Posted by: Nicole | August 12, 2012

Amani Olympics!

Twice a year, school kids in Tanzania get a one month break. At Amani, this means that many children get a chance to go back to their home villages to greet their families. For some, it is a welcome visit to see their loved ones. For others, it is often dreaded. It might mean a few beatings, not a lot of food, and another taste of what they ran away from in the beginning. Some run away yet again or are picked up by the Amani social workers part way through the vacation, but many are able to give home a try for the whole month. For some children, especially children who are new to Amani, it is not possible to go back home, for various reasons. The other Amani volunteer and I were asked to put together a program for the 25-30 kids who remained at the center for the school holiday. What we came up with was our own version of the 2012 Summer Olympics. It was a TON of work, but what fun we had!! Enjoy the pictures!

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Posted by: Nicole | June 27, 2012

All things new

Now that I’ve been at Amani for awhile, it’s interesting observe how certain kids have changed over time. There is one kid in particular who was always a trouble maker and who I honestly was kind of afraid of. He always had a scowl on his face and would lash out at anyone for any (or no) reason. He was very physical and at times violent. He seemed angry at something all the time. I always had a feeling that somewhere, deep down inside, he had a sweet side. For ten months now, I’ve been trying to crack his shell, to find his good side, and today…. I finally found it!!!!!!!

Salimu was soooo sweet and gentle and friendly and even thoughtful for the entire day! It was so much fun to get to know the new Salimu!

Posted by: Nicole | June 24, 2012

Is this Africa?

Two years ago I boarded a plane for a really long time to this distant, mysterious place people call Africa. I landed in some sparkly metropolis called Cape Town with food as good as Seattle’s and malls nicer than I had seen in America. I walked on pristine beaches and drove through perfectly manicured vineyards.

Is this Africa?

A month later, I sat in a hospital in Zimbabwe with a ten year old girl on my lap as the nurse informed her that she was sick with something called HIV. We walked out of the hospital while this little one sang a song about how God knows best.

Is this Africa?

Soon after that, I went to study at a university where just 2 years before, a majority of the girls were supporting themselves and their boyfriends by going out with young men who would pay them $100 for one night out. This was their only way of making money in an economy that had been shattered by inflation of 658 billion percent.

Is this Africa?

I spent the next few months visiting rural villages who welcomed me with open arms and gifts they couldn’t afford. I was offered the only bed in the house, meat for dinner which they rarely consume themselves, invitations to meet village chiefs and school headmasters, and so many bags of peanuts that I’d never go hungry again.

Is this Africa?

One day it started raining. And I mean really raining. People seemed so very happy, mostly because some years it doesn’t rain, and when it doesn’t rain, there’s not much food that goes around.

Is this Africa?

Then I was asked to leave Zimbabwe while they processed my new visa. They told me it would take six weeks. It took nearly six months.

Is this Africa?

Showing up as a total stranger to a small village in Tanzania, I felt completely accepted. No questions, no expectations. Karibu.

Is this Africa?

Even though it’s just a 15 minute walk, going to the market for a few fruits and veggies takes 3 hours because everyone you pass is anxious to greet you and find out if you had breakfast that morning. I may have missed my morning appointment, but I met some incredible people along the way.

Is this Africa?

The main method of transportation for me and most other Tanzanians is a 15 passenger van, the  “daladala”, which usually contains up to 32 adults plus some babies.

Is this Africa?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
Is this Africa?

While working in a center for street children, I encountered some of the most beautiful souls I’ve ever come across. Kids with personalities and smiles that can melt any heart, despite the fact that some of them come from homes where they were intentionally beaten, burned, electrocuted, starved and cut.

Is this Africa?

Many Tanzanian mothers I have met are some of the hardest working, dedicated people I’ve ever known. From before sunrise to after the sun sets, they are out buying and reselling vegetables, working in the fields, sewing clothing, cleaning houses…many times simply so her children have the opportunity to get an education and a little bit of food.

Is this Africa?

While helping with a research study, I observe some overly-ambitious western volunteers who are first year medical students attempting to take blood samples from some of the Tanzanian patients – even though they’ve never been trained in doing so, and had signed agreements to not take part in what they have not been trained to do. But they say it’s okay because “it’s only Africa.”

Is this Africa?

The average young Tanzanian in Moshi has 2 phones, a Facebook and yahoo account and have seen all the latest blockbuster movies.

Is this Africa?

