GONGALI VILLAGE KITCHEN/DINING HALL - 100% COMPLETE
KILIMAMOJA VILLAGE 2 - CLASSROOM BUILDING - 100% COMPLETE
Alan returned from a very successful trip to the Karatu region in Tanzania where the 2 buildings were officially opened with colourful celebrations, speeches, and musical entertainment at each village site.
Below are the project updates from Alan's Africa trip in September 2012.
UPDATE NO 1 - 10 September 2012
Greetings from Africa (Tanzania).
KILIMAMOJA PROJECT – CLASSROOMS 1 & 2
I arrived in Arusha on 5 Sept, to be enthusiastically greeted at the airport by Mathew and his family. Little Maureen (named after my wife) is now almost 2 years old and greeted me with a few English words, “hello, Babu Alan”. How quickly she is growing.
Saturday, 8 September 2012
After a couple of days to acclimatize, Mathew and I and our driver Deogratius left the Outpost Lodge on 8 September on our 3 hour trip to check out our first project in the village of Kilimamoja. We met briefly with Mayor Winner Msemo at his village office, then drove off to the site 3 kilometres away, the mayor following us in his 4-wheel drive.
We arrived at the school site to, yet again, a colourful sight of about 50 villagers singing and dancing in the newly created courtyard adjacent the building. The new building has been positioned perpendicular to the gentle slope, so to make the adjacent courtyard level, the builders built a stone retaining wall at the lower end and filled in the space with excavated clay subsoil. The children danced and sang their routine in the centre, their flip-flops and bare feet kicking up red dust in the process, while parents and elders lined around the perimeter clapped to the expert rhythm created by a teenager beating on a makeshift plastic pail drum. Women dancing a traditional dance followed that. They were practicing for the grand opening celebrations next week on the 15th. They were happy and joyful; a memorable sight.
The building at about 90% complete looked good; the roof was on, the interior ceiling was being installed, the final floor finish of 2” of smooth-trowelled cement was underway. They only have one week left to put on the wood roof fascias, install the windows and doors and finish the exterior and interior painting.
“Well, Fabian”, I asked of the builder, “Are you going to be finished on time?”
“Hakuna matata” (no worries) he replied; the usual non-commital response I have come to know that could mean either yes or no. My assessment; probably, yes, because although their work rate may seem slow, it is at a steady pace that accomplishes more than one can imagine.
The positioning of this school on a slope overlooking a wide valley shaped like a three-sided bowl that offers a spectacular panorama of village homes sprinkled over the opposite slopes two to three kilometers away.
“The children from those homes will now come to this school”, explained Winner, “since they must walk too far, up to 8 kilometres, to our other village school. We want the maximum travel distance not to exceed 4 kilometres.”
Winner explained that the 2 existing schools in their village of close to 6,000 (a large village that we would consider a town) are separated too far from each other, so the positioning of this new school will reduce children’s travel distances to the desired maximum of 4 kilometres as well as take care of the village’s growing population.
I looked at the new water point located a short distance from the school building. It was this year’s previous project; we funded the cost of connecting the school to an existing water point some distance away. I was impressed with the village’s planning initiative for water pipe distribution. From the water point, pipes would be extended to new male and female toilet buildings (that they would build as proper concrete brick buildings) as well as both the school and the future teacher’s residences. The site planning was conceived without any need for my input since they assumed the Gongali concept could be applied here. Impressive initiative and leadership!
Back at the Mayor’s office, we had the formal meeting I requested to review the school’s operation. We were assured of 2 key concerns; that classes would be filled, and that every effort would be made to secure quality teachers. As with¢ Gongali, application would be made to the District Council through the District Education Officer’s office. Winner explained that teachers will be attracted to this new school because of its construction quality and provision of free accommodation in the residences
We discussed the future construction phasing; subject to our funding, the desire is to build a Teacher’s Residence for 2 families building next year; 2 more classrooms the following year; a Kitchen/Dining building the following year; then the 3 classroom building a year later; and finally, the Library/Teacher’s room building a year after that.
Before leaving, I queried the opening celebrations they were planning.
“It will be a surprise”, Winner replied, “but be prepared to say a few words….”
On the way to our accommodation at Claude Goi’s Tanzanice, a beautifully restored farmhouse, I reflected on how smooth everything was going with this project. I felt fully reassured for the first time that the school would be a success; they had a determined leader in Mayor Winner, and with a name like that, how can they lose?
