Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Greetings from Addis, Ethiopia! 7 hours here waiting for a 2:45 am flight to London and then home! Crazy, but you just relax into it; there is a great little cafe wedged into the middle of souvenir shops, duty free, clothing, misc...mostly woven scarves, shoes, African jewellery and dresses for little kids, leather bags...I'm sitting on a stool in the cafe watching the stream of humanity glide by... huge muslim community here, men and women wearing white from head to foot, the men in long wrapped gauzy long dress, groups dressed alike, a team of men in green, emerald green tops and long pants passing by, some dressed in what we would call pajamas, the matching designed fabric of the loose pants and tops...not alot of North Americans here tonight, mainly African from every the women's washroom, next to the women's prayer room, a low sink where muslim women slip off their shoes and wash their feet before entering to pray, water everywhere, another woman bent over a piped in speaker spewing out an African beat, she is rocking, moving her hips and swaying, mezmorized.
It was an incredible week...Rose, Lauren and Matt from Warren flying into Mwanza meeting me at the hotel, and off we went to spend the afternoon and dinner with a fabulous guy who has opened an orphanage school on 46 acres on the lake, beautiful setting, 40 kids living in, all girls and another 250 coming everyday to primary school. We're researching back home different places to see; heading into building a new facility for Majengo by 2013 when our leases run out. Between this centre, and another one up in Karatu it becomes evident what works best for the kids: small houses, with 8-12 kids per house, each one with a live in mama to cook and clean for just those kids, a big communal kitchen is great with an adjoining dining room where everyone can hang out together, continuing the feeling we have now of one big huge happy family. Both children's homes supported primary schools, either on site or nearby, offering good teachers, English, and welcomed an ongoing flow of volunteers, mainly women coming from Canada and the US, and staying for a month or two, each one paying $35. US a day for the priviledge of working there. It works! Very exciting, and great that our team back home did a great job finding these facilities for us to visit.
Visited the 6 acre plot the village leaders of Majengo have agreed to hand over to us to build our new facility, about 3 miles down the road from our current site, big open field with a quarter built primary school at one end, a project of the government,promising to have it finished by the time we start to build. We are working together, the best way to do things over here. If you get the backing of the local village leaders, and then on up to the Executive director of the entire district who reports directly to the president of Tanzania, you are on your way..and we are!
Meetings all week, sometimes three a day! Focussing on 2013, the new facility, our education plans for the children, budgets....a great few days for me painting animals and children on the outside of the new Majengo office, with the kids. Finally getting to know them a lot better this time around. Education: lots of talk about sending our kids to the English medium private school a good walk away from the orphanage, someday. Here all the subjects are taught in English, a great advantage from the government schools where kids learn everything in Swahili, until they hit Secondary school, where they plunge into English. Still talking... getting to know the director of that school, Mama Anna who i am totally enamored by. Her views for me on education, and what is important for the growth of the children, for now and into the future make sense to me. But it is costly, about $400 per child per year for this special education; we've decided to step back, take a good breath and wait...our budget has exploding with all our new kids since December last, the three houses we rent Tiger, Serengeti and Kilimanjaro on site bulging with 77 kids, a far cry from the spaciousness of those other orphanages we visited early on in the week.
A big staff meeting with all 17 of our staff.. each one expressing big thanks and good feelings about where we are going, along with the challenges...Four of our Masai girls sponsored through 4 years of secondary school have gone back home to their Masai bomas, pregnant.
ON Saturday after an incredible few hours roaming around the big monthly Masai market, which is almost indescribable, but if you can picture small grass huts with legs of goat roasting inside, we join Masai men and women wrapped in the bright red and blue checked sheets, lounging on plastic chairs, a Morani warrior bringing in the leg along with a long sharp knife, cutting the meat off the bone into chunks put into a big round bowl in the middle of the table, we all lean forward and chew and chew till your jaw hurts, delicious! Stuff sold outside, laid out on blankets, stuff, everything you can imagine, clothing of all kinds, shoes, underwear, sports jackets, shirts dresses, plus jewellery, kitchen good, hardware, everything, this is the way the Masai shop, moving along from blanket to blanket, a goat and cow auction going on at the far end, packed with Masai and us....and that same day on to visit the Chief of the Engaruga tribe to his boma, meeting once again his two wives, children, and greeting his 95 year old father who sits at the entrance of the boma, a cluster of cow dung and grass circular houses, surrounded by a fence made from thorn trees, we make sure we bring the requested bottle of Konyaki, bending over to pay our respects, the young women bowing low their heads for the old man to spit into their hair. It is all part of the experience and on to the goat yard where Chief introduces us once again to our goats which we have purchased, one or two every year, who have had babies. I now own 9 goats...!! Named for my family back home! This year two new white ones, twins, bought for Pyper and Finn!
Culminating with a wonderful last night at Majengo with the children, all lined up along four long tables on benches, receiving juice and goodies as a good bye treat...a show of dance, song, and acrobatics a first with these kids for us, mixed with laughter, and tears, so difficult to say goodbye. They have become our other family away from home, these children and for us, it is heartwarming, these visits, and heartbreaking to leave...
Got to run and catch this flight!

