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!

Monday, December 24, 2012

Whew – Merry Christmas Eve

It’s Christmas Eve, 9:22 p.m. in East Africa. It’s long been dark and Sara and I are just getting ready for bed, scrubbing off the dirt of the day in shower. Just another day here, but definitely not the Christmas Eve I’m used to.

Today, we finished getting ready for Christmas – a job we have had since we got here and it really has been an undertaking. We have made our lists and checked them way more than twice, hoping every kid is accounted for and putting a lot of thought into each of the 200+ gift bags.

Part of our soccer crew
Together, with Tony ( a volunteer from California, who had spent the past couple Christmas’ here) and Arlene (a volunteer from New York), we finished decorating the room we will hosting the kids in and it looks great! We even had time to play soccer with the older boys at Pilgrams. I say “play” very loosely, as they don’t trust enough to pass to us – might be all the screaming we do when balls come near our faces.
Tony and Sara - expert decorators of African Christmas 

It’s hard to believe our time here again is nearly to an end and that we actually are ready for Christmas. Everyone tells us that this is the most ready they have ever been – so we’re excited. All the Zawadis (gifts) are ready and we are anxious – like kids waiting for Santa! But we’re waiting to play Santa.

Mostly, we’re excited to see the kids’ faces and just spend time with them tomorrow. Christmas like we Westerners know it, is not the tradition in Tanzania, but we hope they will think it’s very special.

We’ll let you know tomorrow. Wishing you all a wonderful Christmas from East Africa! Abby and Sara

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Long and Dirty Day

 As Abby said, we’ve been putting together Christmas gifts for all the 230ish kids supported by LIA for weeks now.  We finnnnallllyyyy got all the outfits settled for the kids in Mirerani, and as Lynn wants the kids to wear their new outfits on Christmas, we hand delivered the clothes for Lighthouse (boys home) and Fleeze House (girls home) yesterday. 

We didn’t have the chance to stay in Mirerani (actually a good thing!) like we did last time, but the down side of not having to sleep in the whore house is we didn’t get to spend much time with the around 65 kids who live out there.  When we dropped off their Christmas outfits however, we had about an hour at each house to try to trick the kids into liking (or remembering) us.  I used my iPhone and love of tomboy type activities, while Abby immediately did whatever she does to get in good with the older kids. 

After the visit to the houses, we stopped by the food kitchen again.  We actually recognized some of the kids that were there from a few weeks ago – and better yet, they remembered us.  The only time these kids see white skin is when LIA volunteers come out and help feed them lunch.  Most are so shy and scared, it takes ten minutes of making stupid faces and demonstrating random ‘skills’ (like flicking a pebble across the room) to make them warm up to you.  They pretty much just laugh, and then hide their faces, then try and do exactly what you did.  There was one little girl that was terrified of me though (even though I was ignoring her).  The other kids thought it was funny how scared she was of me so they kept pushing her at me…she must have thought I wanted to adopt her – haha.

After the visit through Mirerani to see all the kids, we somehow ended up driving through the Tanzanite (high priced gem only available from this area of Tanzania) market.  The route was actually kind of stressful, as the car was so surrounded by shady looking fellas the Land Rover was constantly honking - third world style.  I didn’t get too worried though until Tony (another volunteer who’s older, over 6’ and has worked and volunteered all over E. Africa) looked around at Abby and I sitting in the rear of the vehicle and said, “Mama Lynn would not be okay with you guys being here”.  I think I just said, “uhhh….should we lock the doors”?  Although I absolutely felt on edge driving down that street, it was pretty interesting seeing how that ‘blood’ gem trades hands.

Tony had two neighbor girls who raised $100 for him to buy some goats for LIA, so Abby and I were thrilled when we were able to tag along.  As I grew up with goats and still think they’re pretty cute, I was excited to go to the largest live stalk market within a few countries (yes, countries – not counties).  We pulled up to this field-ish area, and there were hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of goats (the cows, sheep, donkeys, etc. have another area).  Maasai were everywhere, some with a heard of around twenty, some with a heard of one, but EVERYONE wanted you to look at their goats. 

I was happy to oblige, and was quick to ignore the ugly goats and point and smile at the cute ones.  Tony and Paulo (the guy who was actually doing all the work that goes into buying goats from a field) were not too thrilled with my eagerness to let the salesmen know I liked their merchandise, and they kept telling me to keep my mouth shut and my head down – yeah….right.