GONGALI PROJECT – KITCHEN/DINING BUILDING
Sunday, 9 September 2012
After royal treatment at the “Tanzanice” (a beautifully refurbished farmer’s residence) accommodation, we drove the 6 kilometers from Karatu to the Gongali school site to see the progress of construction of the Kitchen/Dining building and to meet with Mayor Hayshi and the schoolteacher, Medard John, both of whom I hadn’t seen since last November.
I only managed a quick glance of the construction since our arrival coincided with the start of Lutheran church services in our Dec 2010 building’s classroom where, to my surprise, about 80 villagers had managed to stuff themselves but seemed reasonably comfortable. I accepted their invitation to join them, happy to see the multipurpose use of the school building. The service was entertaining; going from staid scripture reading to incredibly lively singing of hymns to the beat of makeshift drums.
After the service, we strolled over to look at the progress of construction. Builder Fabian Ammas, grinning with satisfaction (and so he should) greeted Mathew, Mayor Hayshi and myself . “It looks great” I told him, his grin widening even more.
“What about end gable, do we fill in?” he asked.
“No, leave it open”, I replied. “It will be nice to expose the roof truss construction from the exterior.”
“Hakuna matata”, I offered, picking up from a similar Kilimamoja conversation.
In the dining area, Mayor Hayshi commented on the maximum number of children that could be accommodated. “Only 64 children? I think we can have maybe 100 in here, do you think? I had planned the seating arrangement based on 18” width per child, which, according to our Canadian standards, is crowded, and a centre aisle width of 5’. We agreed that by reducing the aisle width to 3’, we could achieve an 80 child sitting that also works well as 3 sittings with the projected total number of 7 classrooms at approximately 30 – 35 pupils each.
Mayor Hayshi confirmed the importance of the food program. Stepping back and raising his arms as if to hug the building, he smiled with satisfaction; “We will supply the new metal stove and all the chairs and tables. And we can use this space for village celebrations.”
Later, I had the pleasure of meeting the new teacher, Mrs Sarah Mollele, her husband Mark Mollele who were now occupying the 2nd Teacher Residence unit we had built in 2011. Mark was also a teacher (actually, headmaster) at one of the other Gongali primary schools. Their 2 beautiful preschool-aged children, Ebenezer and Karen, typical of all village children I meet, greeted me with curiosity and wonder. When I kneel to their level to shake their hand, I’m always amused when they reach up to touch my hair. Mark and Sarah love their new home. We were invited inside to view their recent furnishings and then afterwards have lunch with them.
The home was beautifully furnished (see the photo), although a little cramped looking. Mark reluctantly agreed that a little more space would be better. I made a note to myself to increase the size of the future planned residences. We discussed the cooking process and its spatial needs; something that up to know has been somewhat of a mystery to me to design. Sarah does her cooking traditionally on a pot over an open wood-fuelled flame next to the building. I had designed the cooking to happen in a roofed-over porch area with partial height walls to protect from wind. The idea was to be able to cook in all weather conditions, with smoke naturally ventilating above the walls. The problem here was that Fabian had misinterpreted the drawings and built the walls full height - so no smoke ventilation. “We’ll have to make some modifications,” I offered. Sarah said she would look forward to cooking there; that it would work better. I was happy to hear that.
Lunch was good; chicken, rice, vegetables – their first class Sunday meal.
After lunch, Mathew, impishly smiling, invited me outside to look at something. A huge pleasant surprise. Behind the residence was a small sturdily built 3-room building housing a chicken coop, a toilet room and a shower room, that the village had built for the teachers. A vegetable garden was planned behind that. They had all the amenities to sustain themselves, affording teachers a well-deserved elevated quality of life.
I began to realize that what was happening with this development. What started out I thought as a remote school, is now being transformed into a mini-community; school, church, community centre, playground, and self-sustaining residences with vegetable gardens and chickens.
Mayor Hayshi, Mathew and I then got down to business to discuss the school development and operation. As with Kilimamoja, the meeting went very well. Mayor Hayshi assured me that the classes would be filled, and that qualified teachers would be pleased to live here. Regarding future construction phasing; subject to our funding, next year, we hope to build the 3 classroom building and a year later, a Library/Teacher’s room building. Overshadowing the general satisfaction with the project was a concerned look on Mayor Hayshi’s face;
“We are not as lucky with water as Kilmamoja” he said. “The nearest government-surveyed opportunity for a drilled well is almost one kilometer away. The pipe distribution will be expensive. And there are drought problems. This year was good, but if you remember, 2011 crop output was poor. We will need water for crops as well as for buildings. And we would like to have electricity.”
