Friday, September 21, 2007

Would-be Presidents and How You Decide.

My sister sent me this link where you answer some questions on some topics and then it pops up the list of presidential candidates and whether you agree or disagree with their position. The topics were: War in Iraq, Immigration, Taxes, Stem-Cell Research, Health Care, Abortion, Social Security, Line-Item Vetoes, Energy, Death Penalty, and Marriage.

My top score was Dennis Kucinich, which I'm not too fussed about, since I don't think he's a viable candidate. But the next guy was John Edwards. Hillary Clinton and Obama Barack were a ways down the list, underneath several Republicans. To my mild alarm, Rudy Guiliani was number 3 or 4. I was surprised because if anyone asked me I would say I really didn't like John Edwards at all. As for Guiliani, I generally lean a bit Republican on some issues, but to lean so far that Rudy would appear that high on a list? Wow.
Which got me to thinking...why do I, or anyone else for that matter, vote for or like a particular candidate? To be honest, there were a couple of questions in that survey where I knew in general what the idea was but really didn't have a clue as to whether or how it has impacted the country. Line-item vetoes was one. So I'm actually making decisions on that survey without really knowing specifically very much. Which is how people are voting all the time, because honestly, how can anyone be fully informed about every issue? But what if that's the issue that really does impact on me--and the hot topics like stem cell research, legalizing abortion, etc. get all the attention, but really don't impact my life that much yet I vote for a candidate based on those issues?

Maybe you need to take the time to really look at a general menu of issues and decide which ones are fundamental to what you really believe is important and then know how the candidates stand on those 2-4 issues rather than trying to master all of them.

A couple years ago I found a site called FactCheck. They examine national and state ads, speeches, and articles for accuracy. It's non-partisan so they cover both sides of the aisle and use statistics from different government offices and publications to affirm or refute a candidate's claim that they've reduced inflation, or someone's accusation that their opponent raised taxes. One one hand, it's very informative. On the other, it's a bit depressing--not only because NOTHING that comes out of a politician's mouth is truly straight-forward, but because it's obvious that a lot of effort goes into examining the statements made by candidates. But in an election year, especially living so far away, I think I'll be checking in frequently.

Voting is such a huge responsibility--but almost impossible to really be on top of everything. Sometimes I think that's why people are loathe to discuss politics. After the sound bites they hear on the news, I think most people (and I'm including myself often) really don't know anything much deeper than what they hear or see in bits and bites on the news.

That being said, I have got to get a subscription to Newsweek. The international versions just don't give you as much information about all the candidates, as doesn't the BBC or international CNN. Hard to believe there are other events in the world more important than what happens in the USA, eh?

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Opening Day at Peace House Secondary

Wow! The students actually arrived! And not just some students--ALL of them! Peace House Secondary School is really open! As I sit here, it's hard to believe that the students sat in their classrooms today for the first time. We really are off and running!

Scott and Sue and two of their boys, Brent and Garrett, came for the big event. They deserve to be very proud! Scott founded PHF and Tanzania holds a special place in his heart, as his father was a missionary here many years ago. Although both Scott and Sue have been here several times, being able to watch the school finally open was a great moment. Sue cut curtains (lots of curtains) and

Brent and Garrett may be permanently hunched from a couple days of assembling bunkbeds! They walked onsite and started moving furniture right away. Thanks, guys!

The students gathered at a church in town and then arrived at the school site on buses. A band and all the adults welcomed the students with shouts and cheers and handshakes. Tanzanians love a sherahe (party) and there was lots of dancing as the students filed into the dining hall.

The Bishop of the Arusha diocese (Lutheran) attended the day's events. PHF partners with the diocese here in Arusha and it was through them that we were able to get the land to build. They do a lot of work for/with us, particularly in terms of navigating the legal requirements of doing work here. He is Maasai and always wears a Maasai-style shirt or jacket. He knows how difficult this project was, especially to find and select the right students. He praised Mark for the effort that it took to get these 120 students on campus on that first day. If you remember, we sent out 650 applications, tested 525 students, and personally visited 180 to select these 120. That's a lot of kids!

The quilts were definitely a highlight of the day. Pictures can't really capture how beautiful they all were! Tanzanians love lots and lots of color, so the quilts were a huge hit. Watching them wrap themselves up for a group picture was terrific. It does get cold here so they'll be much appreciated. They really are amazing...each one is completely unique. Just like each student.

Some pictures really do capture the essence of a person, or a moment, and if they do, it's because Andrea and Charles have been working here, doing what they do really well. You don't often see their faces (which I think is how they like it) because they're behind a lens, but it's their work that you see representing PHS to the rest of the world. Andrea has some more great pictures here. Just click the slideshow icon to see them better.

It's hard to put into words how much work has gone into this project. For 5 years the PHF board has met and planned and fundraised. Volunteers have decorated, walked, donated, and shopped. Here in Tanzania, work weeks for Mark, Max, and Isaya routinely go 6 days and over 10 hours. In the last month, that's been the case for most of us! These are many, but by no means all, of the people that have worked tirelessly to make today happen. One of them, our accountant Dickson, is not on film, but can't be forgotten. He was responsible for ordering all of the things we needed--and by ordering, I mean driving all over town getting bids, then placing orders, and then picking it all up. No catalog, email, or phone orders here!
Opening a school, I've decided, is like giving birth. You plan and plan, but it's all theoretical to a certain extent...then labor starts, but you haven't been resting much before that so you're tired going in to that final stretch anyway. You labor and labor and labor, and then...a BABY! But you have no time to rest. Now it's time to be a parent for the rest of your life! I feel that way right now--we are trying to catch moments of "enjoying the moment" but the work continues at a frantic pace. Construction continues at the site amidst all the people. Water and sewer...well, you can see how modern we are right now! And, fyi, behind those colorful seats! You've gotta have strong thighs! It's part of the adventure and we are so thrilled to have PHS up and running that it's easy to focus on that rather than those obstacles. The contractor is working hard and rumor has it the dorms are very likely to have their solar lights working tonight!

