Schools I have become a theme for Convoy of Hope in Tanzania. Before I left Tanzania Convoy of Hope wanted to show the team what a successful child feeding program looks like in a school. We all embarked on a tour of Ngaramtoni Primary School just outside Arusha to witness first hand the vast improvements the school has gone through since Convoy of Hope’s programs started five years ago.
The school in question once had a high truancy rate where students either came to school hungry, unmotivated to learn and in poor health. When Convoy of Hope came in to help, the school went through a huge transformation. This transformation resulted in more students eating nutritious meals at school, motivated in the classroom to learn, and more have healthy habits. Convoy of Hope installed a hand wash station, helped set up a kitchen to cook large amounts of food for the students, and helped find funds to build a special building for students with disabilities. All of this caused the school to become one of the desirable places to send children to be educated.
Just like the Maasai tribe, parents at this school are encouraged to be involved in the community programs Convoy of Hope has established. This could be helping with funding for the food for meals, able to pay school fees of their children, and being involved in their children’s education. The kitchen serves over 1,000 meals to students and staff using the latest cooking technologies. Below pictures shows a modern cooker which keeps the food hot and cooked in a fraction of the time it takes cooking on a three stone fire.
We also have the opportunity to tour the schools garden where just like the Maasai school, is where the student agricultural club learns about techniques of growing plants. This garden had a problem with drainage of water during the rainy season. I was apparent that the water channels dug into the raised flower beds just pooled and caused the roots of the plants to rot. Another problem faced by the school’s garden was the fact some neighbor’s livestock would get into the garden and eat the plants. Also, the fact bugs like locusts is still a problem in the city school’s garden as well. I would learn the reason for all the locusts is that every so many years during a stretch of drought the locusts become a huge problem for crops. Around the time I was in Tanzania the drought had been going for at least three years.
The school’s headmaster gave us the opportunity to talk with some of the parents who children go to the school and how Convoy of Hope has helped them generate income in supporting their families. We did see the children, but we did not have time to play with them. They were very curious about us, and most just said hi from windows of the classrooms.
Before giving Convoy of Hope our observations for community development, we all had one last lunch at the Milestone Club in Arusha. This time I tried bottled Sprite, with Tanzania beans and ugali. This is also where we all received a gift of shuka (Maasai red wrap) for being a part of the Convoy of Hope. In a way, all these white people with shukas on did look funny to the locals. But I love my shuka! After lunch, we all headed back to Convoy of Hope headquarters to give our insight into what would help strengthen the various programs.
Going to the Tinga to visit the Maasai children was not all about playing with the children and feeding them, it was about getting to know the Maasai tribe. A part of the children’s feeding program is women’s empowerment program. Just like the program on the streets of Arusha, this program is to empower the Maasai women in their community. The women in our team sat down with a few of Maasai women who are a part of the program to discuss their culture, customs, what they need in order to provide for their children and community. Surprising all the questions asked and answered pointed to how each of us women is interconnected with wanting the same things in life. All women no matter the culture want the same things in life, and those some things are what connects us as women in this world. We asked so many questions of them and they asked a lot of question of us as well. Here is what I gathered from the discussion;
Maasai women marry at a very young age 15-16 years old
First child come roughly after marriage
Marriage is seen for bring children into the world and raising them.
Maasai women are surprised by how Western society marriage is more for companionship, love and not all about having children
Children help support the parents when they get old
Women in Western world marry later in life and produce children much later as well.
Women are more educated in Western society then they are in Maasai tribe. Maasai women are encourage now to finish primary school.
Maasai women want to see their children successful.
Convoy of Hope as helped them find ways to help feed their family and they are grateful for all Convoy of Hope has done for their community.
They considered us women like daughters to them. Daughters who are empowered to do great things in our own tribe.
I love their humor and their warmth towards outsiders who take an interest in who they are. I found their humor about western society’s concept of contraception methods to be hilarious (especially pull out method) and cause a roar of laughter from them. As a gift for participating in the discussion, we gave them each 2kg of nutritional rice to take home to their families.