One of my top students I work with ran away to the streets because one of the teachers at his school continued to beat him for things like not cleaning a toilet properly.  Another student ran away from home because her brothers were beating her every day because she refused to marry an uncle whose wife had died.

Is this Africa?

Stunning landscapes with spectacular sunsets and wide open spaces…Elephants and giraffes grazing with snow capped Mount Kilimanjaro looming over them.

Is this Africa?

Well, I don’t really have the answer. I am discovering and questioning every day…just what exactly makes up this place called Africa. I could easily spend another two years here and not be any closer to the answer, probably because there is no answer. Just like anywhere else, Africa is organic, growing, changing, molding and making. The people move with it, maybe at a slower pace than somewhere else, but at a pace that matches the heartbeat of its people. Sometimes it’s beautiful. Sometimes it makes me cry. Most times I don’t understand it. But I can feel it. It has an energy that you can’t escape and that continues to draw people to it. As I prepare to leave this continent, I know that somehow, it will draw me back someday.

Posted by: Nicole | April 15, 2012

Help

I just finished reading The Help, which was quite interesting to read from the perspective of a foreigner living in Africa, considering that most of us foreigners living around Moshi do employ local “help”, including myself. It’s certainly been weird having someone come in and scrub my floors, toilet and clothes (also reeeeally nice), but definitely a strange adjustment. To employ someone for house labor here is really cheap (by my western standards), and is definitely worth the small cost, considering that it takes so much time to do anything over here. Imagine washing all your clothes by hand! Freeing up my schedule a bit so I don’t have to spend all my spare time cleaning is nice, and it also provides a salary for someone here, but it still just doesn’t feel right. And even though I’m not treating her as poorly as the woman in The Help were being treated, I do know there must be certain cultural things that must not come across right to her.

I heard some pretty amusing stories the other day from a few foreigners living here as they were discussing their household help and various communication errors. Here’s my favorite:

“So we were having a dinner party the other night, and I had asked our house girl to help with the food. I told her to make sure to use the hatch. (In case you’re wondering, a hatch is a small hole in the wall between the kitchen and dining room which is used to serve the food, so that you don’t have to walk back and forth between the rooms). Just as we all sat down at the table, we looked over and saw the door to the hatch open and then saw the house girl’s face appear as she began to crawl through the hatch to bring us our meal!”

For my application to Amani back in August last year, I was asked to write an essay from a list of given topics. I quickly selected the topic entitled “cross cultural communication”, not because I am an expert on the subject, but simply because I have more than enough examples and stories to talk about since coming to Africa! I’ve definitely had my fair share of communication blunders, and I can only hope that I have not deeply offended anyone, without even realizing it. Makes me think back to all the times I’ve been offended…maybe I need to have more grace? Yep.

Posted by: Nicole | April 2, 2012

From March’s Newsletter…

I’m glad to announce that after an unusually hot March, I think the rainy season has finally arrived. It’s a few weeks late, which is very unusual and has been frightening to the local farmers. I’ve been staring at the skies for the past three weeks begging the rain to come, and today it finally listened with a few showers. Hopefully it will continue, as the region desperately needs the rain in order to feed the thousands of families who rely on this month of rain to feed themselves for the rest of the year. Also, because I’m very weary of hot, hot, hot, every single day!

Lately things have been fairly normal and, as usual, busy. I did not get the chance to begin my research project yet, as they have been facing a few delays in their preparations, but hopefully that will start up soon! However, it’s probably been a good thing that I’ve been at Amani full time this month, because it’s been extra busy in the health room. The first two weeks were spent mainly in the hospital little Babuu who has made a great recovery. None of his symptoms have come back so far, and we are still praying that there is no lingering illness inside him that will resurface.

The last two weeks of March were also busy because of the many new kids who arrived at Amani. Our normal total is somewhere around 70, but right now, we are housing 96 children. Each new child who arrives requires a trip to the hospital for check ups and testing, which means I’ve spent many hours in the hospital lately! It’s easy to get caught up in hospital visits and the rhythm and habits of the job, and I often forget the reality of where and with whom I am working. Most days, the kids at Amani just seem like normal kids, a bit crazy, but basically an average kid growing up in Tanzania. Once in awhile, something will happen that makes me suddenly remember how every child at Amani has gone through the most extreme hardships, all facing some combination of abandonment, abuse, neglect, poverty and homelessness. Last week was one of those weeks where I couldn’t continue to hide all the stories in a corner and pretend that things are normal. I’ll share a few stories that I faced during the past week:

Arnold is fairly new to Amani, and as the nurse and I were opening his health file, we listened as he explained the circumstances that brought him to Amani. Arnold described his life back home as very abusive. His father was an alcoholic who frequently would come home and beat or burn Arnold for no reason. One night, Arnold’s father came home drunk and violently lashed out at Arnold with a knife, severely cutting nearly all the way around his arm. After lying at home unconscious for some time due to blood loss, an uncle came to help Arnold and took him to the hospital. After recovering, neither the uncle nor Arnold was willing to inform the police because of fear of what the father might do. Arnold eventually left home, and not long after ending up on the streets, Amani social workers found Arnold and brought him to Amani.