Finally, no thanks to me, the guys were able to agree on two wonderful goats for Tony’s donor girls.  The lady goat we immediately named Zawaiti (gift in Swahili), and the very endowed male we got is named Chakula (food).  The hope is that ‘food’ will give some gifts to our girl ‘gift’ before he’s our dinner.  When we have to fill out the customs declaration form that asks if we've been around any live stalk, we're going to be lying severely when we say no.

The best part of this goat experience (for me) was teaching these tough African kids how to milk a goat.  They will walk through cow poop, pull 3’ thorns from their feet with little limping, and pick up giant bugs for fun, but if you let a dog lick you too much, or touch a goats nipples – you are the grossest and funniest thing alive.  I was clearly doing all I could to gross them out, talking about five of the bravest (or weakest) of them into trying to milk it, and they all though it is horrible.  To really get them squealing, I’d shoot the goat milk at their toes.  Never thought I’d be able to make an African child grossed out, they must have all been city kids.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

5 days until Christmas – do you have your shopping done?

We do!!! (hopefully!) A Christmas miracle.

One of our BIG jobs has been getting ready for Christmas here. All kids in Light in Africa care receive a new outfit and then a bag full with a toy/gift, new underwear, socks, a toothbrush, a juice, biscuits/cookies, and some sweets. For over 200 children, this job has been (needless to say) keeping us very busy. Luckily through our friends and family who gave us clothes and gifts as well as the various things gathered over the year by LIA, we had a good place to start – so we thought.

It turns out, 2 nearly 30-year-olds, who don’t have kids and only really spend time with African children, have no idea what will fit which kid. Outfits we picked out for 6 year-olds would maybe fit 3 year-olds. Also, we know most of the kids at Tudor Village very well, but the kids at Mirerani and Pilgrams, we have maybe seen a couple times – so had we been left on our own we would have some interesting outfit and gift choices.

Frida, Sara, Rita (our hero) and me
Luckily, we had two of the older girls, Rita and Frida, came to the rescue. Rita and Frida came to LIA as children and have both been here nearly since the beginning. Now, getting ready to start college or further schooling, the kids are serving LIA for a year before moving on. They have helped us sort out the clothes and gifts for all of the kids, trying to remember who each one is and all the kids in general.

Then we went to the market the first time, looking only for girls clothes. We were originally told that for pants it would cost 2000 schilling each (the equivalent of about $1.50). Unfortunately, as it is close to Christmas and we are Mzungus (white) – we were not able to buy pants, they were giving us prices for 20,000 schillings, almost 10 times the price. Luckily, we had Rita and Frieda again to help bargain.

We spent hours the first time walking through the market trying to find the right sizes. And then if we found the right sizes, trying to find something that at least half-way matched. And then if that all worked out, something that didn’t have some kind of hole in it. On the first day, after lots of sweat from walking around the hot market and then sitting on the crowded buses, we were happy to enjoy some lunch and Fanta pineapple with the girls.

Then, on Tuesday, we had to tackle the rest of the boys clothes. We needed to buy for over 30 children, and given our first experience, we were not too confident that that would happen in one day. We decided to go to Arusha (a bigger city, where all the Safaris go out to the Rift Valley and Serengeti and where the Rwanda trials are currently taking place).

Pastor Frank (a long time staff member of LIA and a truly wonderful man) drove us with Rita and then an older boy Freddy to Arusha. Freddy was to be our body guard, but as he can’t stop smiling, we decided to be extra cautious ourselves, too.

piles of clothes ready for deserving owners
When we got to the market, all we saw was a maze of fruits and vegetables filled with people. We walked through what we though was the whole thing, quite discouraged that we had driven a hour to not find the market and with the thoughts in the back of our head – there’s only 1 week until Christmas. We stopped in the middle of the market – worried.

Then, we opened our eyes to a little shop right in front of us. Rita asked how much the pants were and the man replied 22,000. Discouraged, she started to walk away and Sara and I knew we had a long day ahead of us. Then, something made her turn back, and she way able to get them down to 7,000 (a little over 3 dollars) per pair of pants. We were able to find 30 pairs! And then 20 shirts!! We were done in less than a hour. Pretty convinced some sort Christmas miracle.

gifts ready to be packed
Yesterday, we bought the juice, cookies, candy and hopefully last two pairs of pants. Now its just time to wrap everything and triple check that all the kids are accounted for. A big job – but thanks to the great help and company, Sara and I have enjoyed it and are really looking forward to seeing all the Light in Africa kids on Christmas day!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Birthday Party