homeward bound!! talk soon!!!!
check out our new website: is pretty wonderful!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Update!! Jambo!! a great Mto Wa Mbu...and today in Mwanza, a beautiful town built up on hills circling around the massive Lake Victoria on the west side of Tanzania - the second largest fresh water body in the world. I am hot, soaking hot, but happy at an internet waiting for Matt, Charles, Lauren and Rose to fly in from Kilimanjaro - flying in happy, dazed and exhausted last night. Me, i took a local bus all the way across the wild and rugged terrain of Tanzania bumping along from Arusha to have an adventure, leaving yesterday at 7am, on what they said would be a 10 hour ride, which turned into 15 hours on the slowest local bus anyone has ever ridden. Miles and miles of African villages, mud huts held together by sticks cow dung, busy markets filled with bananas, cooking oil, bright plastic kitchen attire, hardware, socks, bright coloured cotton and satin dresses hooked onto wire hangers and squeezed into small top frames expanding into huge voluptuous hips, swinging and sache-ing next to plumbing poles and women stooped bent in half stirring pots of freshly made ugali over open fires. Pulled in with wild lightening and thunder, mvua sana, much rainfall, me, tired and very cranky by 10:30 last night. Rasta...a friend of Dula, who regales me all the way from Arusha with stories of Rasta beliefs, meets us at the bus station. Goodbye to Colliette my good German friend who spends two months every October in Mto Wa Mbu, awesome, working by herself traveling into four primary schools gathering lists of children desperately needing uniforms, shoes, sweaters. She hits the local markets with Dula, her Rasta translator, to buy clothing for 200 kids in the area with money she raises back home all year. She visits Majengo laden with 120 single bedsheets and 70 pairs of Masai shoes made by a shoemaker in the corner stall of the Masai market, the money a gift from a German company interested in working with someone who uses his hands. Masai shoes are made from rubber pieces cut with a small sharp knife, away from old tires. Everywhere she takes pictures of children with the new sheets and masai shoes, to take home, a record of what a few Euros can do here in Mto Wa Mbu...