“We can only hope that a solution will arise,” I feebly offered. “We may get lucky with a donor or partner NGO.”
On the way back to Tanzanice, I reflected on the positive aspects of the Gongali school and Gongali village in general. They were fortunate to have, in Mayor Hayshi, a determined, capable and intelligent leader. And I cannot say enough about Mathew’s contributions, balancing a full time job as a restaurant manager in a five star hotel with project management of our school construction.
Greetings from Africa (Tanzania)
The last week here was full of amazing experiences and wonderful surprises.
Our NGO application
Between site visits, Mathew and I visited our lawyer, Marcellino Mwamunyange in Arusha, to get an update on our NGO application. Over the past year and a half, we’ve provided all the required documentation, our constitution, bylaws, Director resumes, and letters of recommendation from the local politicians in our schools’ areas, however, the answer from the responsible Ministry in Dar es Salaam keeps saying “tomorrow”. The delay may be related to a government concern that some NGO’s are being formed to conduct illegal activities. However, we also suspect they may be waiting for an “additional payment”, but we will not succumb to that. Marcellino staunchly agrees; we’ll just have to keep bugging them till they give in and issue us the certificate.
Teacher Training - a big issue
13 September, 2012. We taxied to our wonderful Tanzanice accommodation to spend 3 days wrapping up the projects in Gongali and Kilimamoja. The afternoon was spent in Karatu at the offices of the District Chairman, Lazaro Titus and his District Education Officers, Kinyemi Sepeku, and Mama Vennerando. We discussed the District’s priorities; English Medium teaching in primary schools, teacher training, water and electricity to the Gongali School site, building of high schools and a Teachers College.
I had been communicating with a Londoner Katy Allen regarding her NGO VPEK’s work in the Kilimanjaro area to train Tanzanian public school teachers to teach in the English medium. The importance of this is to ensure Primary School graduates have English experience to be able to succeed in the English Medium high schools. At present, there is a 90% failure rate of pupils entering high school with only Swahili learning. With computer in hand, I brought up her website and read excerpts from her recent updates. Katy’s training manual was well received in a long-awaited interview by President Kikwete and his Ministry of Education. They now want to adopt the book nationally. Great news for Katy; she’s been trying for years to get her work acknowledged and promoted.
Lazaro and Mr Sepeku were very interested in Katy’s work and agreed to contact her to look at the possibility of her training teachers from their district. Lazaro explained, “Thank you. This will help us while we are waiting to complete our Teacher College project at the village of Ayalabe.”
Meeting w/ District Chairman Lazaro Titus, & District Education Officers
After the meeting, I discussed an idea I had been toying with; creating a video of a group of pupils singing the Tanzanian national patriotic song, and perhaps my joining in somehow. I had been singing it as part of my recent presentations back in Canada, and thought it would be good for the charity as a Youtube link from our website. Mathew liked the idea, and within an hour, we were at the school practicing with pupils from Medard’s Standard 1 class. At first, it seemed too great a challenge; the kids were so shy and inaudible. And it didn’t help that Mathew, Medard and myself were hopelessly inexperienced with instructing. The kids were exhausted after an hour’s effort, so to their delight, we “freed” them. There was hope, but we needed more time. The opening of the Kitchen/Dining building next day would be our last chance to sneak in some more rehearsals and do a “final recording”.
Kitchen/Dining Building Grand Opening
14 September 2012. The day was here for the official opening. I wanted to downplay the event as a simple event of a handful of dignitaries doing the usual ribbon cutting, however the village had different ideas. Mathew and I arrived at the site in the morning to the wonderful sight. A head table and rows of desks and benches were relocated from the classrooms to the front of the new building. All the pupils and parents, seated in them, were singing to welcome our arrival.
Gongali Kitchen/Dining Building Opening
VIPs included District Chairman Lazaro titus, Mayor Peter Hayshi, Mama Vennerando and several of the village councilors. After the usual speeches, gift exchanges and ribbon cutting, we had a wonderful meal IN THE NEW DINING HALL. The new metal kitchen stove was still being built by the Karatu town metalworker, so the food had been prepared outside at the rear of the building. A dozen or so village women had been at the site since daybreak cooking their typical grand feast of rice pilau, potatoes, carrots, and roast goat.
the cooks out back
Over a hundred persons dined heartily; children happily sharing heaping plates of food, along with parents and politicians, all jammed into a space that normally comfortably only seats 60 -70. It was a heartwarming and important milestone for the school and the village to have this food program. The only regret to date was the lack of water supply to the site. But I would discover that that would soon change.
the Dining Hall
After the meal, another formality remained; the unveiling of the plaque commemorating the donation of Linda and Chris Peterson of Victoria, who sponsored the cost of a classroom. Thank you, Chris and Linda. After the photo shoot, a grateful Mayor Peter Hayshi took me off to the side; “Mr Alan,” he asked. “Please tell them to come and visit our school. We will arrange a celebration for them and their family.”