Birthdays are celebrated monthly at Tudor Village, and each month, it’s one of the volunteer’s jobs to plan a party for all the kids whose birthday falls in that month.  As a birthday party for November didn’t end up happening, Abby and I combined the November and December kids into one party.  All the kids were about 10 years or older, so we started thinking about what types of fun things we could do for their party.
First, we thought about doing the “standard” Light in Africa birthday party.  We’d have sodas, little cakes, everyone would get a small gift, invite one of their friends, and we’d all play games.  The problem we kept coming up with though, is what game does a group of nine kids (aged 10 to 15) want to play?  Pin the tail on the donkey?  Na, probably not.  What about donkey rides from a local Maasai?  Also, not likely the local Maasai woman would not be interested in removing her water buckets from her donkey to accommodate.  Maybe laser tag and ice skating at the local event center?  We called, but they were all booked up with other parties.  So…we decided to do something a little different, but ever popular.  Instead of getting them gifts and having a party at Tudor Village, we’d take the birthday kids swimming at a hotel.

Sounds easy right, well – nothing ever is here.  It’s the best and worst part about this place.  We planned to leave around 1pm, but only two of the kids showed up.  Silly us – they eat around 1, we should have known they would not leave before eating lunch.  We finally left around 2pm, loading six people in one tuk-tuk (rickshaw) and five people in another.  Then, we went to the bus station in Boma, found an empty dala-dala and waited for about 25 minutes until they crammed another 15 people in the minivan.

After finally arriving in Moshi about an hour later, we had to walk about 30 minutes to the hotel we were planning on swimming out.  Only problem was, we found out it was closed for a wedding.  Plan B was swimming at the local YMCA.  We paid about 30,000 shillings for fourteen of us to swim (two other kids and an adult had been at the local hospital for tests so they were able to join us). 

Swimming suits in Tanzania are not your normal suits.  They pretty much wear whatever they have (shirt and shorts), so getting seven preteen to teen girls outfitted appropriately for swimming was actually a bit of an ordeal.  There was plenty of swapping shorts, giggles, and then swapping again.  Finally…we made it to the pool around 4pm.

The kids had an amazing time - laughing, splashing, trying to float and trying to drown.  Abby and I had a great time having goose bumps for the first time since we’d arrived in Tanzania.

We had to get out of the pool at 5pm, as we have a 6pm-ish (dark) curfew, but a pool party is a fantastic party in any country.   

Monday, December 10, 2012

21 deep in a land rover – this is the Tanzania I remember.

 We have now been in Tanzania for 2 weeks and during the time, I kept thinking, wow, Tanzania has definitely changed in two years. Here, we now have hot water, coffee, breakfasts that don’t only include peanut butter and white bread, and even Internet. There are now tuc-tucs (the rickshaws from India) to take us to the little town Boma, so we don’t have to walk the 30 minutes to get there. And, we have only see one cockroach and what was most likely a tarantula, but not near the creatures we were used to having in our rooms two years ago.
Getting medicine ready to be distributed

Well, Friday, on our way back from Mirerani, I was quickly reminded where I was. We were in Mirerani to put on a medical dispensary for the people of the town, who don’t generally have access to medical services, let alone free medical services. We were able to help over 100 people, mostly provided them drugs for Malaria, respiratory illnesses and infections as a result of weakened immune systems due to HIV/AIDS.

Playing with the food kitchen kids
The dispensary took place at the Light in Africa food kitchen. We were also able to help out there, where about 300 kids are fed generally their only meal of the day. The kids names are recorded and they are given a big helping of maconde (a mix of beans and maize), a piece of fruit, and a glass of water. Somehow, however, on Friday, the food kitchen was quite full and the food ran out with about 20 kids left. Sara and I’s hearts just broke seeing the kids peering through the holes in the wall, hoping to still get in. They were given water and piece of fruit, but we were just aching thinking that might have to hold them over until the next day. Ramesha told us, that the food kitchen was unusually busy that day – probably because they knew we were there – and normally there is enough food. That helped calm us a little bit.
Sara's new buddies

These people of Mirerani also do not have access to these medical services or much food, as the only way to reach this town is a bumpy Land Rover ride, which are obviously few are far between for these folks. So after the dispensary, we hoped in the public transport of a Land Rover. For 2,500 shillings each (about the equivalent of $1.75), we were able to get back from Mirerani, along with 21 other people in a normal sized Land Rover. At first, the four of us climbed in the back (trunk) sitting on the ledges which were little benches. That was already cozy. Then, another 2 men came in the back and sat on the benches. That was just squished. Then 2 other men came and stood with their heads out of the tops. That got claustrophobic. I thought, alright nice and full, let’s get on with it. And then we picked up 2 more women (who were not petite), who also stood – making it 10 in the trunk and a driver’s helper hanging out the top. I felt nauseous and obviously not too thrilled about the safety situation on this unkept, dirt road – contemplating where to hurl if needed. I decided in my hands would be the best bet.