Last week a government inspector makes a surprise visit to Majengo, a program social workers are performing all over the country to all children's homes. For 7 hours she questioned our staff, and me: what do we do when a guardian shows up abusing a child? how many beds do we have for 77 children? are our kitchens clean? do we have fire escapes and extinguishers? what education do our staff have? what are we doing to help them? On and on with questions..and a visit around the orphanage, through our three houses, which just last week painted clean and fresh, across the grounds past outdoor toilets and showers, to the big open dining room area with the cement floor and high thatched roof, electricity now, with four tables lined with happy healthy children squeezed along benches eating a sort of beef stew, greens, and rice, a banana on the side. All is well.
On that day i interviewed Zack who came recommended by the private English medium school down the road. He stays with his sister next door at the Catholic Mission, from Kenya, having just completed his teacher's certificate to teach English. I am ecstatic. It is perfect. We have been trying to find a good full time English teacher to help our kids and staff learn English, since we started. Hopefully, Zack is the answer. He comes the next day to work with our staff and teachers setting up a schedule and began the monumental task of teaching everyone English by January 2012. Every day, 8 hours a day!
Visited the director Anna and her principal Mr. Thomas at the nearby private English medium school, where all primary classes are taught totally in English. The kids there can speak well after only a few months in class. We set out an idea where we hope to enrol all 51 primary kids into Anna's school, this January. It has to do with loaning her money to finish the building of three new classrooms, and for this, getting a year free for our children, and two more at half price. Matt comes today, we shall talk it over, he will visit Anna and her school and we will decide. For me it is a great idea. I have loaned money here, through my People Living with HIV AIDS program, where, after one year, all four HIV AIDS groups of 80 people, almost all women, paid me back interest free, in full - but in shillings, not dollars. USD can't be transferred back from shillings except at an exhorbitant (sp) rate, up to 25%. So how do i get my money back in dollars? Almost impossible. But if we can funnel the shillings back into great programs for our children, it will cut costs on the USD sent over each month in accordance with our budget.
Win win on every side.
Promised Charles i would paint animals, fruit, graffiti, children on the walls on the outside of the office, with the kids...but with great trepidation. He has the walls left white for this endeavour, but the day i showed up someone had painted them brown...ack! what to do? We had all the kids draw animals, buses, airplanes, birds, and children on paper, which with a highlight marker, two of the older boys and I drew huge on the walls, on day one. Then, with a lot of help from enthusiastic and impatient kids, painted those images white again - all 77 kids swarming me and the freshly painted images and coming away slathered in white oil paint indelibly stuck onto fingers, faces and hair. I am dreading the next day's job of colour.

I am trying to think of a way where only two boys brighten up the images with colour, but how to do that with all these kids, curious, enthusiastic, desperately wanting to paint! I give up and mix colours into lots of small plastic containers, hand out sponge brushes, and watch them go at it. Mimi, mimi. Me me...!!! ME! they are all shouting, stampeding, the colours, the brushes falling on the dusty ground, a mess! I am drawing as fast as I can now, leaves coming up from the bottom of the office up and onto brightly coloured animals, everything dripping wet with paint, with kids vying for pots of green, blue, brown, orange and red, splashing and splattering it, they make them come alive.

Hamisi, the night security guard at my hostel who has been painting the walls on the inside of our main house all week, appears with a can of black paint and finishes off the job by painting the ledge along the bottom, covering up the splatters and drips.

It looks incredible!! All painted entirely by the kids. A great day. I walked home well after dark alongside the long main road, past vast expanse of rice fields blackened by the night sky, sprinkling with stars, so dark you can see nothing but for the flash of bicycles coming into view just in time to jump aside safely.

I visit the children at the nearby Pambazuko children's home along the way last week, passing Colliette taking Tabia, the mama of those children to the market to pick up needed kitchen supplies, they wave, as i head over to their house. The kids racing out to meet me, one of the joys of each time i visit Africa, these kids I have known now for 5 years...coming from the very first orphanage i volunteered with back then, so long ago. I know them well, especially Elia, Sifuni, Jackson, Ruth, Zack, Justin, Melania and daughter Seanna and Sierra coming to Africa two times laden with art supplies teaching these children. They are loved and blessed. Tabia and her husband Elias are their mama and baba, with my Swedish friends Kerstin and Berndt now in charge of supporting the 14 kids here at Pambazuko. It is truly a lovely small family, and a good example of how children coming from many tribes, orphaned mostly by HIV AIDS, can come together in one small house and become brothers and sisters together, with a mama and baba. We hope someday soon, at Majengo to emulate this example there, with the 77 children we look after, creating a new facility encompassing a number of small houses, each with up to 14 kids, overseen by a mama and baba, if our dreams can come true.
I set up my computer and roll back to 2006, when i first met those kids waving outside the rickety orphanage along the safari route, Home Comfort. Photos, hundreds of them, of us on safari with those kids, painting with them, drawing, and my teaching them how to swim at the nearby tourist campsite swimming pool, every Saturday afternoon for two years, until they raised the prices, and rules encouraging 'whites only', where we no longer go. Watching the photos, the kids crowding around the computer, entranced. Memories of images of them spanning the last five years, beginning as little kids, and now healthy, strong, and tall.

