Wednesday, February 28, 2007

It's All About Cameron.

At least today it was at the Secondary Sports Day. I love these days. Kids don't really do any preparation. There are opportunities for rugby, soccer, and basketball matches between the international schools here and those teams have teachers that volunteer as coaches. The older boys (boarding at Moshi) can play on the adult rugby teams or the national team. But most kids play the extracurricular sports if they choose, and there obviously isn't the same level of competition here that you would get in the States with so many more schools and teams. Which is not to say that there aren't some amazing athletes here. Some of the runners here would be serious competitors back home. But like most small schools everywhere (including where Mark and I grew up) you just can't get anything done unless everyone participates. Here all the students from kindergarden through 10th grade are divided into 3 houses and compete throughout the year at different sports events for points and a year-end house cup. And everyone does participate. And everyone cheers each other on. Friends and classmates (each class is small--Cameron only has 15 students in his grade--so everyone is very close) cheer for their own house as well as for each other. It's one of the best things about ISM. Friday night is the talent show and it will be the same thing--seriously talented kids and kids who just perform for the fun of it. No judging, no pressure to be the best--just everyone out and being a part of the school community.

So was Cameron a "serious" competitor? You bet. He got out there and tried his best and did really well. He was 2nd in the junior boys 100 meters and 4th in the long jump. He also competed in the 50 meter, the 4x100 relay, and the 4x400 relay. In both the 100 and the 4x400 he went up against a seriously fast 9th grader (in the top pic it's the kid in the blue shirt on the right) and dug in and gave it his all. We think he may have a bit of his dad in him!

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

More on P640

Just a reminder--P640 has their own blog where you can read about their experiences and adventures volunteering for PHF. Read and see more here but you may have to be a little patient--they are currently sunning Zanzibar for a couple more days!

In the meantime, you can see what they've accomplished, and it's a lot! The herb garden is HUGE and beautiful and the firepit will be greatly enjoyed by so many groups to come.

Of course, I would hate to give the impression that hard back-breaking work was all that this group did. One thing this group know how to do, in addition to raising money and working hard, is having FUN! IN addition to the usual fun of cooling off at the pool or a good meal iwth friends, there was also cultural entertainment. Our Masaai friends came from Eluai (the village I had visited and posted on previously) to do a little singing and dancing for us one evening. They were kind enough to let us all join in, too!

There are other kinds of Tanzanian music, too, that we sampled as well. Again, participating was not mandatory, but this group definitely knows how to have a good time!

There was more work, a trip to a couple other Tanzanian secondary schools to see how things work and what we may have to deal with or measure up to in our own future, and finally...

The end result! The final pics don't do justice to the amount of work that these 11 volunteers did. You'll just have to come and see for yourself. What the pictures can never show, though, are the friendships that are built and the change that takes place when someone comes on this adventure. No matter what their past experiences, each member of this group took a risk to come here in some way or another. To repeat what Isaya, our landscaper said, "You can never lose by helping an orphan." Eleven more people know exactly what he means after this week.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Happy Birthday to 2 out of 3!

Happy 5th birthday, Ava! I love birthdays here--they are, like so many other aspects of life, laid back and lowkey. The kids have adjusted, too--yes, they expect a "real" present (but notice that I didn't use the plural) and a party, but are content with so much less. It's great.
Ava loved her horses, stuffed animals, earrings, and lip gloss. Very girly, huh? Her grammy sent her a new corral for her ponies (some of which now sport prosthetic toothpick legs) and Noah couldn't wait for her to finish so they could start playing. That's Noah for you--he's as excited about everyone else's birthday as he is about his own. Even Cameron got into the act--helpfully test-driving the lip gloss to make sure it was safe!

Here's the birthday girl. With her less curly but still beautiful hair she does look much older!
They are all patiently waiting for me to find a spot in my schedule for their friend party. All of them want a pool party and Noah/Cameron will be having theirs at the same time, so that will (hopefully) make things easier for me!
And no, we didn't forget Noah's birthday last week. We just didn't get any good pics that turned out. This was the best of the bunch. The O'Neils, formerly of Golden Valley, now in Dar es Salaam, were passing back through from Nairobi and stopped to celebrate with cake, new lego sets, and candy! So HAPPY 8TH BIRTHDAY NOAH!

Evidence of Fun?

One kid.
One bath.
One heck of a lot of dirt.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Wanna Volunteer?

C'mon, of course you do! Look at these guys...don't they look like they're having fun? They are Project 640--mostly from Chicago with a few Minnesotans thrown in. They are huge supporters of PHF and this is their 2nd trip to Tanzania to give us a big hand.

Living here in Tanzania so many things have become routine. The frustrations of life which, let's face it, are present no matter where you live, our daily routines, etc. are all chronicled here in our blog. Even though we feel blessed every day to be living and working here, it's "life" for us much of the time. So when volunteers or visitors show up, they provide
a wonderfully positive shot of enthusiasm. We get to see the work in progress through their fresh eyes and get renewed by their energy and support. And I think anyone would be hard pressed to be more enthusiastic and positive than this group! When they arrived last February, Tanzania had missed its long rains and was in a drought. Everything was baked brown--the wind blew red dust everywhere. There was no grass, no trees, no buildings--just a bunch of people who believed enough to come over and do something. They built the banda, they planted trees--they made a difference.
This week they see buildings with roofs. They see the start of roads. They see grass and 26,000 new trees planted. They see their little seedlings standing 8-9 feet tall in just one year. They eat lunch and relax in the cool shade of the banda. They step out and pick up shovels and hoes and rakes and blocks and build a garden and a firepit that will bless our students and volunteers for years to come. In their spare time, they shop, eat, laugh, name it!