The back of a Land Rover, where we had actually 10 people
But, 30 minutes, several bruises, pretty intense back pain, fallen-asleep limbs, and sweat-filled (probably not just my own sweat), we arrived to the bus station back to Boma, all in one piece. I remember thinking – yep, that’s the Tanzania I remember. And, these people have to do this everyday – what a different world. And in case you were wondering, we now have discovered more creatures too, further confirming for me that Tanzania is still Tanzania, but more on that later!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Bodily Fluids

Rosy & Mary
We all know mom’s have to deal with some horrible things.  It starts at the contractions, and probably ends about their death.  As a single, non-parent person – I don’t have to deal with many issues that aren’t my own, and I like it that way.  My dog is trying to teach me how to deal with the unpleasant issues that come along with caring for something or someone, and I’ve heard enough stories from my nurse roommates to realize other people are able to help out in these areas, but I’m aware I’m weak and like to walk away when certain situations arise.

I have issues with smells – issues that involve an involuntary gag reflex and total loss of control.  Every time I have to pick up my dog’s poop, I gag to the point of tears and break out in a sweat.  Now that you have an idea of my lack of composure, imagine me getting puked on by a sweet little six year old with motion sickness. 

I had been sitting next to Rosy on the bus (one of the twins) on the way to Tanga, and when we returned from the bathroom break at the rest stop, her sister Mary was in my seat too.  As they are tiny girls, there was no problem fitting the three of us in the two seats, until Mary started spitting (or so I though) out the window.  As I’m watching her “spit”, I kept thinking, huh – that’s a lot of liquid for a spit.  I’d ask if she was okay, she’d give me a silly little smile and nod yes.  I thought, weird - ohhh well, back to my sandwich.  Then…it happened again, with more “spit” this time.  I asked Ramesha if he could please ask her if she was okay. He assured she was okay, but yes, she was throwing up out the window.  When I look over at her – she just smiled at me again, and her twin laughed (AWESOME, I got stuck with a pucker).  Ramesha just handed me a plastic bag and smiled.  Everyone just smiles here, and no one thinks maybe this is a problem.

A few minutes go by, and she starts using the bag, but not well.  Something takes over, and I help her hold the bag.  I’m sure my face is horrified, and I probably stopped breathing, but all I know is I held the bag, got puck all over my hands, and didn’t puck in response.  I felt awesome and adult that I held it together.

Two days after getting puked on (and proudly not puking on someone back!), I got peed on, by Mary’s twin Rosy.  We had been at the pool swimming, and she urgently ran up to me and said TOILET.  So, we grabbed our sandals and went to the bathroom.  I assumed she just wanted an escort, until she started to try pulling the bottom of her one-piece swimming suit down.  I started to help her remember it comes down from the shoulders, and she starts squatting – on my foot.  Again, I’m sure I looked horrified, but I didn’t freak out, and she just smiled up at me.

Later that day, after our shower at the pool, a bird pooped on my head.  Everyone said I was lucky, but I think that’s just the polite thing to say to someone who has had lots of unwanted bodily fluid on them.

Moral of the story – now that I’m rounding my 29th year, I think I’m growing up.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Our Mandela

Our new friend, Mandela

Mandela in our sunglasses. Unfortunately we don't have any yet of the smile, but will take some shortly!
One boy we took to Tanga was from Pilgrams, near Tudor Village. Mandela loves to sing and dance and has a smile that will one day break many hearts, as it definitely broke ours!
Mandela got to go to Tanga even though he was not from Mirerani because he is new to Light in Africa. LIA took him in after his mother accused him of taking the equivalent of 20 cents. She then proceeded to beat and burn him. His face is still healing with raw scars about a year later.

Meeting this boy, anyone in their right mind would never think he would steal or do anything remotely wrong – leading me to believe that she was (like so many of these children’s parents) – mentally ill. For Sara and I, it is unthinkable to imagine that anyone would do such a thing to a child, but especially this boy with his beautiful, innocent smile and the best facial expressions you can imagine.

Mandela is about 11 with the heart of about 11 eleven-year-olds. He helped make our job easier by looking after all of the kids. If one didn’t get a mango that had fallen down from the big tree outside our hotel, he made sure they all had one. He helped all of them swim (as he was the only one who actually could), even Mary, the ~100 pound 12-year-old who used water wings. If the kid’s juices were uneven, he would make sure everyone got the same. His protective nature, even of us, was just cool.