Today begins my final week in Africa...with Matt coming with Rose and Lauren, with Charles flying in from Kili to Mwanza, where we visit an orphanage set up by Jamie and our team back at home, to learn and see what they have done to make their children's home a success. Then back to Arusha tomorrow, to visit three more, and on to Mto Wa Mbu...a week set up of budget review, visits to Majengo with big staff meetings, time with the children and Doris, our ICA director, meetings with government officials and visiting possible plots for our new facility. Always a whirwind when Matt arrives, I look forward to his laughter and jokes, his enthusiasm, his positive energies and good sense. Catch up next week!
Have a great one....!! Lynn

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

sitting here the bright morning sun blasting into the courtyard outside my office door, i can see a group of 8 men, lounging on tippy plastic chairs, engrossed, Swahili, Charles inside the closed door across the hall giving someone a test for HIV AIDS...emerges to tell me that these guys are planning a friends father's funeral, who can contribute what, who can go to the burial, Africa they don't embalm and celebrate soon after the death..all the while i am waiting very patiently and very silently without complaining for one hour for this computer to connect into my blog, and finally, after many attempts, i am here. Bravo!
Wrote yesterday...and since then- a day later, reporting a great meeting with Charles and Abdul about our possible future orphanage facilities...I drew out the idea plans we have talked about, a big communal kitchen...a pre school, maybe a primary...with small houses big enough for up to 14 kids sprinkled about, a playground, goats, veg garden...library...we look at all three options for where this could be...a govt given plot, the land and houses we currently occupy, or the big plot across the road...Abdul settles on the one i like best...IF we can strike a deal with the owners of all three two adjacent plots, with one, get this, adjoining the English medium primary school..where, if we can manage to reduce the private school rates with the principal...maybe our kids can go there...

it is now, all a dream...but dreams here in Africa come true and i'm banking on it...

And in the afternoon, sitting here at this computer with Charles working on staff and visitor policies...rules for child protection...another chart of our with the staff and their with the names and ages now of the in and next week meeting the guardians and the kids living out sprinkled around the community...our menu..
And last night, dinner of shish kabobs with little pieces of charred beef bbqed alongside a plate of chipsies...a boy from the streets slumped into a nearby chair, maybe 12, 13years old, he can't go home, his father beating him brutally, with no relatives or friends to take him in, watching the guy cookingthe bbq..watching us eat.
Charles calls him over...what can be done about this boy? As they talk in Swahili i see that look of such pain on his face, the way the mouth is open and set, drooping, holding itself there. i have felt it once in awhile in myself. that mouth, just open and hanging ...the eyes brimming hot almost with tears, shining and anciently sad...he sits down - i can't help myself, i rub his back, i am so sad and sorry..our orphanage is full ...and this boy, Charles calls him Msonjo cause he comes from the Msonjo tribe, but what is his name? has made his way on the streets, stealing and prostituting, whatever, anything to keep himself alive, and tonight talking with Charles and this white lady from Canada rubbing his back, he doesn't flinch. Waiting now for his dinner..

This morning at MiCasa, the cafe around the corner, i am lying on the floor showing Miriam the owner some pilates moves, and she invites me to run with her tomorrow morning at 6am! great...i am feeling good...much better than the days around missing Thanksgiving back at home...another day!!
but here...i copy yesterday...and see you tomorrow!

Jambo! Happy thanksgiving!!

I miss you all out there…tried to reach Canada last night, so many times, but every time someone picked up, a series of weird screeches sounding like the yelping of some wild animal emoting from this side of the planet! The lines went dead. Ah…I am lonely...