Linda & Chris Peterson Classroom
Now for the last event of the day; the final attempt at recording the singing video. Teacher Medard assembled the best 8 singers in a corner of one of the classrooms. A curious gallery of 30 – 35 classmates filled the remaining space. Medard assured me that they were ready, having had several practice sessions in the early morning. 7 takes, several camera glitches, and frequent giggling interruptions later, we managed to pull off a decent recording in the (a little too reverberant) classroom. The kids were amazing. They didn’t fully understand what it was all about, but they knew it was important, and hence took it a little too seriously. Regardless, they managed some laughter (and relief) at the end of it. Watch for it on our website.
End Of Update
UPDATE NO 3 – 20 September 2012
Greetings from Africa (Tanzania)
Kilimamoja Project – Grand Opening
15 September 2012. The grand opening celebration of the first 2-classroom building at the new Kilimamoja Village school.
District Chairman Lazaro Titus picked us up in his 4 wheel drive at the Tanzanice and suggested we stop at the village of Ayalabe on our way to Kilimamoja. Ayalabe is located about halfway between the town of Karatu and the village of Kilimamoja, and is in a central location to the schools in the area, hence the decision by Lazaro to build the District’s first Teachers College there, where teachers would be trained in the English medium. The site for the college was the existing Ayalabe primary school, a collection of somewhat deteriorated classroom buildings that in his opinion were beyond repair. The site was flat, with panoramic views of the countryside, and most importantly, the only one in the area large enough for the college. He was excited to discuss his plan with me.
“Can you help us with our project?” he asked. “We would like to relocate the primary school in phases, one building at a time, to a nearby new site donated by a local farmer. We like your 2-classroom and office building design and wish to use it as the standard for all new schools.” That’s a nice compliment, I thought. He continued;
“We would start with a new 2-classroom building at the new site. At the same time, demolish the vacated building and build in its place, a new classroom for the college. Every year, subject to funding, we will build a new building at each site until it is completed. The college will also have dormitories and dining facilities for the students. We have ongoing fundraising for the college, but if you can assist with the funding and construction of the new primary school, it would really help our schedule.”
“Thank you for the opportunity to work together for a very worthwhile project. I will discuss this with our Board back in Canada, but of course it all depends on funds raised. And we need to continue with the remainder of the buildings at Gongali and Kilimamoja.”
“Ahsante sana,” he replied.
A joyous greeting
Hundreds of villagers awaited our arrival at the school site. As soon as we got out of the car on a slope just below the school building, a group of a dozen children or more, led by the beautifully shrill voice of a young woman, sang an upbeat greeting.
the new Kilimamoja Primary School’s first two classrooms
A few minutes later, throngs of village women and children descended from one side of the school area above to join the singers. From the other side of the school, a column of chanting men dressed in their traditional robes and sporting raised walking sticks, also descended to the beat of their drum. The whole group then, in one loud cacophonous melee, slowly marched back up the slope ahead of us, singing and chanting, leading us to the courtyard where VIP tables and chairs were placed under makeshift canvas awnings to protect us from the hot sun. They were happy. Some women waved colourful fabric banners, others danced, spinning in circles, their vibrating tongues creating a high-pitched warble not unlike a war cry.
After being seated at the VIP table, we were entertained by a typical tribal dance where men jumped up and down in unison to the beat of a drum…powerful, visceral stuff. Then a group of children (on loan from a neighbouring school) dressed in their school uniforms, double-filed
into the courtyard in front of our table and sang a medley of songs, including their national anthem and their patriotic song…very beautiful and moving.
pupils – Tanzania’s national patriotic song
That was followed by speeches from Chairman Lazaro and Mayor winner, a Ward Chairman, a woman representing the mothers of the village, Mathew, and myself. I memorized the first 2 lines in Swahili; “Habari za leo, mabibi na mabwana” (Good day, ladies and gentlemen), I started. “Ninayofuraha kuwa hapa kufungua jingo hili jipya” (I am pleased to be here to open this new building). The rest of my speech was in English, with Mathew translating, line by line. I kept it short and sweet.