Of course, there are those people behind the scenes that make these adventures happen. Paula, perpetually upbeat and positive tour guide/cheerleader/motivator gives 110% to planning and organizing--it's just not possible to be cranky or down around her! Bodil and Isaya designed the herb garden and did all the work of planning, budgeting, requisitioning, and

organizing the materials and additional workers for the week. As a result we will have a beautiful garden full of delicious herbs to cook with and one that adds so much to the beauty of the site. The firepit sits just down the hill from the volunteer housing, so secluded feeling that you'll believe you're relaxing out in the bush when you kick back and watch the sunset. The end result is that everyone is enriched by their efforts--the students, the staff, the volunteers. As Isaya said, "No one loses when they help a child."

P640 does have their own blog here. Between the fun they are having and the internet issues we often face here, they are working to post their pics and their experience in their own words. Check in with them--they know what it's like to come and volunteer--I guarantee you'll be moved!

Note: As of today, P640 has not posted new pics to their blog. The pics you can see, however, are from their trip here last year at this same time. The long rains had been short, the short rains nonexistent, and this place was BAKED! What a difference this year!

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Ni Endelea

...meaning "it continues." You can say it if you haven't gotten over a cold (which I haven't) and someone asks you how you are, or how your work is going, etc. Basically, things are going on as before. I haven't posted pics of construstion for awhile because it doesn't seem like much is happening--actually it is, but since all the walls are up and roofs on for the most part, the changes aren't as dramatic. But I got busy this week so here's your first 2007 look at PHA!

The classroom administration building is progressing. You can see it's in various stages! There are parts where they've begun to do some finishing work on the cement on the outside, and yet you can also see that there is A LOT of structural work still going on. I find the process often very random--wouldn't you get the building built and then begin doing that smoothing and finishing? But I guess not.

I would have thought that the big construction would be the most time-consuming part (digging and moving dirt, building walls) but word here is that the finishing takes just as long. Apparently the finesse and eye for detail and quality is hard to find here so lots of time work has to be taken down and redone, something that we do quite often here as well. It's frustrating, but then we're reassured by those who have done this that it's common when building here.

What it does mean is that someone (Mark/Max) have to constantly evaluate the work being done and check for consistency, integrity, and quality. Even the head guys that are supposed to check for these things are used to just "putting something up" and either don't recognize or pay attention to things like bulging ceilings or crooked doorways. The harder things to spot or keep up on include knowing if the concrete is being mixed correctly so that bricks (and the buildings) will last or if the rebar has been installed properly! Those require reports that sometimes don't come in on time--but the building goes on!
I know it's the classrooms that are where so much of the learning takes place, but I think the star building on site will always be the dining hall. The roofline and shape makes is stand out on campus--in fact, many visitors think it's a chapel. It will be that, too--and an auditorium, and a movie theatre, and dance hall, and whatever we need to do as a community. It's still a shell, raw on the inside, but the exterior is taking shape very nicely.

Some of you may remember we were going to be moving into our house onsite in February. Somehow I doubt it--there seems to be a few details left to finish! One of the most difficult things we've encountered in living and working (mostly working) here is the culture of deference to your superiors and saving face. When mistakes are made, people often avoid you (they don't show up, they "run out of minutes" or have phone "problems" that prevent them from being contacted) or they put their heads down and don't offer any explanations or reasons. If it's a supervisor, he will often call in someone else and berate them rudely and put the blame on that person, whether or not they are the cause. When a superior demands something, they agree to do it, even if they know they won't do it. In the face of deadlines, if something else comes up, even something that can be predicted, they deal with that thing first. It's hard to explain how many times we've been "burned" because we took what someone said as something that would actually happen, and then realize they never had any intention of doing it. I'm sure you can imagine how this comes across to our American eyes and ears, we who are used to receiving and delivering much more direct messages--that people are dishonest, or lazy, or liars. What we are learning is that it is often none of that--it is simply the way things are done here. It is the aspect of life that will burn you out so quickly if you decide to buck this system. We've tried rewarding people with extra money to do something on time or well (personally, not on the worksite) or deducting pay when someone is not performing, but neither works. People either will or they won't. It's that simple--simple, but not at all easy! And while we are getting much better personally at managing ourselves and our reactions and attitudes, it's very difficult to manage our American work deadlines and expectations with the reality of how people do work here. We often feel like we have to "make" something happen. We want to get down to the business of working with kids and teachers again, but we also want the school be built well and ready on time so we open well, too!
Project 640 arrived in Tanzania last night and will start 6 days of work at the site on Monday. Last year they were invaluable in getting our tree planting started (to date, we've planted over 26,000-that's right--acacia and other trees and almost 3,000 fruit trees!) and working on our beautiful banda. This year they will be tremendously helpful in continuing to process our library books donated by Books for Africa and working on a large herb garden. The herbs will be used to teach our students and cooks how to add different flavors to their food (I'm not saying Tanzanian food is bad, but it does tend to run to the very bland). It would also provide materials for potential future small entrepreneurial projects such as soap or candlemaking, or learning to use herbs for medicinal purposes. Plus it will look beautiful on our campus! P640 will also be visiting a program for adolescent street boys that teaches basic skills and literacy as well as two other Tanzanian secondary schools to get an idea of what education looks like here and how people are working to make a difference in the lives of children. Check back in the next week or so to see the fruits of their labors!
As always, we have deeply needed and appreciated your support of us personally and of the work PHF is doing. Deadlines may come and go, but we have relied on your prayers, words of encouragement, visits, and financial support more than you can know. Some of you have been supporters of PHF since its beginning and we know you are as anxious as we are to see the school welcome its first class. That day is coming! We know our efforts here will change the lives of the students that will attend and the teachers that will work with us and that gives us the light at the end of the tunnel of the difficult days!