Mto wa Mbu..Saturday night, driving over here from Arusha we saw over 20 giraffes standing silently alone, or in groups chomping on the top branches inside a clump of thorn bushes, alongside the road. The sun setting, long dark and very tall silhouettes against the night sky. Welcome to Mto Wa Mbu….a supper of roasted goat chopped into small pieces and served on one plate for all of us to pick at, dip into salt and hot sauce and encircle with a right handful of ugali, the national staple in Tanzania, other than rice, sort of like thick crème of wheat cereal, hot, where you grab a clump of it, make a ball, stick your thumb into the centre to indent into a spoon-like scoop, to collect your goat and hot sauce!

Hamidu our driver without a car, but always with one of Charles friends from ICA lending transportation for us…this time a Masai guy called Henry - a safari driver, who speaks great English, who will be my translator I hope, when Charles is away this week…

Charles’ family, Grace his wife with his two little boys, David and Derrick moving from Dar to Arusha to be closer to Charles. Grace transferred her work as a nurse for the military..their worldly belongings being shipped in this week, with Charles at the other end receiving, then driving to Dar to bring his family back.

It is good. He needs to be near them.

I am sitting in my office at ICA Mto headquarters, with, in the next room one of our PLWHA people living with HIV AIDS support groups meeting Monday morning – a roomful of mostly women, wrapped in colourful cloth and magnificent and matching head pieces, great habari, jambo!! How are you doing? Karibu, welcome back!

My uncle lent them through ICA one year ago, four seed start-up money to embellish their small businesses, and here we are one year later, all four groups have paid us back. Great…meeting in a few days to determine success and challenges of that project.

Over to Majengo orphanage bright and early Saturday morning heralded by a stampede of welcoming happy children, showing us the new office they built this year just outside our main space. It is big, spacious, clean. Charles had the outside painted pure white. Yesterday I bought cans of oil paints to create a mural with the children…lions, elephants, giraffe, sun, moon, stars..whatever they want, in red, pink, blue, green, yellow…pouring rain today, so we start tomorrow…one of the older boys, an amazing artist. On Sunday surrounded by a mass of kids, I am drawing animals on one of those echo sketch pads, this boy takes it, erases mine and draws a much better elephant than I ever could; wow! This guy, who has just graduated from primary school will design the mural.

They’ve built a huge outdoor dining room, cement floor and thatched roof at the back of the group of houses we call Majengo. Philippe, one of the original boys, points up to an empty space on the ceiling and says TV…he wants a TV plus 5 bicycles for the older kids to run around in, and they shall get them somehow, this week. The inside of our main building, which we have occupied for the last 2 ½ years is filthy….the plaster crumbling – two years of a hundred little hands, n dire need of a paint job. Charles hired Hamisi from our overnight pension, we bought four buckets of good paint, brushes and plaster, and today they begin. Plus ordering 4new tables and benches and the promise from a local carpenter to repair the ones we already have, the slats holding them together broken down from a million little feet, kicking. We’ve done a lot in a couple of days.

Big talks about education. For the young kids under 7, a pre school on site with two great teachers, Glory and Grayson who speak only a little English; the older kids trot off to one of four nearby govt primary schools, but with no English….consequently, when they graduate after 7 years into English-speaking-only secondary schools, they have trouble.

On the side, four of our kids are being sponsored by a guy from the UK into nearby private English medium schools - a decision we have to discuss. Is it fair that only a selected few get to go to private school, the others waiting and hoping for their chance? Or who are we to deprive those chosen kids an English education? What is best for the orphanage? We have heard from other orphanages who observe a ‘no gift policy’, where each child must be treated the same, otherwise jealousy and discrimination can divide and erode.

Charles says the govt primary schools actually offer a better all-round education than expensive private English medium schools, but they don’t teach English. We have decided to bring one or or two really good English teachers on site and full time to teach our kids and least for a couple of years before we build our whole new facility. At that time, we may build our own primary school, one that teaches English and Swahili, in a government approved program. And when they get older, maybe a secondary school, or trade schools….

We’re considering options. We’ve created a 2013 group back home to research other Tanzanian orphanages to decide what kind of facility we want to build over the next two years. I toured 6 acres of land that the local government is offering us for free which includes an already half-built primary school, with four classrooms and one office. It is a big wide plot, open and flat, but about 3 miles away from our existing premises. Location, location, location.

