Without Borders...

Abby and Sara have been best friends since they met in the dorms at Colorado State University in 2002. Each year since then, they have been on at least one trip together, with the last few years consisting of backpacking travels through Europe.

In 2010, they decided to put their desire to see the world towards a more constructive cause. Instead of taking an adventurous vacation, they chose to visit Tanzania and volunteer with Light in Africa for five weeks.

This winter, they are going back to Light in Africa to volunteer for another five weeks, and can't wait to see how much "their" kids have grown!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Leaving Tomorrow

Friends - we have some bad news...we have to leave tomorrow. That means we will no longer be able to wake up at 8am, start beers around 2pm, and go to sleep around 11pm.

This place is a whole new world from where we've been. We miss the kids tons, but all the sleeping, amazing sunsets and cocktails have been easing the pain. We'll give a little closing update in the next few days.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Lasy day at LIA

Hi all, today is our last day with the kiddos. It’s going to be very difficult and we are not looking forward to it at all. We have honestly had a life-changing experience and are so grateful to have met every single person involved with Light in Africa here in Tanzania. Thank you to all of them for changing our lives.

On our way to Zanzibar for a week now – check back in later!

Abby and Sara


Yesterday, we went to a local market to buy some shoes for the kids. With the help of Dada Gudilla and Dada Gloria (two wonderful ladies we will miss very much), we made our way out to the bustling market located on a free area of dirt (with stands made of scraps of wood - or so it looked). There you can buy everything from shirts and jeans with Obama’s face plastered on it to Steve Madden hand-me-down shoes.

Sara and I were “mules” in her words, as we were of no help bargaining the prices or even picking out acceptable shoes – these women just know better! I did get to pick out one pair of gold Nike shocks, which I was real excited about for some little girl. It’s amazing that all of our hand-me-downs – you see labels from Good Will, Old Navy, or Ross (we even saw an AWESOME New Kids of the Block sweater we wanted to buy off someone) – are Tanzanians “new” clothes.

After about three hours and a lot of haggling on Gudilla and Gloria’s end, we bought 73 pairs of shoes for around $360! These kids go through shoes like crazy and it’s they are really a hot commodity around the homes. We were happy to be able to contribute some of our raised money to this. Today, we left money for the rest of the children to get shoes as well.


Due to the amount of children at LIA who have the “virus”, a hospital in Moshi (largish town near Boma) now sends out a team of doctors and nurses to Tudor Village to handle the kids monthly testing and prescription handouts.

I unfortunately realized immediately why they were testing only certain children – Abby however, came to understand the meaning of the clinic at an inconvenient time, while we were playing with the kids in the make-shift waiting room. I had a few minutes to shove my emotions into that dark place we all have for the time being, Abby regrettably did not.

Realizing that a child, who you’ve come to love over just a few short weeks, was given an incurable disease that (given their circumstances) will more than likely end their precious lives shorter than is fair is incredibly hard to swallow.

I kept thinking – she’s such an amazing kid – funny, beautiful, thoughtful, etc., etc., etc. what if she’s not able to become that changing force for Africa I know she can be? He’s so smart and kind, with a healthy dose of mischief, what if by the time he’s old enough to make a difference, or even have a family of his own, he’s not healthy enough to do so? These children were born with a curse, and I feel like it’s so unfair that it’s their problem to deal with – they are just an innocent victim. Thankfully however, Mama Lynn has made sure they receive their medicine and the doctors are able to keep up with their monitoring and keep them the healthy and vibrant child we know and love.

Abby and I were lucky enough to be able to help out with that aspect as well – financially and with hands-on support. The day after the clinic at Tudor Village, a few of the kids were required to show up at the hospital in Moshi for further testing. So, we, along with one of the Mama’s (i.e. caretaker) took off for Moshi with 8 kids all under 12 years old, including one baby, and one with special needs and a lot of energy We paid for all eight children to be seen by a doctor, have blood taken, and whatever else they did in the check-up rooms, along with x-rays for two of the kids. Total cost - 27,000 shillings, (which is under 20 dollars), a few boxes of cookies, 4 hours of our time, and priceless memories.

