesterday's lost writing..?
Reflecting, this was an incredible week, an exuberent little group of us this time: Matt, myself and Ian, his second time and one of the main movers and shakers at Warren Majengo Foundation, a big bear of a man encompassing a very gentle soul, comforting, quiet, watchful and listening, savouring early morning walks with an eye to the opening skies, a big heart skipping with each exotic bird sweeping across the horizon, and always his Nikon ready. I can't wait to see the photos he will bring back home - a great little group, Matt, Ian and I, a steady flow of laughs, provoking discussions, observations, and lots of bantering with me taking the brunt I might add, all in good fun, thanks to the 'boy's club' of Matt, Ian and Charles - Africa is a man's world still...disconserting to me that around a table of all men and me, I was invariably the last one served, the last one to whom the waitress comes around at the end of the meal, to pour hot water over sticky fingers...no offence, but, when in Rome...ladies last!
The meeting with the heads of government, last Friday, with Matt, Ian and I, Charles along with Mayunga and Raymond, our two local political leaders who have helped us immensely in the day to day running of the orphanage, bumping along in his Land Cruiser with driver Abdul into Monduri district, the seat of govermental officials. Representing the president of Tanzania was District Commissioner Jowika Kasunga, along with his District Executive Dirctor, the Chairman council officer, the Community development chairman and their government social worker Dennis who has since moved into Mto Wa Mbu specifically assigned to work with the children at Majengo.
Kasaunga welcomed and thanked us for taking on the responsibility of the children coming out of the 5 shut down orphanages, confirming the government's position to work with us at Majengo, to validate this orphanage as the only governmentally approved orphanage in the entire district, and to put his stamp of approval on how we were looking after the children. It is a great honour to our staff and ICA that we have been given this responsibility, after much inspection and official visits from this government. My turn next to describe how Majengo started in March 2008, visiting 52 little orphaned kids squeezed into a damp and dark mud- floored foyer, leaking and without furniture with one lone teacher in charge of this makeshift daycare. The kids had been gathered and brought there by neighbours around Majengo district; some had been living on dusty roads, begging food along the way, without a place to call home. Farmer's wives volunteered time and a bit of food for noonday meals - basically the only meal those kids could count on all day. Back then, along with ICA, we made a commitment to help, went home and thanks to all of you out there in Canada, raised $25,000 to renovate and furnish a nearby building with bunk beds, tables, benches, and school desks.
One year later i got a call from Matt McKissock from Warren, Penn to rent our family cottage, we got talking about Majengo and incredibly a few months later, he and two friends flew over to to see for themselves...and miraculously, two weeks later, Matt joined Majengo with a resounding commitment to fund our operational costs for one year.
Now, it was Matt's turn to speak..
Well, you have to know i love this guy...we've known each other for two years now, and not only has he opened Warren Majengo Foundation to fund our operating costs, he is frightenly smart, a person of his word, ethical, humble (his friend ian would have something to say about that!), self-depreciating, an incredibly creative businessman, passionately committed to Majengo, very funny with great wit and smart alec comebacks, this guy is a magician too!
Both he and Ian enchanted and entranced with juggling and magic tricks, disappearing coins and yellow silk handkerchiefs everywhere we went, attracting mobs of kids and adults alike, awestruck.
Fast forward and skipping back to our government meeting far away from the land of mystical magic, Matt takes the floor scrolling through his IPAD and landing onto a picture of his two children, Jacqueline and Jake. As we sat their wondering what he was up to by introducing his kids, who, he said, have everything in the world they need, maybe not what they want, but what they need, that he hoped and intended to provide these 114 children of Majengo the same opportunities as he would his own children - not just now, but over the long run, through primary and secondary school, and even on to university or trade schools depending on each child's ability and direction. To look after them as best we can, to provide them their basic needs, with good nutritional food, a good clean healthy place in which to call home staffed by people who genuinely care about them, with regular medical checkups and treatment, with all the things needed educationally to help them excel in this world..these children who have seen enough in their short lives, lived through such horror, and abandonment, loss, starvation, abuse..now it is our utmost intention to give them a chance at a life.