Across the street from where we are now is a huge plot, perfect for our purposes, owned by a Tanzanian woman married to an American, who we’re checking into, re availability and cost. There ia a possibility of buying our existing three rental buildings and expanding from there. All options at this point.

Currently, with last December’s expansion, there’s no doubt, we are overloaded! Where once we had 27 kids living in with a staff of 12, we now support 77 kids living in, with 18 staff, with another 37 kids living out around the community, their education and medical needs! It was an emergency, we pulled together the best we could do. We’ve got three houses with 3-4 bedrooms in each, a dormitory system with as many bunk beds possible, and in the case of little ones, sleeping two to a bed. The dormitory system is common in Africa.

But we have seen also a system where smaller houses are built around one big communal kitchen and dining area, with each house supporting a mama and 12-14 kids, offering a much better sense of family…Kids in each house become a unit, a family unto themselves. A much preferred system, more expensive, but one well worth considering.

But for now, our kids are getting the best we can provide: a clean and loving environment, good food three times a day, regular medical check-ups, and clean clothing and uniforms. We realize this as temporary, excited by plans down the road for a much bigger and better facility for these kids.

Last night, Charles and I raced across a wide plain of darkened desert just outside of town, for dinner at our friend Abdul’s incredible, brand new lux and wonderful safari lodge. Outside on a stone patio overlooking Lake Manyara in the distance under a sprinkling of a million stars and almost full moon, a warm wind blowing, with a few glasses of wine and dinner fit for me! Any of you out there coming to visit Majengo, and going on safari, you must stay a night or two at this magical place. Abdul has hired Masai tribal warriors as his manager and security guards, adorned in beaded necklaces and great drooping ear lobes, dressed in red plaid blankets and carrying spears, they are stationed at every corner along paths winding through tall grasses to separate boma like guest homes, made of thatch and cement, fit for me! I helped Abdul a little last year. He had finished this incredible place, but had no water! He’d erected a pipe running from pure spring water some 20 miles away to his hotel. But along the way, Masai women chopped into it, collecting pools for their cattle…Not once, or twice, but along the route in a period of 6 months, a good 250 times!!! refusing to leave it alone, despite what Abdul promised and did for them! He gave up and tried to drill for water on his premises, but found it salty.

Finally, he built a separate line for the Masai, teaching them how to turn off and on the water themselves. Abdul’s hotel pipe now is strong with good pressure, the only guaranteed water source in the district.

Every time I come here it is a different experience. With Charles last year applying for his masters which would take him away from Africa for a couple of years, our ngo, ICA, wound down their main projects. Charles was refused his visa twice to the UK for no good reason, is moving his family to nearby Arusha, and plans to take an online masters in international public health from Liverpool. All good. He will be able to stay with his kids and wife, work on his masters in Arusha at home, and still coordinate the comings and goings of the orphanage in nearby Mto wa mbu.

But with no other major projects in Mto Wa Mbu…the office is quiet these days but for the mooing outside my window of a neighbouring cow and the incessant blasting of rap down the road, a rooster crows. We’ve cut our staff down to two, Hamidu who doesn’t speak English and Charles. When he takes off, I am on my own, struggling with kidogo Swahili, next to none! A challenge so they say in the struggling communities...a calamity in my world...but only for a few days...

And this too will pass….

Friday, October 07, 2011

Jambo! still in Arusha, the exciting Arusha Savings Group Summit over yesterday...learned so much! To clarify, this entire group of reps from 43 countries, all over Africa, India, Egypt, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Vietnam, Cambodia...from Plan, World Vision, Catholic Resource Centre, Feed the Hungry, Kids International - all the big world-wide organizations coming together to talk about how they are organizing small VSLs...Village savings and loans groups, in their countries..where poor people form groups of up to 25 people, elect their own leaders and each person putting as little as $.25 cents into the pot each week or every two weeks. The total amount accumulates, and members can borrow at an agreed upon interest rate. This money is used to enhance or begin small businesses. Profits from it are used to better lifestyles of their families, support education of their kids.
It is an incredible model.
I spent alot of time with Jones, a great woman working in Zimbabwe, setting up these small savings groups especially with teenagers from age 13 on.... sometimes even with younger kids, from age 6 on! All wanting to learn how to save, many of whom have witnessed the successful results of their parent's in savings groups. The kids would borrow money from their parents to begin their investment. Then take out a tiny loan, buy sweets with it, and sell to other kids, raise a small profit with each sale...end up buying their own shoes, uniforms for school, and even helping their parent's with basic needs of their families. It is incredible.