KIA Lodge

There is a beautiful hotel near the Kilimanjaro airport called Kia Lodge, and due to Mama Lynn’s relationship with the owner – her kids get to use their swimming pool for free. Since we first arrived five weeks ago, we’ve been very excited to take a few of the kids on an afternoon trip to the pool, and thankfully yesterday – we were able to make it happen.

One of the Mama’s chose for us to take a girl who has been especially helpful in her home (to our excitement – we’d already fallen in love with this girl) and we picked two of her friends to join us. We told the girls we’d pick them up after lunch, and by the time we were able to break away, it was around 2pm. The girls had been waiting and were dressed up adorably for their little afternoon out.

No children can actually swim (clearly lack of swim lessons available), regardless of the fact one of the girls we brought with us thought she was actually a fish. The afternoon was amazing and we had so much fun splashing around, playing Marco Polo, and watching the airplanes take off from the airport. Amazing way to spend an afternoon and something I plan on doing many times the next time I’m here.

Mirerani health dispensary

When we were discussing with Mama Lynn what all we could do with our donation, the idea of a health dispensary in Mirerani was brought up and we immediately loved the idea. As you’ve read, the town is a literal pain in the butt to trek through (I’ve got bruises to prove it) and without a bank you can imagine a hospital is out of the question. What the town does have however is a health dispensary (heavily supported by LIA).

As ignored as the actual town is, you can only imagine what the surrounding area is like – right? Now imagine something worse…that area is where LIA does their heath dispensaries. These people are living about an hour away (via Land Cruiser) from the “town”, and have very limited access to any resources – medical/food or otherwise necessities. So, Abby and I (with donor money) paid for one doctor, two nurses, a Land Cruiser to get us all to the very remote Maasai village, as well as all the medicine previously requested by the doctor (yes, in Tanzania – you just walk into a pharmacy with money and walk out with whatever you want).

The doctor with us at the Maasai heath dispensary is one of the doctors at the dispensary in Mirerani and it was a great pleasure getting to know him. He has one of the most genuine smiles and frequent laughing episodes of anyone I know, and seeing this hope/joy in someone who has seen such terrible things was very appreciative. We were able to sit with him in the makeshift clinic as he very efficiently diagnosed his 150ish patients. Most of the people (who had heard via word of mouth about the clinic and many traveled from other villages) had waited outside in the heat and sun for hours to be seen by this man, and many were able to diagnose themselves. They knew they had lung problems (bronchitis) from all the dust, they knew they had worms (don’t actually want to know how), malaria (due to the increase in information circulated), etc.

Many of the kids who showed up (most without parents) had a skin fungus growing on their head, which left untreated, turned into giant puss filled blisters. Abby and I were able to help out with that area, as neither of us have any medical knowledge that goes further than Gray’s Anatomy. We took turns putting an often time very scared child on our laps, and dipped them back over a bucket of water while the other scrubbed their head with antibacterial soap. After we instructed them to stand in the sun while their head dried, we applied a layer of ointment over their scalp, and sent them off with the rest of the medicine tube and instructions on application by a LIA staff member.

Cost breakdown for the day…

570,000 shillings for medicine

80,000 shillings for the Land Cruiser and driver

30,000 shillings for the doctor

30,000 shillings for two nurses

Total Cost – 710,000 shillings (which is around $470)

That equals to about a $3 a person cost for this incredible experience, that unfortunately due to the high cost around here, will not be able to happen again until May or June – when the official "volunteer" season begins.

Mirerani day 3 - food kitchen

Our third day at Mirerani, we helped out at the Light in Africa Food Kitchen. As mentioned in other posts, the Food Kitchen runs five days a week and serves an average of 400 people a day. The kitchen used to run six days a week, but the organization who donates the food, had to validate their donation through “research”. That essentially means they quit sending food for 5 or 6 months to see how necessary the kitchen was. Turns out, as everyone would have told them, it was extremely needed – one girl who visited the kitchen daily for her only meal starved to death in her home (mother had died of AIDS previously and left her alone).

Now for what Abby and I did at the kitchen – she was a soux chef, I was a bus boy. For 3ish hours, she was bent over a hot pot of rice (by pot I mean end-table size GIANT bowl) serving two heaping scoops of rice/bean/meat mixture with two cucumber slices, one tomato slice, and a third of a banana. The cool thing about the meal the kids are served is that it includes 100% of the recommended amount of nutritional value (as in many cases, the meal will be the childs only of the day).

