Today will be the official end to this blog. I hope that it has been enjoyable – as well as educational – for those of you who have chosen to get a small glimpse of life in Tanzania as seen through the eyes of a mzungu (white guy) passionary. Many of you actually did look in – we had a high of 50 hits in one day – which helped keep me going when I did my updates on days that the internet service in Iringa left a lot to be desired.
Twelve weeks is a long time on the road anywhere, but particularly in Tanzania. However, it turned out to be an accurate projection of what was needed – so for that I am grateful. We had both challenges and opportunities to address, and I can honestly say they were all met. Challenges centered around schools not up to snuff in one way or another, and staffing concerns with Miraji going to school. The school issues are particularly difficult because they demand some tough love in situations that are rife with challenges, but our program will fail if we do not demand accountability and sustainability. Tanzania is knee deep in back room failed computers, brought by well-meaning people, but without a plan to ensure their continued life and value.
At the end of the stay we had a brand new office, built at a total cost of about $4000 dollars (including rental for the next 15 years); a new Country Coordinator and a Country Technician, so that Miraji and Dismas can devote full attention to their studies; partnerships, maintenance agreements and internships with Tumaini University and Ruaha College; an Advisory Board of prominent Heads of Schools and noted educators; two new schools (for whom we must secure sponsors); a functioning Internet Library with the original class of teachers (the viongozi wa viongozi) excited and motivated to continue their program to integrate technology into their classrooms in the first term of 2009; blueprints and commitments for a second Rotary International project at Kichangani to build a computer study center and audio-video studio to continue our technology learning activities; and a strong partnership with the Minister of Education to create an internet cloud in the Iringa region to serve as a pilot for e-learning in the country.
I hope that all of you who have supported this work over the years share in our excitement and satisfaction of these accomplishments. Dollar for dollar we are making an amazing impact in a country that desperately needs to improve the quality of its education in order to grow the leaders it requires to address its problems and achieve its goals. Please continue your generosity to keep the successes coming. You really are making a difference.
Wednesday was the day to dot i’s and cross t’s in preparation of departure. The day conclude with a dinner party of the Global Outreach staff. Above is Miraji Vanginothi (currectly on educational leave of absence), Ally Mbugi (new Country Coordinator), Lucas Mwahombela (Tanzanian Director), Dismas Nziku (our scholarship student), and Allen Mwalupilo (Technical Coordinator.)
Two events were taking place on Thrusday as I began my journey home. One was that our office furnishing were being trucked to our new office at Kichangani completing the most unbelievable occurence of the whole stay. This project was completed in less than a month (okay – maybe not totally completed since we still have carpetting and/or tile to install – but close enough) and gives us exactly the space we need to cover current needs and provide room for growth.
The second event was not so pleasant, as Allen travelled to Mtera to return with our computers from their school. Mtera has fallen on difficult times – not just in the computer program but overall – and is trying to get back into operation. They ran out of money, lost most of their teachers, and are in a desperate struggle to reopen their school. We requested return of our computers so that we can use them in schools that will utilized them. If they can get back on track we will consider restoring them to the program, but they will have to go through the formal process and meet that criteria at that time. It was a downer because it’s the first school we have had to take this step with, but this kind of thing is a fact of life in Tanzania.
Barbara and I left Iringa on th4 6AM bus on Thursday. Barbara had a strange return routing leaving the airport early so we did not want to tempt fate. This led to a lovely wait (would you believe 9 hours) in the Dar es Salaam airport for my own flight making a rather nasty trip even more so. The one good thing on the way back was that three months away means that all the airplane’s movies are new to you – some I had not even heard of – so the diversion factor is good. But if you count the trip start as boarding the bus in Iringa – and that certainly is the beginning – the journey was well over 40 hours. It is not the highlight of the Tanzanian experience.
Friday ended in Sarasota with Betty at the airport. My bags decided they weren’t quite ready to call it a day, but they have since been delivered. I am writing the penultimate entry before I get on the scale to assess that damage, but after I have had my first Diet Coke in three months.
YES, that is what it looks like. Our container has arrived and much of Monday was spent unloading it and transferring it to the new office. We are fortunate that we don’t need our conference room for a while since a large part of the shipment went there as a staging area until we can check the machines out and move them to intended destinations or into storage.
In the afternoon we travelled to Mafinga Seminary, a secondary school under the auspices of the Catholic diocese. They have made application for acceptance into our program, and we will work to find a sponsor for them during the remainder of the year. It costs about $5,000 for us to completly install a new school – hint, hint, hint.
The seminary is beautiful and quite large. All the churches put a great deal into education here, particularly this Catholic diocese. Until the government can open (and adequately fund) enough secondary schools to handle the rapidly growing needs, private church schools will continue to be a big part of the educational opportunities in the country.
Since we had spend so much of the day with the container, our travel had started late and we found ourselves coming home after dark. It was a truly terrifying experience, and I am not sure if Barbara will ever talk to me again. The worst part is passing the pedestrians who are totally in the dark, black in color, and dark of clothing – and they tend to walk right on the edge of the tarmac. It is hard to understand how there are not multiple deaths every night as you swerve to avoid 5-ton lorries hurtling at you in the center of the road with their lights on bright. This is an experience I commit to never repeat.