This VSL group model is different from micro finance.
With micro finance, someone from the outside lends money to a small group of 5-6 people...with an agreement that this money will be paid back, sometimes at great interest, at a certain date, each member responsible for each other. When someone can't pay back, the others must jump in to cover.
Micro finance has been a great model for years, but has been abused as well.
I heard, at a conference last year on alternative investing in Toronto, a woman from NYC actually stand up on the stage promoting micro finance as a viable option for your money, say "a lot of money can be made from the poor! They always pay back, much more dependable than most people from the west!" Shockingly, huge interest rates of up to 40-50% were sometimes demanded. Often borrowers were illiterate, not understanding what they were 'signing', or in many cases, this was the only game in town for them to borrow. Yes the poor were paying back, terrified of what might happen to them if they didn't. Harassed by creditors, I have been told that they actually sold family land to pay off debts, even hire their children out for prositution, marry them off - anything to get the lender off their backs!

With VSL, outside money is not required which makes this model sustainable to the people in the group. Large interest rates are not incurred. The group decides and agrees upon the interest rate themselves. VSL is a model that was started by a Norwegian woman back in the 80s and has spread world wide...the people at the conference this week, some pioneers this movement, but all hugely enthusiastic about increasing the numbers from millions to billions in the years to come.

Last year I sunk seed money (from my uncle, therefore from the outside), interest free, into four savings groups of 80 people, mostly women, all living with HIV Aids. These groups had been in operation for a few years, struggling along, not making a lot of profit, with more challenges than most - their money going toward good food to support their medication, travel to doctors, as well as toward basic needs for their families. So on Charles' advice we sunk this seed money into their pot, with a contract for one year. I am delighted that at this writing three of the four groups have paid it back in full. The last group promising by next week, the date of the loan last year.
Charles tells me it has been a success, with most of the people enhancing small businesses, like selling bananas and fruit at the market and along the main street, buying a little bit of land, renting a tractor to till it...and harvesting 150 times what they were able to make initially. Out of the profits expensive school fees have been paid for kids to attend secondary school, houses have been fixed, new businesses started.
I can't wait to hear all the stories next week during their paying back ceremony...great!
Jones from Zimbabwe tells me things are getting a little better since the opposition party is working hand in hand with the Mugabi in the supermarkets...a little fuel at the a little easier..I'm told our western press embellishes stories, making them sound a lot worse than they are, according to the people living there. When i worked in Zim back in 2006 the US govt advised Americans not to visit. I was the only white I saw for a month, walking down the street, jammed into local buses. It was not what we were told. I never felt unsafe. The people were warm and welcoming. There was horrible sickness with an estimated 30% suffering the ravages of HIV AIDS, amongst terrible poverty, but in the midst of this I felt such resilience, banning together helping each other, community, joy, singing, dancing as well. WE can only imagine this at home in times of collective disaster. The ice storm; Sept. 11. the death of Kennedy, even Jack Layton.
People coming together, forgetting themselves. Working as a whole. It feels good.
Our truck broke down yesterday; Charles was unable to pick me up, so last night was spent buried into a book at the Naz hotel in Arusha...delicious after the mind bending intensity of the conference.
Today: the internet across the street from the Naz....a luxury...power on...rain falling softly outside, atop the crashing of traffic racing up and down, vendors selling shoes, fruits and vegetable, belts, cell phones alongside the road...and later, if Charles comes, off to the SOS orphanage just outside of town to check it out... starting to research other orphanages to determine the best way to go with a new Majengo facility to be built by 2013.
How many kids? Big dormitories or small houses with a mama and baba? How many staff, kitchens, toilets, government help?> restrictions? playgrounds, vegetable gardens, chickens and goats, pre school? primary...? I'm looking for an English teacher to hire full time in the interim...translators at the conference promise to send someone my way, someone qualified who comes from the Mto Wa Mbu village area...with family near the orphanage. All good...
Till then, I'm off to Mto Wa Mbu without easy internet access...
will get back to blog, when i can..have a great day! xxLynn

