Sunday, March 30, 2008

Just Because...

The Times, They are a-Changin'

We have truly been blessed to be a part of Peace House Foundation’s mission. Without question our time at PHF has been life changing and life affirming. The work that PHF is doing is desperately needed and the impact that has already been made on the lives of our students and staff can’t be measured.

We have learned, however, to tread lightly in where we think we are going and in what we think life has in store for us. We have found that opportunities and challenges come where they are least expected and it’s often in that surprise that the greatest gifts are found. So it is with mixed emotions that we are facing another adventure in our lives. In June we will be leaving Tanzania and Peace House Foundation and preparing for the next phase of our lives in Beijing, China. Mark has accepted a position as Director of Communications for an international school there, and Carla will be teaching in special education after a six year leave. After careful deliberation, we believe that this is a move professionally and personally that is being made available to us at this time for a reason, and we are very excited about the new experiences that we will have.

At the same time, we feel a profound sense of sadness for what we are leaving behind. There is much work to be done and we will say goodbye to people we have come to love very much. We leave, however, confident that the necessary groundwork has been laid and that Peace House Foundation will continue to be an agent of change for the very neediest children in Tanzania.

We want to thank everyone for their support, both personally and on behalf of PHF. We are proud to be able to say with complete confidence that the money and support you have given over the years to PHF has truly made a difference. We look forward to catching up with many of you this summer when we return to Minneapolis!

Mark and Carla
Cameron, Noah, Ava

Friday, March 28, 2008

Um...I Don't Think So...

This week's Arusha Times had a great story that brought to light some US housing trends we've apparently been missing since we've been here. Two journalists from Kenya and Uganda were visiting Arusha (and Tanzania) for the first time and were commenting on their experiences. Apparently the two journalists had won an award from a trust based in London. Among their observations was the fact that in the long run the whole world would adopt mud structures because they are environmentally friendly, long lasting, and can withstand tough conditions.

The Ugandan reporter went on to say that he had visited the United States where people contemplate building mud houses but can't do so because they can't get the materials they need and such buildings require plenty of labor, which you can't easily get in the United States. But here in Africa, where there's plenty of dirt and water and a strong labor force, people can afford to build mud houses.

As God is my witness, I don't even know where to begin. I'll set aside the argument that people in Tanzania want to live in mud houses, because there are many that do for cultural reasons. I rather tend to think, also, that there are many who are living in mud houses that would very much like to have a concrete block house with a metal roof, but can't afford it. I'll grant him the access to dirt and water (mostly) and cow poo--and with employment over 50% in this country, I'll concede that there is a work force available. Although I'm less certain on mud highrises or malls. Or areas where there are heavy earthquakes. Or monsoons. Mud structures don't seem as viable there in terms of their ability to withstand tough conditions.

We do have our own cultural claim to mud houses, with the adobe buildings in the Southwest. I actually think I've read about "green" building where people are using natural materials such as adobe, straw, etc. to build houses that are eco-friendly and in the long run much more energy efficient. But I'm less certain that a whole lot of my fellow Americans are hankering for a mud house. And darn it, America is blessed with abundant natural resources, so don't tell me we don't have enough dirt to make a mud house if we really wanted to. Given the amount of stuff we do build, I'm also pretty sure we've got people who are available to build and I do think that my house in the States might be a bit more complicated construction-wise than many of the houses I've seen here. I'm just not sure we (most of us) really want to. I know I don't, even though I imagine I could build a nice one if I had the money.

This same journalist (who has a degree in urban planning) also proclaimed Arusha a "well arranged town compared to many other urban centers in Africa", a claim that I can't dispute since I haven't been to many other larger cities. But after visiting a slum area near our own home, he approved them as "quite nice" and needing only minor adjustments. In fact, he concluded, "there are no slums worth that title in Arusha!"

Yeah, right.

I suppose that since the vast majority of Tanzanians live without sewer, water, or electricity in their homes, I can't count those as minor adjustments. But I'm definitely sure that there are slums in Tanzania, having visited many, as have a number of our volunteers who have done student verification visits with us. I'm talking mud houses (yes, mud) with no windows, no doors, often an incomplete or badly damaged roof. Dirt floors. Garbage piled everywhere in the streets, animals and children using streets and sides of buildings for toilets. "Houses" that consist of an 8 x 10 foot room for 4-5 people with only 1 bed and a couple chairs. No kitchen--everything the family owns fits into a couple boxes stacked in a corner with the few pots for cooking. And no electricity, no water, no toilet/sewer, no sanitation services.

But not a slum. Not here.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Scenes from Pangani

This first one is actually Kilimanjaro, the clearest shot we've ever gotten of the mountain!