We also have the opportunity in seeing their village and going inside their huts. It was a cool experience in seeing how they live, which is primitive, but cozy feel. I wish our team has the chance to spend the night with them, but this time of year with the rain would make it difficult to do. The tribe is very welcoming, not like the other Maasai in the area that like handouts first before being hospitable. The only downside to being at the Maasai village was the flies that were everywhere! The amount of flies became almost unbearable when we all decided to a prayer circle with them. At one point it became difficult to concentrate on the prayer when the flies where crawling all over my face and in my eyes. I really don’t know how Maasai tolerates having flies crawling all over them.
The road that leads to the school and village in some parts had crushed African pink quartz with some specks of Tanzanite (yes the gem stone) and rubies mixed with the red clay. I was told there are mines further down the road which mines the quarts, the precious gemstone Tanzianite and other gemstones. I did not get a picture of this unfortunately, just imagine walking along and seeing the ground with specks of red, blues, and semi blue-brown lumps in pinkish-red sand. These natural resources give huge profits to multinational gemstone enterprises, but most of the people of this region and Tanzanian people do not see any of it flowing into their communities or country. Some of the Maasai men have been recruited into working in these mines with little to no income generated from their work. To pick these gems off the ground would lead to being confiscated at the border or worse jailed.
Clean water is a vital resource we all need in order to live. In Africa clean water is hard to come by for the Maasai people. The school through Convoy of Hope was able to secure $22,000 in funding for a well that pumps clean water to the surface. In Tanzania the real problem is most of the water is not exactly safe to drink even in the cities, and out in the bush water reservoirs are polluted by the wild life using the water as well. Taking a shower at the hotel results in brown tinted water coming out of the pipes and everywhere I went there was massive amounts of brown muddy water. Bottle water was always given to me on this trip, and there were a few times some of the children wanted to take a drink of water out of my bottle. The well Convoy of Hope built has a pump that pumps fresh clean water to the surface for children to drink and carry home to their families. Once the well was put in the school there was fewer children sick and those who benefit look a lot more healthy.
Also the school grows its own garden to teach the children agricultural practices. In the small green house there was Chinese cabbage, and a few other greens. Upon further inspection there was a lot of plants with something eating at their leaves. It looked like a tiny moth was flying around the greenhouse was possibly causing the plants to die from disease. It could also be locusts that are finding a way into the greenhouse and eating the plants. I saw a whole bunch outside in the bushes when viewing the water pump. Sadly the old enemy of all crops strikes and caused damage. I hate grasshoppers and locusts with vengeance!
On the way back to civilization of Arusha, we were all treated to a sighting of a giraffe. My joke for the following picture is “run away from life’s problems like a giraffe.” It is amazing how graceful these large animals are! It close to a run like a horse with a very long neck!
Meeting the Maasai is and will always be a highlight of my trip to Tanzania. I found the whole day full of surprises and full of laughs. A moment of time I will surely hold onto until I return again in the future.
***Bonus story*** Learning To Squat Like A Pro: TMI alert ahead! You are warned!
Let’s talk about squat toilets. I mean not the ones you think when going in the woods. I mean the ones you see in Africa and not Asia. My real first encounter with a true African squat toilet was at the Tinga primary school. A hole in a concrete floor with a water bucket nearby without toilet paper. Think what the water bucket was for, now you know why there was no toilet paper. I have a hard time as is in peeing in the woods, let alone trying to squat over a public toilet in the States. So imagine me “squatting” over a hole in the middle of Africa. An adventure in itself. So here I was confronted with a hole in a concrete slab, with foot markers to help keep my feet from slipping, and wondering what the hell did I get myself into. So here I was squatting over the hole with both hand resting on the walls keeping me balanced (yuck I know), with my head between my legs looking down the hole and hoping I don’t pee on my pant legs or shoes. Lucky I figured out how to squat which meant putting my butt at an angle, aim my vagina towards the hole, and make sure to keep the pee stream from missing the hole. It was torture when I realized how full my bladder was from drinking all that damn water, and realizing no matter how much I squat in the gym, it did no prepare me for this type of squatting. In the end I did not pee on myself in the process (Yay!) and someone had the sense to bring toilet paper for all of us to use (no nasty bucket water!). Good thing is the squat toilet does not even smell awful as a Honey Bucket or God awful boy toilets. I hear the Maasai women just go where ever even while standing and talking with someone! Just creates a puddle around their feet.