After an exchange of gifts, we withdrew to dine in one of the classrooms where we sampled an array of dishes not unlike the feast we experienced at Gongali the day before.
During the meal, Lazaro seemed anxious to talk to me. “I have good news and a proposition for you, Mr Alan,” he said. “Since our last talk, the Council and I and our Engineers discussed a solution to provide water to the Gongali site. We can tap into an existing small PVC water line a half-kilometer to the north of the school. The villagers will supply the labour at no cost. We are asking for your assistance to share the $645USD material cost. I agreed without a moment’s hesitation. This has been so important an issue here for the past two years. What a small price to pay for such a life-changing resource for the school.
Finally, we did the photo shoots of the installed plaques of two major donors who funded the classrooms, Alicia Lee and Sang Han for one, and my Royal Military College Class of ’70, who funded a classroom in memory of the recent passing of our classmate, Dr Sunny Marche. Thank you, Alicia and Sang, and the RMC ’70 alumni.
Dr Sunny Marche Classroom
During the ride back to Arusha, I contemplated the memorable and significant events of the past few days. It was probably the most vivid school celebration I have experienced to date, and no doubt, would be considered the same by anyone else contemplating embarking on a similar humanitarian cause. I can only hope that our efforts to build these classrooms will be supplemented by the communities to sustain their operation; that the classes will be filled with children eager to learn, and that fully qualified teachers teaching in the English medium will be provided. Judging from my impression of District chairman Lazaro Titus’ leadership, significant progress may very well happen within the remaining several years of his term of office.
I was happy with our work to date in the region. The Gongali school now four classrooms, two Teacher’s residences and a Kitchen/Dining building. Kilomamoja has its first two classrooms. Our next year’s projects have been proposed by the District; the fifth, sixth and seventh classrooms building at Gongali and a Teacher’s Residence at Kilimamoja (to attract quality teachers). If funds are available, we may consider starting the Ayalabe relocation project with the first two classroom building.
Majengo Nursery School Update
The last on my to-do list was a visit to our first school project in the slum district of Majengo; a two Classroom and Craft Room building built in 2010 on the property of principal Teddy Cosmas and her husband. It was an eventful visit. Along with Mathew, I invited one of our directors, Catherine McGill, now living in Tanga, Tanzania with her partner David Mahoo, to join us. After a wonderful singing greeting from the children, we retired to Teddy’s living room where we were updated on the school’s performance by the school manager, a friend of Teddy’s family, Mr Method Lyaaru, who told of good news and challenges;
Challenges: one class is filled, the other empty due to lack of funds to pay a teacher’s salary and the school is chronically short on classroom supplies; paper, books, pencils, etc. Good news: local women are producing crafted items in the Craft Room that are sold at the local market and the Lowry/Isdahl clan in Victoria continues to fund food provided regularly for the children. I’ll digress here to tell this separate good news story. Last year my bookkeeper Esther Isdahl’s son Justus Lowry accompanied me to Tanzania to help videotape the schools. Long story short; he returned to Canada with a new mission in life – to raise money and send monthly payments to Method to feed the undernourished pupils of the Majengo school. It continues to be a great success.
the Majengo class
Small miracles happen when you least expect them
We were preparing to leave after lunch, just as class was being dismissed for the day. In the courtyard, Teddy pointed out 3 orphaned children. One of them, a 5 year-old boy named Yassini, had just lost his mother to Aids a week ago. His father passed away a while back. Teddy commented on his distant and forlorn appearance; “We have to watch him carefully, he is very fragile right now.”
The three somehow ended up at the school, and were now being temporarily accommodated in Teddy’s small home. She needed support to purchase beds for them. Without a moment’s hesitation, Catherine and David emptied their pockets, generously providing a lot more than was needed. Mathew, who had been kneeling in conversation with Yassini, came over to me with the shy little boy in his arms and whispered to me, “Alan, I like this boy, there is something about him…I’m thinking I would like to adopt him.”
I was overwhelmed. “What about Rose. Will she agree?”
“No problem there,” he assured. “We have always wanted a brother for our two daughters, And I will check if the boy has any relatives, to get their permission, if required.”
We discussed this with an emotional Teddy and Cosmas who agreed to help with the process of adoption. They thanked God for the miracles of the day, and waved us goodbye till our next visit.
Mathew and Yassini
End of Update
(Goodbye and take care)
Till next year, 2013…..and more projects