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

jambo! hi from Arusha, arrived Sunday noon after a harrowing 2 days in the air and lounging on airport benches..Toronto, London, Ethiopia, Nairobi and Kilimanjaro! Charles at the airport with his wife Grace to meet me and over to the Naz, across the street from the best internet cafe in the whole of Africa I swear! It was kidding, cooler than the world i left so far away only a few days ago - meeting with Doris and Joseph, ICA Tanzania heads and Charles the next day, great...briefly getting caught up, things amazing at the orphanage, with our kids settling in, no one in dire need of medical attention...long talk about the new orphanage facility we need to build by 2013...either by buying the 3 existing buildings we already occupy and rent plus a few nearby plots, or by using the 6 acres of land the govt is giving us, not too far away from the orphanage and building fresh. I sketched out a quick idea that we've been talking about back home, especially emphasizing the small houses plan rather than the big dormitories we have now...they talked about a big operation here in Tanzania with three orphanages, called SOS which i will visit with Charles on Friday. Here they have about 15 houses scattered around, each with 5 or so kids and one mama in each house, and one baba overlooking the whole enterprise. a big kitchen to service all houses, dining areas in and out, playground, goats, chickens, eggs, vegetable gardens etc...sounds amazing...talked about education. When all those new kids came to us last December from the corrupt orphanages along the safari route, two of those kids were being sponsored by someone from the UK and sent, by day out to a private English middle school where they teach everything in English from the get go, pre school and primary. Much better than the existing govt schools where everything is taught in swahili. These sponsors came recently, checking up on their two kids now at Majengo, thought it was great what we were offering those kids, and chose little Pendo for a sponsorship this time as well, plus one more child. Had a long talk about this, whether it was good to have some kids take much better schooling outside the orphanage, yet living in with the other kids...and according to Doris and Joseph, it could cause jealousy, us and them etc...not a great idea...
they came up with the plan, if we can manage it financially to create our own pre school and primary based on the English Middle school way...which is regulated by the govt, the ciriculum being the same as in govt primary schools, but taught fully in English from the beginning..great idea...and by doing this we could not only offer this much better education to our kids, but charge neighbouring kids as well the opportunity thus becoming a little self sustaining ourselves.
RE the donor box over at the orphanage, an idea to request all visitors to put donations along with a note with their contact numbers into the box -
Charles and i are about to create a Volunteer guideline sheet, much needed as a lot of people are wanting to work at the orphanage, Jamie in Warren in charge of US donors and volunteers...
I'm off and running...
In the second day of a big savings conference, the first Arusha Savings Group Summit of its kind, held at the Arusha conf centre where they are conducting the international Rwanda trials...interesting. we have 250 people from 43 countries \across the world, all talking about their savings programs for very poor people, even with primary school children learning how to save, which i am most interested in. Yesterday after hours of small and specific sessions targeting the many aspects of village savings, many of which dealing with gender issues, culminating with a 'living room' discussion with the whole group, 5 people on stage...all men! The gender issue reminding me of what NA experienced in the 60s and 70s with 'woman's lib' which was really about equal rights, not the negative bra burning slant put upon it today...with women getting together, finding their own voices, standing back wonder what the heck!! and sometimes denouncing the whole thing, or feeling intimidated a little or a lot...the same thing here 50 years later...
Thinking of Marg who lost her Ernie last week, my cousin David, and other friends struggling back home with such issues....missing you all and wishing you my love especially in these hard times...loving being back here, the colour, the noise, hustle bustle, the radiance, the joy, the everyday resilience...
Hey...did i tell you? Majengo Canada were granted our official charitable status from the Canadian government just last week!! We can now offer tax receipts to donors!! All set to hit the round running when i get home in to all!! xx