My job as bus boy was to clear off the tables from their bowls, cup and spoon – as well as wipe the tables/bench down. I’m confident I had way more fun at my job than Abby did, as I was able to “talk” with the kids during my job. That means I jibber-jabbered on, and they looked at me like I was crazy (pretty much the theme here). Many of the kids had their tattered school uniforms on, but others were wearing literal rags. One little boy I remember had his adorable little butt-cheek showing from hip to knee, until his older sister strategically folded them when she noticed other kids were making fun of him. The incredible poverty and hopeless of the town can bring me to tears even now, and knowing that these kids have no one, and every day are vulnerable to terrors I can’t even imagine can make your stomach turn. In an area populated by criminals, prostitutes, and the children they make – you can draw your own conclusion.

The work and dedication Mama Lynn puts into this hopeless “town” is beyond remarkable, and I’m incredibly grateful for being able to witness her work with the people.

Car break down

On our second day in Mirerani, Mama Lynn decided that we would all go swimming with her kids. We loaded up into her 4 Runner – 5 adults and 10 kids – and made our way down the “road” (an unpaved road in miserable condition that would actually be perfect for 4-wheeling). During the dry season, this place is too dry, and in the wet season, it gets so much rain that it is cut off from the rest of the world and the roads wash away. The people’s houses (which they make out of clay) also wash away.

Heading down the road, the car decides to stop. We get out, me to escape the heat of the car, but absolutely no help in the car department (I left this to Sara – she always had her Leatherman on her), and by some freak coincidence, a man drives by, who helps Mama Lynn with daily things she needs done in Mirerani. He gets out to help along with some others (one clearly intoxicated). After about 30 minutes of trying to figure out what was wrong, and Job and Maria (2 of the kids) translating for Mama Lynn, we called a Land Rover to come pick us up (or so I thought) – there is no way we could have walked the kids back in that heat.

A full Land Rover (also used as a city buses or Dala Dalas) arrived. As I prepared myself to wait for the next one, we were told to get the kids in the car. We were then “towed” – which at first consisted of a rope and later, a chain – by this land rover back to Mirerani, all 15 of us, and the man who had stopped to help us. I asked Mama Lynn if this was the longest swimming adventure ever – she said no, just her daily struggles! I am going to have nightmares about this woman alone on the side of the road with her 11 children. Sara and I’s next goal is to raise enough for her to get a new car By the way, it was the spark plugs...

Mirerani - hopeless poverty

LIA also has 2 houses in Mirerani, a desolate town located near the airport. Mirerani’s claim to fame is that it’s the only known place in the world where the gem Tanzanite can be found, and there are several Tanzanite mines – some operated by foreign companies. However, unlike most towns where precocious materials have been found (think back to the Gold Rush), it has done nothing to help the wealth in this town. In fact, last year during the wet season, 120 miners died trapped in the mines – we didn’t stay glued to CNN for that one, did we? The money yielded from the mines (and it’s a lot) does not help this place, not even Tanzania. Most goes to South Africa. It is the most barren, hopeless, and to be blunt, poor place I have ever laid my eyes on.

Mirerani has no clean water. It’s not only contaminated with the general bacteria and viruses common in the water here, it has way too much fluoride, which turns the people’s teeth brown and deforms their leg bone structure to the point of crippling them (remember Rachel?). There is no bank, no post office (mind you this town is bigger than Boma, where the other houses are located and there are at least 2 banks there). Why? Due to the Tanzanite, criminals flock there in hopes of finding a stone or hiding there, because they know no one will look for them there – the Government has chosen to forget about this place. The place is also abundant with Masaai people, who have absolutely archaic beliefs – such as FGM (female genital mutilation). They are STILL performing female circumcision on very young and teenage girls!

Mama Lynn lives in Mirerani in a protected home with eleven children in her house. One child was taken in after his mother was dieing of the virus and asked Mama Lynn to take him, in fear that he would be snatched up by the mines due to his size. It’s estimated that nearly 3,000 children work in the mines (most abducted), as their small size allows them to maneuver into little nooks to find the gem. Other children have been with her since their birth and she considers them her kids and they call her Mom. We ask her – why stay in the place? She answers – if we don’t start to change it and educate the future generation, who will?