Mandela is like the other kids at LIA, who are willing to share anything – even Mary who shared all her water wings and goggles with all the other children at the beach. But those kids have been living with 200 other children for years, and Mandela is relatively new – showing us again that Light in Africa really treats every case specially and works to integrate the children quickly.

Even with his extreme maturity, he is still a kid. I would find myself walking and suddenly my hand being grabbed by Mandela, even though he didn’t need – just wanted the warmth of another person. If we would smile, he would back. Not knowing why. So again, the children have given us more than we could ever give them – the gift of knowing truly special people.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Trip to Tanga

Tanga is a Tanzanian town along the coast of the Indian Ocean, and it used to be a booming trade center from the English and German colonies.  Since WWII however, the town has lost its tourists and economic importance.  For the local Tanzanians though – it’s still a great vacation spot.

We had heard about the opportunity to take the kids on a trip the last time we were here, and this time, we wanted to make it happen.  They are pretty picky about which kids get the opportunity to see the ocean, and it’s generally new children to LIA, as well as kids from Mirerani – where the most water they have probably ever seen was in a five gallon bucket. 

Our journey started on Thursday and ended on a Monday, with a group of eight kids under twelve, one Mama, one Ramesha (one of the older kids who now works for them), and Abby, Sophie (another volunteer) and myself.  We took an “amazing” seven hour bus ride, stopping once for a bathroom break, and arrived that evening to a deceivingly beautiful mansion.  The hotel was modest, at best, with electricity, but running water only a few hours of the day (i.e. toilets didn’t flush – draw your own conclusions for those smells) and we paid only about $8/night for 13 people.  Hindsight – we probably should have sprung for an upgrade.

Ramesha shared a room/bed with the four boys (5, 6, 7, and 11 year olds), the Mama shared a room with Mary (12 years old), Sophie took care of the twins (6 year olds), and Abby and I were mamas to Ester, a very cheeky (it’s a British term, but the best word we could come up with) six year old. 

The main reason we wanted to go on this trip was because both of us remember how amazing we thought the ocean was (and still do).  Having the opportunity to watch a child’s face, who’s never been outside of their small, dusty, and dead world was something we had to make happen.  We were right, the bus ride and hotel were worth it, just to watch them see all that water and sand. 

They laughed and chased the sand crabs, held their breath and popped up out of the water with a proud (yet scared) expression, and wouldn’t come out of the water unless they were told.  The second day we took them to a hotel pool, and there they got even more comfortable in the water.  Almost every one learned how to swim (or at least kind of float and shimmy though the water), a few of them tried to give us heart attacks with their drowning attempts, and a few even got sunburns (yes, that black African skin can burn).

Being able to watch the kids experience something new for the first time was amazing, but the relationships we formed were priceless.  Most of the kids at Mirerani are so shy and quite (and they don’t speak much English), it was hard to tell if they were enjoying their time with us.  By the end of the third day in Tanga however, each kid had held each of our hand (even the boys!) and we had gotten to witness enough smiles and hear enough laughter to feel like we had done something special with them.  We told Mama Lynn when we returned it was hard not speaking the same language as them, and she replied with “You spoke the language of love darlings, and that’s the only language these kids need right now”.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Our Time at Light in Africa

After some issues arriving - like apparently cars hitting my plane in Nuremberg?! - I made with a grinning Sara and a grinning Paulo waiting for me. Then we got to a grinning Tati (our taxi driver from last time) and I felt an immediate sense of almost a - "wow, good to be home" - my third home that is :)

We got settled and saw the kids, the reasons we are here. My heart immediately filled with joy when I felt recognition on both sides. We remembered them and we are pretty sure they do too! The older ones definitely and the even sing the little song they have come up with Habby, Sarwa, Habby Sarwa (our names). So that has stayed the sames, tons of laughs and smiles just on bigger bodies! Otherwise, this is a different Light in Africa. It has grown and we even have hot water - but more on that later!

Mama Lynn got back from her travelling and we got out jobs for our time here. Because it is right up her alley, Sara will be organizing the sponsor lists digitally (as we mentioned before, it is the goal for every child to have a sponsor for monthly support and maybe the occasional gift) and I will be organizing to the gifts for Christmas. We will be helping eachother on both, but that will keep up busy!

As for now, we are headed off with 8 kids to Tanga on the coast. We are bringing kids from Mirerani (the mining town), who have probably never left there before and it will be the first time they will see the ocean or anything else for that matter! So we will be taking care these children 24/7 for the next 5 days a definite challenge and learning experience for us, but hopefully memorable and fun for the kids. We will update you when we are back on Monday.