Tuesday afternoon Mama Zenda had a going-away party for Barbara and me at Iringa Girls. Actually it’s tough to do much with the school closed, but they so want to show their appreciation that they had an event anyway. It is quite heart warming how appreciative most of the people are, and their commitment to education is really inspirational.
A major activity Saturday was accounting. Due to interesting interpretations of procedures by the local rotary club we have been borrowing funds from Global Outreach to pay many Internet Library expenses until budget line items are complete. Saturday we got an advance against operating expenses and set about setting all accounts straight. Let’s just leave it at that for details – but it doesn’t do justice to the complexity of the task we undertook.
One of the challenges in all this is the 1000+:1 exchange rate, meaning Allen returned from the bank with about 7 million shillings – and the largest bill in the country is 10,000 shillings. His wad measured about 8 inches high. We spent several hours moving money and concluded only when we got to within $5 of everything balancing. Daily exchange rate fluctuations make it impossible to get to anything closer. I will be very happy to stop walking around with multiple envelopes (personal funds, Global Outreach funds, Rotary project money, construction budget) of cash in my briefcase.
Saturday night I was invited to a dinner party to celebrate the presence of Mark Hanson, head of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America and President of the Lutheran World Federation. This makes him kind of the hierarchy equivalent of the pope for Catholics. He has been to Iringa three times and in my early days was a person I phoned for advice on travelling in Tanzania (before I understood that he wasn’t just a parishioner.) The partnership between the Lutheran parishes of Iringa and the St. Paul MN synods has served as a model for Lutheran outreach activities over the last twenty years and has grown to encompass close to one hundred congregations. I was quite honored to be invited since I was the only non-Lutheran there other than the head sheik from the region – and the only non-cleric other than diocesan managers.
On Sunday we made our first actual use of the new office. Miraji returned from Dar with a pallet of computers that we had purchased from a US-based NGO called World Computer Exchange. (No, I don’t know how they got theirs cleared faster than we have even though it was the same ship.) Although the facility is not quite finished, the storage room is basically done so we were able to move the machines right in. I am still optimistic we will fully relocate before my departure Thursday. That’s right! I AM coming home.
This could be a near pictureless entry as I am busy doing one-on-ones to reach agreements and plans as I start the wind-down process, so I’ll throw in a little local color to start.
Wednesday thru Friday were many meetings, although in Tanzania the waiting process is usually as long as the actually meeting process. I am trying to take new Country Coordinator Ally to as many activities as possible so he meets the key contacts, and learns more about the organization by osmosis rather than me just sitting and presenting.
We now have formal agreements with Tumaini University and Ruaha University College on supporting our program and in the process providing practical training for their students. In addition, three Tumaini students, supervised by Miraji, will work for us as interns the next two months. They have even agreed to pick up the costs of travel for their work. This is all very positive and goes a long way in our continued effort to provide support at costs that others cannot comprehend. You really can work miracles with good partnerships.
Thursday it was Barbara’s turn to experience the reality of Tanzania as we lost power in the Internet Library. It appears that the increased demand has uncovered problems in the utility company’s transformers. The result is that we had to suspend the teachers’ class for a day. Power was back on Friday, but we lost the internet in the afternoon. Unfortunately, this is life in Tanzania. Our total facility plan was designed to accomodate things like this (we would be really stupid if not), but it hurts when we lose even one day of someone as talented as Barbara who has moved the teachers from curiosity to motivated enthusiasm.
Any donors – and especially the Rotary clubs – would have been quite moved to hear the teachers chronicle their experiences and appreciation at the end of the class. They thanked and gifted Mwalimu Barbara and marvelled at what they had learned. They are thrilled with the breadth of the internet, and excited about the wealth of ideas they received to get their students engaged and involved. We will work with Tumaini University now to continually reinforce and add onto this knowledge so they are ready to begin active involvement of the students at the beginning of 2009.
Sunday, while Angelina primped for a party, I had a surprise visit from Crispin’s sister Winnie. Surprise because her school in Morogoro has three more weeks until break. But all the students (as well as students from numerous schools around the country) have been sent home because the government has run out of funds and has not bought food for the schools. Tough to run a boarding school with no food. So Win is home and must listen to radio daily to find out if students are called back to classes.
Realities like this sometimes make me question the avant garde stuff we are doing. But our vision is to provide a model for the future. I always compare us to the R&D department of a company. We are working on tomorrow and letting the others get us to that tomorrow. But if someone does not do the R&D, there won’t be anything waiting there if they make it.
Monday’s high point was a look-see at the new Global Outreach office which is nearing completion. This has been a truly amazing project. We are less that one month from when we broke ground and it looks like we will relocate before I return in a week. The facilities are perfect for our needs. Asante sana (many thanks) Diocese of Iringa!
Tuesday I convened my newly created Advisory Board for the first time. It is composed of the heads of school from Ifunda, Iringa Girls, and Image. It will provide input and advice on making our programs more effective and valuable. They will also assist in formulating policies and procedures to ensure that this program becomes more and more self-sustaining as we enfold more schools and activities.