Sports Day

At ISM, all the kids are divided into 3 houses and compete in swimming and sports events throughout the year in hopes of winning the house cup (kind of like Harry Potter). The teams are comprised of kids ages 5 to 16 and competition is both fierce and friendly.
This was Ava's first year to compete and she was very excited. Her class had been practicing running, jumping, and throwing for weeks so she was very ready to participate! She ran the 100 meter, did the long jump, and the frisbee throw.
Noah's the most competitive of the family. He did the 100, 200, and 400 meter run (earning a 1st place in the 100!) as well as the long jump, and shotput.

Cameron ran the 100, 200, and 400, as well as the shotput and javelin, getting 2nd in the javelin. There were also events for parents and teachers--egg carry, tug of war, and relay races.
At the end the Blue team proved to be the best that day. I feel a bit sappy saying this, but the school really is like a family. One of the very best things they do is involve kids of all ages in activities together. Secondary kids encourage the younger ones, the littles line the race course to cheer on their older team mates, the team captains work tirelessly to make sure everyone is participating and having fun, and parents and teachers get to see the great results. It's the benefits of living and working and going to school in a small town where everyone knows everyone and feels invested in what's happening (granted, the small town and everyone involved can have its drawbacks, too, I know). Being a part of ISM has been one of the best experiences of being here in Tanzania. Our kids are so confident and enthusiastic and positive about everything about school--it's great!

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The Air up There

Courtesy of, a website that I find strangely funny, given that I don't like cute-y pics of cats or the kind of spelling that kids do when they're instant messaging or texting. Put the two together, though, and for some was also the 2008 Weblog winner for photography.

Friday, March 14, 2008

PHS Volunteers Make a Difference!

Disclaimer: I "borrowed" this one, too, from Kate and her excellent newsletter skills.

Since opening the school in September 2007, the staff at Peace House Secondary School have welcomed a number of volunteers working in a variety of ways to help fulfill the mission of PHF.
Working closely with PHS’s new volunteer coordinator, Gina Goodgame, these volunteers have shared their many talents and skills with the students and staff.

Dr. John Ahlenius was on campus January and February as an educational volunteer. A former teacher and principal from Colorado, John has been working with PHS teachers on curriculum development and teaching skills. Being a jack of all trades, John has also welded volleyball standards, made a bell to announce the beginning and end of class periods, and built temporary sidewalks to decrease the amount of mud on campus. We are already looking forward to his return!

Also in early 2008, PHF board member, Dana House and his wife Cindy, spent two weeks volunteering with PHS students. Dana and Cindy introduced the kids to puzzles, and helped with
homework and English skills. January proved to be a busy month with visits from three nursing students and a pediatrician from Minnesota. Gustavus Adolphus nursing students Lauren
Hansen, Sarah Frodl and Grace Bury spent a week on campus helping to set up medical records for every student. They took height and weight measurements, checked vision, blood pressure and administered other basic screening tests. They set up a filing system with the results plus basic medical/family history on each student. With these new medical records, PHS will be able to record the progress of each students’ health and growth. While Minnesota pediatrician Dr. Tom LeFevere examined some students with medical concerns, his wife, Jeanne, and sons, Chris and Dave, corrected tests and played games with the students.

Currently, there are 4 college students on campus at PHS for an extended stay. Katie Engelmann is spending many hours unpacking books to get the library at PHS (soon to be named the Kirchner Learning Center) up and running. She is stamping, labeling each book and creating a computerized inventory. One day soon, thanks to Katie’s hard work, the PHS library will be a great asset to the students. Adam Kroczek is also helping with the set-up of the library as well as doing maintenance work outside with college students Andrew Boone and Zach Hughes.
These three young men are laying stone paths, planting trees, and assisting the grounds team with other varying projects.

Retired elementary school teacher and administrator Brad Board spent three weeks assisting
with teacher training. Brad was a long-time administrator in Minnetonka, Minnesota and has continued his service work in his new home in the Seattle area.

Project 640 just returned for a week of hard work and fun. They played lots of games and sports with the students and also worked on constructing a sand volleyball court that will definitely get lots and lots of use!

Thank you to these volunteers and the many who have come before them for their selfless efforts, all of which are making PHS a success!

PHS Update

Disclaimer: I'm cheating on this one...I didn't write it. Mark gave the information to Kate in our office who turned out another great newsletter. I prefer not to think of as "stealing" so much as acknowledging the talents of a good writer and wanting to make sure the rest of you benefit from her talents. It does, however, explain the funny spacing, which I'm neither smart enough nor energetic enough to combat.

“There is an amazing spirit onthe campus. Students and staff are all working hard to ensure that PHS is a great school and a great place to live, work and learn. Everyone is committed to the vision of PHF and believe that their efforts matter!” Mark Hillman, PHS Director

The first class of 120 PHS students in Tanzania, East Africa returned to campus in January after the holiday break. On their first morning back, the students had gotten up, eaten breakfast, and were sitting in their classrooms 40 minutes early, before the teachers had even arrived! They were clearly eager to renew their studies and engage in all the activities at PHS.