One last thought, when you are reading this. I was walking around yesterday with one of the Mamas and she told the cook Babu - Pole Pole - and he just had the greatest laugh and just a voice of happiness. Pole Pole means to take it slow and easy. I got a huge smile on my face once again. These people are happy - remembering to take it easy and enjoy life.

We're Heeerrreeee!

Sunday, 11/25/12

I’ve been here less than twelve hours, and already, I feel right at home.  I say “I’ve been”, because Abby’s flight to Amsterdam got cancelled and she had to catch a flight out later Saturday night, and wouldn’t be arriving until this morning.

So…I spent my first night back at Light in Africa alone, and as much as I was dreading my first night here by myself, I was so excited to be back.  Paul (used to be in charge of the boys home, Pilgrim) now handles the volunteers and runs Torchbearer (more on that later), and when I saw him at the airport to pick me up, I gave a small skip, even hauling the 200 lbs of luggage with me. 

As soon as we started talking, the laughter and smiles were immediate (it’s hard to not smile when you’re around people who are pumping out pure joy with every breath)!  Paul said he was afraid I’d be shy and quite this time, but he had no such luck.  I may have even clapped about three different times on the drive to Tudor Village from the airport. 

As soon as Paul got done showing me Abby’s and my new home for the next five weeks, (yesss – didn’t have to stay in a tent at all this time!), I took an amazing cold shower and slept for the first time since 7am Friday morning.  Thanks to some very friendly birds, I was awake at sunrise.  I said hello to a baby lizard next to the light switch in our room, walked around the volunteer area of the village for a bit, saw Mt. Kilimanjaro, and did everything I could to not go running over the kids area.  I heard them laughing while I was eating a solo breakfast, and couldn’t quit grinning from ear to ear.  I’m sure the very nice man who cooks for us thought I was crazy.

Paul and I (and Tatti – our familiar cab driver) went to pick up Abby from the Kilimanjaro International Airport this morning, and now that she’s here too, this place got even better.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Tanzania - What's it Like?

Mt. Kilimanjaro
Like Abby said in her last post, trying to explain why we’re going to Tanzania for five weeks is hard, but if you’ve seen the video (from her last post), you can hopefully understand the why a little better.  Besides the “why” question, we also get the “what’s it like” question, so I thought I’d give a quick geography/demographic lesson about Tanzania, as well as a little about what our day-to-day lives will look like while at LIA.

Tanzania is an African country located along equator and the East coast.  Their main tourist attractions are the Serengeti National Wildlife Park and Mt. Kilimanjaro.  The country is technically a tropical climate, but as Light in Africa is located at the base of Mt. Kilimanjaro (bit of a higher altitude), it is closer to a desert in my opinion.  It is hot hot hot and dry during the day, and cools significantly at night.  There are technically two rainy seasons, but with the recent droughts, they have made much of an impact.

Tanzania has more than 100 different tribes throughout the country, but everyone speaks Swahili.  We were told by one local, the reason his country doesn’t have all the political unrest/tribe wars like many other African countries is that everyone speaks the same language.  He knew he had brothers all over the country if he ever needed anything. 

Almost half of the Tanzanian population is under 15 years old, and the leading cause of death in its population is malaria, followed by pneumonia and rotavirus (diarrhea).  The HIV/AIDS epidemic is still a serious problem in the country, as there are estimated 1.4 million people (out of almost 47 million) in the country living with the disease.  Without Light in Africa’s support of the health clinic in Mirerani, the multiple heath dispensaries funded by LIA volunteers for the Maasai, and the countless medical bills Light in Africa has covered – the area would be severely worse off. 

Looking back on how our time was spent the last time we were at Light in Africa, our days were generally pretty different.  We did get into a bit of a routine, but we had our tasks to take care of, and when they were done (or if we could push them off), we’d spend the time hanging out with the kids.  I’m assuming this round, our time will be spent pretty similarly, except this time – we’ll be there for Christmas.  We’ve been told we’ll help make sure each kid at Tudor Village (around 200) will get a Christmas gift, (which knowing how things go in Tanzania – those simple shopping trips will generate numerous challenges and ridiculous  stories to share), as well as making Christmas gifts for the kids in Mirerani.  The kids in Mirerani generally receive a school book (schools require they provide their own), some candy, and pencils.