So, this is where we stayed for 4 days – in a near ghost town, only reachable by Land Rover that has no hospital. For this reason, nearly 60 percent of women die in child birth. Every second house is a victim to the virus. Mama Lynn, this 65-year-old lady, is out here on her own, changing things (a 3rd house is planned with a maternity ward). As you can imagine, it was a real eye-opener. Not to mention our hotel, which was infested with cockroaches and was most likely a whore house!

The Christmas Card -Continued

After finally having success at printing out our cards, we then had to make them (cut and glue onto card stock paper). This took many evenings and many mugs of boxed South African wine, as well as afternoons of the girls trying to “help” and Alena (a volunteer from Germany) lending a hand as well. Once we had the cards made and ready for the kids to decorate, the real lesson was learned.

The worst part about doing the Christmas cards was having to deal with the kids who didn’t have sponsors and knew it. One of the girls we have become extremely close with called me out on my error, and I felt terrible. I had been at her house collecting girls off our giant list, and without thinking – I asked her if she wanted to come do her Christmas card. In a very ashamed manner, she whispered to me she didn’t have a sponsor. I felt terrible, and tried to recover by asking her if she’d make a special one for me. Thankfully she agreed, and the other girls who didn’t have sponsors didn’t say anything when we asked them to make cards.

The great part about the sponsorship process at Light in Africa, is that Mama Lynn just pools the sponsorship money together. She would never tell a child they can’t eat, or go to the doctor because someone hasn’t chosen to sponsor them. The real benefit for the individual sponsored child is the relationship that is formed through letters. The below part of this post is a plea for sponsorships…

It costs LIA $15,000 a month to run this organization, which is actually very little compared to all it does. It feeds, clothes, pays for school (many of the kids go to private school because the public school teacher beat them), medical bills (keep in mind the large number of her kids who have the “virus” or other special needs), pays the staff, runs a 5 day a week food kitchen in Mirerani (serves average of 400 kids daily), runs a home for seniors, and regularly picks up medical bills, and other costs of people in both the Boma and Mirerani community.

Abby and I are each going to sponsor 2.5 kids (we are going to share sponsorship of the un-sponsored girl I talked about before), and trust me – it has been hard deciding who. Rather than choosing the kids who are most memorable (most of them already had sponsors), we have decided to chose from the kids who don’t have sponsors and have touched us (let’s be honest – EVERY ONE somehow has).

If you are interested in sponsoring, we’d love to help with suggestions on who you could request. Each one of these children are remarkable, and I’d love to be able to share with you their magic – for lack of a better word. Visit the LIA website for more information.

P.S. Light in Africa USA is in the process of becoming official for those interested in the tax break

Fire Drill

Volunteers are asked to conduct fire drills at Tudor Village and Pilgrams (the boys home) while staying here. One Saturday, we decided to do ours. Without telling anyone, we both made our way to the rusting car wheels hanging in trees that are used as the siren for fire. After ringing the “bell”/clanking the wheel with a piece of rebar, I ran into the Tumaini house, to help the children with special needs get out.

To my surprise, the older children from the other houses were already in there, grabbing the kids bigger than themselves, who are unable to walk due to cerebral palsy or who are deaf and blind, and carrying them out to the set meeting spot. I was amazed at their efficiency (yes, that is a word that is not often used here in Tanzania) and caring for the other children. Neema, a 10-year-old who has really touched us, nearly broke her back trying to carry out Beatrice, a girl bigger than her!

After less than 3 minutes, all staff and children were out at the designated meeting spot and accounted for. We were excited by the success and the seriousness given to the drill and gave out pee-pees (CANDY) to everyone. A couple weeks later, we tried this again at the boys home, only they had hidden the warning bell to ring! Those mischievous kids – let’s just say they got an earful from Mama Lynn.