After completing their preparatory courses in December, the 120 current PHS students are now
officially in Form One, their first full year of secondary school. Their classes include English,
math, physics, biology and civics. PHS teachers also continue to hone their teaching skills by spending structured time in teacher training, learning new methods to facilitate better instruction. This semester, among other things, teachers are experimenting with different desk configurations rather than just straight rows. While this may seem somewhat basic, it is a significant shift of thinking for both Tanzanian teachers and students.

February also marked the continuation of the Student Service Program started last fall. Students at PHS engage in a monthly service project in the surrounding
community. To date, students have spent time at other schools and villages cleaning the grounds, repairing paths, trimming trees and bushes and cutting the grass. They
have re-built roads and they helped to plant a field for an elderly woman who lives nearby. Giving to others is a core value being practiced by all PHS students. A goal for the future is for older students to identify and organize
their own service projects and recruit other students to join their work teams — supporting leadership, team work and creative problem-solving.

February was also an exciting month for PHS because it marked the beginning of the student selection process for the next class of 120 PHS students. Applications were sent out to church and community leaders and to nonprofit organizations that work with orphans and other vulnerable children. Once applications are turned in, there are three days of testing and then a team of PHS staff will conduct in-home
interviews to select the final 120 students. PHS anticipates the selection process will be completed by early summer, and the new students will start their new life on campus by the end of June.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Happy 13th Birthday!

NOW I feel old. Cameron turned 13 yesterday.
A real live, honest to goodness teenager. And when I look at these pictures, he looks like a teenager. We had planned to have his birthday at a Japanese restaurant, the kind that does the show at the table, but they suddenly closed so we went to Stiggy's, which is practically our home away from home anyway.

Cameron got a new Redwall book and, in a fit of I don't know what, a poker set. It came in a steel briefcase looking very impressive. For some reason he's been very interested in poker. I figured we could play for matches, but you can mark this date as the beginning of where it all went wrong if he ends up addicted or something.

Calandria posted about her newly 13 year old daughter and her interests and how proud they are of the person she's becoming. We feel the same way about Cameron. He still loves to read, but we are now challenged to find reading material that captures his interests and is not too mature as he is wanting to read more adult novels now. He loves watching M*A*S*H on dvd (he has the first 5 seasons) and Lost. He has a talent and a strong interest in drama now and says he would even sing in public to get a role he wanted. He can carry on intelligent conversations with the upper level physics teacher about science and the universe and often wants to be a photographer when he grows up. I often joke about how it's good I had kids so they could eventually do all the stuff around the house that I don't like to do, but we really appreciate all the ways that Cameron helps out around the house. I always say that if I had to choose someone to travel with I'd take Cameron--he's ready for adventure, can deal with the unexpected, has lots of stamina, enjoys shopping and touring, and is interested in just about everything. Happy birthday, buddy!

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Another Side of Dubya

Lord knows I don't often have anything good to say about our current president. Lord knows I would disagree with just about any major decision he's made over the past 8 years. But I was very pleased to read the "Time" article on Bush's visit to Africa written by Bob Geldoff. First of all, I'm pretty sure Bob Geldoff hasn't seen eye-to-eye with our president, either. For another, I think it is important to recognize the good that people do.

In 2003 approximately 50,000 Africans were taking ARVs for AIDs. After Bush initiated PEPFAR, the President's Emergency Plan for AIDs Relief, 1.3 million African receive these drugs free of charge. The US contributes 1/3 of the money for the Global Fund to fight AIDs, tuberculosis, and malaria. That treats another 1.5 million. The US contributes 50% of all food aid. When Bush was here, he announed a $350 million fund for other tropical diseases, distributed 5.2 million mosquito nets in Tanzania (one of the best ways to prevent malaria), and awarded $1.2 billion in contracts from the Millenium Challenge, another Bush iniative.

I liked this quote from the "Time" article: "America has mortally compromised its own essential values of civil liberty while imposing its own ideas of freedom on others who may not want it. The Bush regime has been divisive--but not in Africa. It has been incompetent--but not in Africa. It has created bitterness--but not in Africa. Here, his administration has saved millions of lives."

Why haven't I heard more about what will be by all accounts a very positive legacy? Geldoff asks that question and Bush replies, "I tried to tell them (the American people). But the press weren't much interested." Obviously, there have been other issues that have taken priority in the press. But I do think it says something about the media or the public that we don't hear about the very good things that someone is doing, even if other decisions or policies are controversial. Or maybe it says something about our view of Africa--still the dark continent where one can hear the passing horror story of starvation, civil war, or genocide. But heck, stuff like that is the order of the day for a place like Africa. A place where most people consider it a country, not a continent of 53 independent individual countries, each with its own language, culture, and history.

I'm glad to say that I can be proud of my president for the work that he is doing here. It's a legacy that I expect President Obama to keep up! I don't find it disingenuous to support Bush's work in this area while deploring other aspects of his administration. I think that's the point of our political freedom as Americans. We are a great country with so much to offer and right now our country's generosity and spirit are overshadowed by so much negative press. I believe in celebrating those things that are being done well!