As much as both of us love Christmas with our friends and family, we’re excited to be a part of an African Christmas, not only because I know there will be no Hallmark BS to swallow, but also, because spending the holiday with the ones you love is important, and we love those kids. 

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

"Life is life. It is our duty to help anybody and everybody"

Last week, I spent an evening telling a new friend about my experience in Tanzania. I was immediately encountered with a problem - where to start? How to truly convey why Tanzania? Why there? and Why am I going back? Truth is - you can't explain it.
On the way home, I found myself stuck on a late train - again! Irritated, I decided to google some more information for my friend about LIA and came upon this video - a documentary about the organization. My irritation quickly grew to tears - joy - and finally extreme anticipation.
Also, excitement that I could better show people why we're going back. Please take a look at the video and experience what we did. Experience:

  • Junior, the boy at the beginning who came to our birthday party last time
  • Mama Lynn, the inspiring women whose word we clung to - the Angel of Kilimanjaro
  • The beautiful children at Tudor Village, whose faces, laughs and songs are permanently engrained in my mind
  • A dispensary in a remote Masaai village, which we also ran with the raised funds in 2010, where we gave medicine and washed many infected heads
  • The food kitchen, that feeds a community in Mirenai - a city without banks or post offices
Hope you like it as much as I did! And if you would like to support, please visit our Fundly Page

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Generosity is a Verb

I’ve been meaning to write a post about generosity, and how giving is so simple, and yet so easy to put off.  As I’m attempting to put my mess of thoughts on paper however, I quickly realized my thoughts on generosity really had a lot to do with action.  A generous spirit is only impactful if you take the action required to give. 

My parents taught me at a young age to help those who need it, and give without wanting anything in return.  I’ve tried to follow those guidelines throughout my life, and when it comes to giving my money to Light in Africa, for me - it’s a no brainer.  Giving to a charity you’re invested in is easy, you know that the money is going to a great cause and supporting some amazing people.  You also know the people behind the scene are squeezing every last penny out of each dollar they get, which to me, matters a lot as well.

The last time I got back from Africa, and I was struggling with the guilt of being back home, and with how I’d be able to afford to get back to Tanzania, I was asked why I felt like it was so important for me to get back.   Why didn’t I just send LIA in the $2000 I would spend on flights, the $25 a day I spend to stay there (+/- $800), the $300 in visa fees, etc., rather than wanting to spend it on myself and “waste it”.  My answer was these kids need support of all kinds.  They need arms to be held with, legs to run around with, smiles to encourage, and laps to sit in.  Feeding these kids during their current drought situation is incredibly important, but also making them forget for just a few minutes a day what they’ve been though, and they are genuinely loved, is a close second in my opinion.  Don’t get me wrong, being with those kids was the most rewarding and perma-grin experiences I’ve ever had – being there is a selfish move.  It is certainly no vacation, but I’m absolutely getting something from my giving.   My hope is that through our experience, our friends and family back home are also getting something.  Through Abby’s and my stories, I hope you feel connected to this organization and these children. 

My wish is that our experiences affect you, and that you feel compelled to do something.  Whatever your “action” is will be impactful to those who have so little.  My amazing parents were the ones I talked about in my last post who gave $1000 to Light in Africa early.  As Mama Lynn and Abby each discussed in their last posts, through their incredible generosity, the food kitchen Light in Africa runs that feeds 300 street children, 5 days a week is able to stay open.  Every time I even think about how amazing and life altering their donation was, I tear up.  Like Abby, I remember those faces in the food kitchen, and I feel so proud that my parents were willing to support these kids they’ve never met so generously.  They literally saved some starving orphans in Africa, whoa.

Clearly a donation of that quantity is not common, but the reason I shared their generous story, was because I want people to remember that their money is a tool.  The selfless people who run Light in Africa save their kids daily, but without our support, their hands are tied. 

Please consider giving something to these kiddos we love so much.  You can donate directly to the organization here, sponsor a child here, or donate online through Abby & I, and we can use your money however you’d like.  If you’d like to buy some Christmas gifts for the kids, we can do that.  If you want to pay for some food for the food kitchen, we can do that.  If you want us to find some mother who needs help with her bills, we can do that.  We feel so honored to be a part of the action behind your generosity.  

Video of Light In Africa

Video of pictures from our 2010 trip

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Keeping the food kitchen open

In Sara's last post she mentioned a very generous donation, and what was done with it. I thought I would share the last post from the organization itself: http://www.lightinafrica.org/blog/index.php?entry=entry121007-100557. Thanks to this generous support, the food kitchen was able to stay open in this severe drought, which is truly amazing.