The Christmas Card

Our main job while volunteering was to have the children make Christmas Cards and take pictures for their sponsors. At first, when given the job, we thought – great, we’ll have it done in a week and move on to something else. Little did we know…

After designing the card, we wanted to print out our design to paste on the over 200 cards we had to make. This proved to be no easy task. First, in the design process we used the Internet to download pictures – took FOREVER. Second, we tried printing our design in the office – there was no USB cable. Third, we went to the office at Pilgrams to print, but there was no ink. 4th, we went back to Tudor office with the USB cable from Pilgrams, which did not work with Sara’s computer and they had lost the installation CD for the printer. This next part chronicles our numerous other attempts:

5. Go to Boma to print, the town has no electricity

6. Find a store with a generator, they are out of yellow ink and the printer is from the USA, but paper A4 (took us awhile to figure out)

7. DAY 2 of trying to print: back to first shop in Boma, only a photo printer, no USB connection

8. Went to another shop, where the computer either didn’t have Adobe or they lost the installation disk to install the printer on the computer that did

9. Back 2nd store from day 1, still didn’t have yellow ink. By this time, a boy named Adam (who ended up wanting 1500 dollars from Sara and I to open a shop) decided he should help us

10. Adam took us back to the place that could only print pictures

11. Store across the street from picture place – no color ink

12 – 18. All stores that didn’t have color ink or no USB connection

19. Internet shop, ran out of ink while printing

20. Back to store with no yellow ink, they had finally got new ink.

After 20 attempts, we were able to print out 20 copies, which took an hour. We learned our cultural lesson: what is easy and routine at home (press print), is a process in Tanzania. Adam taught us that what would take 3 minutes Mwzungu time (our time), would take 30 in African time – you just have to add a zero to the end of the number! Needless to say, the Christmas card was a process (to print out all needed copies, we photocopied some in the office and ended up buying the other office a print cartridge), and had taken us all four weeks to get them done! But, most importantly, we learned how things work here

Monday, November 15, 2010


HI Everyone,
We have been very busy, so we are trying to get some blog posts up soon. We are still doing great and really enjoying ourselves.

Stay tuned!!
Abby and Sara

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Election time in Tanzania

Since we arrived two weeks ago, Sara and I have noticed what appear to be election posters all over. Big land cruisers also drive around with loud speakers pumping up-beat music and someone yelling something over the loud speakers. Well, Sunday, October 31st was the big day for the regional prime ministers as well as the president. Although Tanzanians are relatively peaceful – yet spirited and passionate – no one was expecting really bad violence as was the case in Kenya. However, as a precautionary measure, we were asked not to leave Tudor Village until after Tuesday, when the last results were announced, as there were isolated cases of cars windows being smashed in and heated arguments in Boma, the “town” next to Tudor.

On Monday, the results were coming in and the ruling party appeared to have been overthrown in Hai District, where Boma is. The ruling party is CCM, and if you are for them, you give a thumbs-up and the other party is the peace sign. We learned this from the girls at Tudor, when I gave them a peace sign and was immediately scolded for being for the wrong party – thank goodness for learning this within the safeness of Tudor walls!

Monday night was not a quiet one. Sara and I heard what sounded like fireworks coming from the direction of Boma. It turns out; it was actually gunfire and maybe small bombs (At least that is was Dada Gudilla told us). This was however, not gunfire aimed at people, rather as warning shots in the air. Because the ruling party was overthrown, the results were held for some time, and the now ruling PM wouldn’t sign over his post. That’s why people were getting riled up and storming the headquarters in the district, and the gunfire was in the air as warnings. We weren’t thaaaaaaaat scared (granted we had had a couple glasses of our awesome box wine), and neither should you be, but we were also happy to be at Tudor, where we feel really safe, mostly thanks to our Masaai watchmen.


October Birthday Party

With over 40 boys at the Light in Africa Pilgrim House, and around 80 kids at the Tudor Village site – having an individual birthday party for everyone is impossible and impractical. Not to mention, many of the children don’t know what day they were born, their age is just estimated, and a day of birth is made up, sometimes. Upon arrival to LIA, Mama Lynn gave us the task of planning a “small and simple” birthday party – which was exactly what we delivered.

We were given the name of 8 kids who had October birthdays, and we set about trying plan our first birthday party for 16 children (each child with a birthday was able to invite one friend.) With the help of our godsend Gloria, we ordered cupcakes from a “bakery” (no frosting L), picked up juice concentrate, cookies, suckers, silly birthday hats, and a gift for each birthday kid. We mostly gave out stuffed animals, but also gave out colored pencils (with cool fuzzy stuff on the end), and a silly hand clapper with candy to our only birthday boy. We introduced Pin the Tail on the Donkey (I drew a donkey with a giant bare butt on a piece of cardboard), as well as had a very intense water fight – complete with water balloons.