I can't possibly reiterate what Matt said that day but i would have killed to have had his talk on video. The government leaders sat in rapt silence listening, and at the end the head of the Monduri government, Mr. Kasunga, admitted to being speechless, with vitually little he could say to come close to the sparkling eloquence of our dear Matt. Oh. as I am writing this with all honesty, I know that Matt will read it someday, and in the back of my mind I do wish he were here for me to flash back a witty smart alec remark of my own to catapult him back to reality. But secretly, between you and me, this guy shone brilliantly that day.
We shook to the government's confirmed ownership of the Majengo orphanage, to their promise to assist in any way they can, and with a firm commitment on both sides to make this work in whatever way possible, finalizing it all in sweet African collaboration: "We are together".
And lastly, the workshop that would determine in merciless black and white exactly what we were up against - budget day Saturday. We gathered upstairs at the Zanzibar that hot sunny day, each one of us armed with reems of paper, estimates, our calculators, with lap tops ready on excel. Hour by tedious slow hour, beginning with food. How many kg. of rice in one bag, how many bags per week, per month...and on it went, for maize, flour, sugar, cooking oil, vegetables, fruit, meat, fish, eggs each item discussed and meticulously entered into the ledger, monthly, annually. Uniforms, sweaters, shoes, sports shoes, flip flops, girl's special underwear, playclothes; the array of kitchen and cleaning needs, the cleanliness list of disinfectant, soaps, toothpaste and brushes, how and how often..medical, house visits, travel, parties and field trips, education needs, salaries, communication, breakdowns, maintenance, whatever. Monthly, yearly, contingency.
Simply put. WE NEED HELP!! Our budget has easily doubled, more so. I have applied to the Canadian government for Charitable NGO status, Majengo Canada, with all my legal fees generously covered by Brian Iler, of Iler Campbell Law Firm...thanks Brian! We are reaching out further now, to family, friends and their families and friends, corporations, foundations, anyone willing to help us make the dreams of these 114 children come true.
Majengo website: http://www.majengo.org/
This blog...emails or phone calls to Warren Majengo Foundation or me when i get back to Canada, so incredibly gratefully received.
I dont' know what else to say. But that we are determined not to let this slip...it will happen, and we can do it, but we need your help!
Matt came up with a great idea to open a Visitor's Information Centre in Mto Wa Mbu, to invite safari tourists to visit Majengo, this time set up with a metal contribution box equiped with 3 padlocks: one for ICA, one for the village govt, and one for Majengo. We hope, that while before safari tourists unknowingly poured thousands of dollars into the pockets of corrupt orphanage directors, that money will now be directed to help those same children, but this time each penny going straight into the Majengo coffers for the needs of the children.
Budget day. I am a basket case by the time it was over, my brain stretched and exploding.
And still we weren't finished.
Day after day we worked with the details. How about an English teacher, how much does this cost? The outdoor dining area, the water reserve tank, text books? Uniforms for the watchmen? What is necessary, now? What can wait? Endless figuring, on and on, detail after excruciating detail, changing, crunched up wads of discarded numbers, adding up the whole thing again, starting over...
We drive Matt and Ian to the airport.
En route we meet Doris and Joseph, our Tanzanian ICA directors for a last stop goodbye dinner, cementing our relationship between the donors in Canada and the U.S., ICA Tanzania, the village government leaders and the orphanage. Abdul rushes them off to the airport....
And I head back to Arusha...4 days now, a bit of a holiday away from Mto Wa Mbu and the mind-numbing budgets... off to a new hotel, the Lush Garden, wonderfully quiet, clean and not at all expensive, a little European in its way with spanking white duvet covers, tiled bathrooms with strong hot showers, a pharmacy, hairdresser, restaurants and shops across the street and right next door this brilliant internet cafe...bliss!!!
And now i bid adieu!
It is strange writing this thing...you have no idea out there who might be reading it, maybe no one! but it gives me great comfort to share my thoughts and ideas, and especially the summary of last week...the ongoing saga of the little orphanage that grew and grew...Majengo, in Swahili this means "a building up"....
and thanks to all of you who have helped make that happen...
big hugs....till again.....Lynn
ps...i'm heading back home by the weekend...give me a call!