Working there 2 years ago, I can still remember the faces of those many kids coming from school to have their only meal of the day thanks to Light in Africa. It bring smiles and tears to face all at the same time - thinking what would have happened, had they not stayed open and thinking about those lively kids coming to the food kitchen.

So I just thought I'd add that short link and also thank our generous donator!

As for me, I have had 4 weeks of pure stress and I having finally been able to sit down and think about what my stress is compared to those kids at LIA. Where they are worried where to get the next meal, I am well fed (much too well), healthy, and spoiled. Looking forward to getting grounded again soon ... and seeing all those smiles at the food kitchen!

Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Real Feeling of Need

I use the word “need” all the time, and like everyone else around here – I rarely actually require anything.  The word “need” for those involved in keeping Light in Africa running however is not an exaggeration, it’s an understatement.

Abby and I recently received a very large and generous donation (more on that later), so we thought we’d ask Mama Lynn if we could break from their standard volunteer donation procedure, and get them a chunk of our pledged $3500 now, rather than when we arrive this November.  She very quickly said they could use the money and when she explained why, I heard the need in her words. 

One of my favorite things about Light in Africa is their interest in being self sustainable.  For the most part, they grow their own crops and raise their own herds, all in the interest of making sure they have plenty of food for their kids, and to provide additional jobs for their communities.  In Mama Lynn’s most recent blog post, she talks about how the lack of rain has affected their crops and their Tudor Village site.

The Kilimanjaro rejoin of Tanzania typically has two rainy seasons, and unfortunately, those rains haven’t been enough.  As this article warned in July, the Kilimanjaro region of Tanzania is now in a “critical period” due to the drought.  The maize (corn) they've tried to grow has either wilted, or was never able to grow in the first place.  The people who operate Light in Africa are now forced to dip into their reserves to make sure their kids get fed.  I think the worst consequence right now though, is that they may be forced to cut back, or even close, the food kitchen they run in the tanzanite mining town of Mirerani.

If you think you have an expensive grocery bill, think about what it costs to feed 350 children, three meals a day, seven days a week.  Now, think how much food it takes to feed 400 more kids, one meal a day, five days a week?  The $1000 donation Abby and I received a few weeks ago was transferred to Light in Africa’s Moshi bank account last Thursday, and it will all go to purchase food for their kids, because as we all know, with a shortage comes an increase in cost.

The moral of this very long post?  If you can, please give something.   Five dollars to you doesn’t mean much, but five dollars in Africa can mean life or death.  Donate directly to Light in Africa, or donate though our Fundly page, and we’ll make sure it’s used as efficiently as possible.   

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Fundraising has begun!

Hi Blog Followers!

Feels good to be back on the blog front, but even better to back blogging for our cause.

Two years ago, Sara and I did a "once-in-lifetime" thing. Volunteering at Light in Africa - to say the least - changed us both. So much so that we couldn't make this "thing" once. (This is a standing joke with us both, as we always tell ourselves - eh, might as well, we'll only do this once). And we are volunteering once again for our cause.

Two years ago, we also asked for your help, your support for our cause. I've said our cause now 3 times. In fact, its not really "our cause", is it? It's about the amazing people, the amazing community, the amazing children we met in Tanzania - you might think, their cause? Well, the truth is, once you do the "once-in-a-lifetime" thing, it becomes your cause - your passion - your life maybe.

So now, we again are asking for your support for our cause. Not our trip. Not our flights - none of that. We again are raising funds for the people who need it most in the big scheme of things. For those of you that made this your cause, too, or maybe would like to - we look forward to your support. Either on our FUNDLY page, where you will find more details about what we are raising money for or contact us personally.

More activities planned, so stay tuned!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Africa Adventure 2K12

A few weeks after Abby and I got home from Light in Africa in 2010, I wrote Mama Lynn telling her how much I missed her and her kids, and what a hard time I was having adjusting back to my normal life.  She responded with a very fitting Tanzanian proverb, “Once you get our red dirt under your toe nails, it itches until you’re able to come back”. 

I can honestly say it’s true – not that I had itchy toe nails, (even when the red dirt was under them, yes – gross I know, but also very true), but that an experience like what Abby and I shared stays with you and reminds you constantly about what you’ve witnessed and what you’ve experienced.

That being said, Abby and I are very excited to officially announce we’re returning to Tanzania to volunteer with Light in Africa for five weeks this winter.  We’ll arrive two days after Thanksgiving, and stay through Christmas. 

So, even though our adventure isn’t for another few months, our works begins now.  We've already purchased our flights, we've updated our to bring list, now – we’re onto fundraising.