We both felt the party was a decent success, but couldn’t really get a read on if the kids enjoyed themselves and liked their gifts. The kids are so modest and reserved when you give them gifts, that because they didn’t do the “normal” squeal and run off to play with it – we thought we didn’t do that great of a job. However, the next day, we noticed a few of the kids still had their presents’ wrapping paper, the home-made card, and parts of their birthday hat. In the end, I think everyone had a great time, and they really appreciated having a special afternoon in celebration of their birth. As an October birthday girl myself, I know I will never have another party without seeing each one of their gorgeous faces.


Language barrier – pee pee

We are learning a little Swahili everyday, and generally not remembering any of it. I think both of us wish we could do more, even though most people speak English and many of the kids quite well. But, you can just tell that these girls are so hiliarious and so full of life, and I wish that for just one conversation, I sould tell exactly what they were saying to eachtother to get their true personalities.

There have also been mishaps. Sayuni, a toddler from laughter house, whose smile and general excitedness makes you feel like you could never be sad again, was making her Christmas card the other day. She kept saying “pee pee”. I brought her to the toilet for the volunteers, foreign to her and her normal whole in the ground. She proceeded to go number 2, but then kept saying pee pee. I took her to another toilet and she went number 2 again, and then to a bush and she tried again, until I realized she must not have to go pee pee, but I found it so cute that she willed herself to poop, because I told her to. Later, I found out that pee pee means sweets – talk about lost in translation!



Rachel is the oldest girl at Tudor Village, at the age of 15. She helps Mama Nisa (who cooks are meals) out at meal time and is an all-round beautiful and wonderful girl. On Wednesday, we went to Machame, on the foothills of Kili to visit Rachel in the hospital after an operation on her leg. You see, Rachel comes from an area called Mirerani (more on that later), where the water is contaminated with fluoride. The people from this region have brown-stained teeth and often crooked legs.

Rachel had to have her leg broken in 6 different places to try to fix the crookedness. She was delighted to see us in the hospital, and we were quite happy to see her smiling face. Her room was shared with 20 other women of all ages and alignments. Her bed was stained and the room smelled of urine, all in all, I wanted never to have to be patient there. The women seemed to being doing fine though, all talking to each other and exciting about us visiting. I could tell Rachel was the life of the room, and she had made many friends, including her Masaai next bed mate. Although we were borderline appalled by the hospital facilities, we were touched by the spirit of the people and community feeling – don’t think you get that back at home, where people get mad about sharing a room with just one person.

Now Rachel is recovering back here at Tudor, we are glad to have her back. She loves singing and laughing. Most of all, she – like all the girls here – loves Shakira and her World Cup Waka Waka song. We have it in our heads all day, and it doesn’t bother us one bit. These girls have natural rhythm and are teaching us some moves, even though we generally can’t get our bodies to move like theirs!


African Funeral

I’m not sure there is anything more tragic than the death of a child, even in a place like this – where death is so common. Thankfully, the death was not one of “our” kids, but a neighbor of ours and a classmate of theirs. The girls told us about it one afternoon when we were playing on the playground – they kept taking the climbing rope and putting it around their neck. We gathered after asking enough questions at that time and later that evening when we heard a woman yelling and crying, that a boy around 11 years old had hung himself, and they saw the body. Abby and I were both horrified, but also not sure how much we missed in translation.

The next day, when we were with our friend Gloria, she told us what happened to the boy. Apparently the little boy was trying to recreate a kung-fu move he had seen Jackie Chan perform in a movie. He had tied up bed sheets in a tree, and was swinging around on it – somehow the unimaginable happened trying to reenact a move.

The day after the accident, we saw at least 100 chairs on the boys parents property, and people slowly filling them all up and every spare inch of space surrounding them. The boys’ schoolmates were even escorted to the funeral by teachers. It was such a tragic accident, and hearing so clearly the mothers heart wrenching cries, made for a solemn few days at Tudor.

-- Sara