Max's wife, Gina, showed up to lend a hand. Probably the only other person who really understands what it's taken to get this far! Measured, in part, by how much time one's husband spends at work!

And the students? Already they are settling in and relaxing. They have had orientation, team building games and activities, movie nights, and are quickly becoming used to the idea that they are actually going to school. It won't be an easy road for many of them.
Receiving this gift of education has made some of them remember exactly why they are receiving it. They have lost one or both parents. They come from families that may not have enough food to eat. They have relatives who care little for them, or relatives who have sacrificed everything to care for them. They have left behind siblings who will never get this opportunity. They know they will likely be the ones to support their family members when they graduate. Away from their families and homes, many of them will deal with grief and loss, perhaps for the first time. Some were fortunate to attend some school this year, others have not been in school for 8 months. Most of them are away from home for the first time. That's a lot to manage. We are confident that they will come to trust us and each other, that they will understand that they have an opportunity to be the change. They will be able to help their families and their communities. They'll be able to accept this blessing and become blessings to others in their lives.
At the end of the day, I do believe it's less about what we do than what they will do. We saw 120 reasons we have been working for almost 2 years in Tanzania. 120 reasons why a group in Chicago raises money to travel here and work. 120 reasons why teachers from across the US came to share their time and talents.120 reasons why women sewed quilts. 120 reasons why so many attend Colors of Hope. 120 reasons why PHF exists. These students are really what has brought all of us together. It's truly been a blessing for us to be able to serve them.

Welcome! Karibu!

Friday, September 07, 2007


After 7 years, it's almost here...PEACE HOUSE SECONDARY SCHOOL opens its doors on September 10. Stay tuned!

Thursday, September 06, 2007

A Stitch in Time Keeps 120 Kids Warm

Working with PHF for 7 years, I've come really appreciate volunteers. A lot of times people may think that what they do doesn't really matter, but it really does. Living here and seeing how far a dollar or ten goes makes us realize that every little bit does help. If you believe in something, you can be confident that your effort, whether it's writing a check, stuffing envelopes, painting a wall, or spreading the word really does have an impact on others. And it's never too late to get started doing something!

But there are times when what someone does simply leaves you speechless (more or less--face, it, I've obviously always got something to say). A group of long-time friends in Iowa and Minnesota, along with some women from Peace Lutheran Church in Bloomington, are doing something beyond words. These women have been making quilts. Lots of quilts. Lots of handmade quilts. Here are 38 of the 120 quilts they have made for the students at PHS. They are amazing beyond words. Our staff could not believe that something could be so beautiful, that people would spend so much time making something like this for children they don't know and may never see. They kept touching them and trying to figure out how the pieces fit together and marveling at the stitching. We are all so excited to see the faces of the students when they are finally handed their very own quilt. For some of them, it will be the first blanket they have ever owned.
Thank you, ladies. The tags on the quilts say, "Mungu Akubariki." May God bless each of you, too.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

This One's for You, Russ...

My father-in-law loves small world stories. I think he'd approve of this one.

When my mother and sister were here we stayed at a lodge near Ngorongoro Crater. We met a woman there. I'll call her Cathy (because that's really her name). We started chatting and realized we both knew the same person back in Minneapolis. I'll call her Lisa (because that's really her name). I've already had several "encounters" because Lisa works at a travel clinic and apparently everyone who gets vaccinated and comes here was "shot" by her and then somehow ends up at touring the school site.

Yesterday , unfortunately, my purse and camera were stolen. BIG bummer. I was devastated, and overwhelmed about how I was going to go about getting some credit cards cancelled and reissued, and my driver's license and ATM card. A small bit of luck was that my phone fell out when the purse was grabbed which is good because we all keep every contact in our phones and it's a huge huge pain to lose it.

Later that night I get a call from a woman named Cathy who said she got a call from someone talking about my wallet and the post office. Somehow she figured out it was me and was able to rustle up my business card (hers was in my wallet from when we met in May) and called me. I got the number of the caller and called her and managed to figure out that some of my stuff was at the post office.

So this morning I went there. Apparently it's common for thieves to take money, etc. and return papers, passports, licenses, etc. by tossing it in a bundle in a post box. Does that somehow assauge their guilt? I don't get it. But there, in an envelope, were my keys, my driver's licenses, credit cards, ATM card, and every ratty scrap of paper that was stuffed in my wallet! Of course, not my money, or camera, or glasses, or the lipstick that never smeared. But you can't have everything and I'm very thankful to get back what I did. It saves a lot of headaches and hassles.

But if you're the type that likes a "small world" story, I think this one is tops. And never doubt that YOU might be the cog in the mysterious workings of the universe. Right, Lisa?

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Don't Be Fooled.

Bush babies are sooooo cute aren't they? So sweet and cuddly. Those big eyes. That soft fur. Kind of like a cross between a monkey and a koala bear. I want to shoot them. Specifically, I want to shoot the one that has been screaming outside my bedroom window for 4 hours straight. It's now 3 am. They are not cute and sweet. They are amazingly noisy. And persistent. And nocturnal. I myself prefer not to be. What I prefer to do at night is sleep.

I like chimps. Specifically, this chimp. He's eating a bush baby. I wonder if I can get one of these to come over tonight?

I am so tired.