My last newsletter, I posted a picture from the Kilimanjaro Marathon. While I was jogging the 5K, I ran into three boys who were obviously street children. One of them in particular caught my attention, because he was so small and so, so adorable. I jogged next to him for awhile, trying to find out his story. All that I could gather was that he was sleeping at the bus station in Moshi. I told him about Amani and invited him to come stay there, but that was the end of it. Over a month later, I showed up to Amani one morning, and there he was, little Colman with his unforgettable face, sitting in the health room, speaking with the nurse. She also took immediate notice of Colman, but mostly because he was very sickly looking. Fungus, flu, cold, skin disease, etc. She was worried about HIV being a possible factor, and immediately took him to the clinic to get tested. Sure enough, Colman tested positive for HIV, and later we found out that he had already known about his status and started treatment back in his home village. This week, we are retrieving all of his old records and getting him restarted on treatment. This kid is so beautiful and has absolutely captured my heart in just the 6 days I have known him. I’ll never, ever forget his face.

The last story I’ll share is about an eleven year old girl named Agnes. Agnes also just entered Amani about ten days ago. Agnes’ story is just heartbreaking. After her mother died, she was sent to work as a house girl for another family. The mother of this family constantly abused Agnes, beating her regularly. The uncle of the household would rape her, though I’m not sure how often. Eventually, Agnes fled the household and was found roaming the streets of Moshi, occasionally being helped by a church, who reported her to Amani. As you can imagine, Agnes has some deep seated trauma and psychological issues as a result of everything she has survived in her short life. Less than a day after she arrived, I started noticing very odd behavior coming from her, and I quickly realized that not only does Agnes suffer from trauma issues, she very likely had some kind of psychological disorder even prior to the beatings and rapes. The day after Agnes arrived, she was found lying in the grass complaining about a stomachache because of the many crayons she had been eating. Later on that day she was brought into my office crying, shaking and screaming about her stomach, though she would refuse any medicine or treatment. She is often found running away from staff members, throwing rocks, whispering strangely in people’s ears, and most recently, eating the toxic disinfectant balls that are placed in the toilets and urinals. The other kids have definitely noticed Agnes’ strange behavior and are now even claiming that she is a witch, able to pass through walls magically. To my dismay, I found out this morning that over the weekend, Agnes ran away from the center, and we’re not sure if she has plans to return. The Tanzanian culture can often be very aggressive and unforgiving towards people who have mental disorders, so I am very concerned for her safety and well being. The streets at night are extremely dangerous for young women, so please be praying for Agnes’ safety as she looks for places to sleep, even tonight.

Yes, there are many heartbreaking stories like Agnes’ that I come across (and now maybe you see why I often tend to hide the heaviness of it all sometimes…just to get through the day), but thankfully there are some happy endings, many happy smiles, and a lot of laughter each day to help me keep going! I feel so privileged to be a part of these amazing and resilient kids’ lives.

Posted by: Nicole | March 15, 2012

The Life of a Street Boy

I’ve been wanting to post an article here on my blog that I had the opportunity to read awhile back, and I finally got my hands on a copy. The article describes the life of a Tanzanian street boy from the perspective of a western guy who spent about a year with street youth in Mwanza, Tanzania. While it was an incredibly difficult article to read for many reasons, its description of life on the streets for Tanzanian boys was spot on. As much as I absolutely adore the kids I work with each day, it is so hard looking into their beautiful faces and imagining that the words written in this article were written about them. Each time I think of this article or hear stories of the Amani kids’ backgrounds, it reminds me of how vital the vision of Amani and other organizations of its type.

Due to various copyright issues, I can’t post the article here publicly, but if you send me a quick email (niclea@gmail.com), I will forward you the article. I really encourage you to take 20 minutes to read the story. It definitely helped me to understand my own work better, and I’m sure it will give you a clearer picture of what I have been up to each day.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *** * * * * * *

Update! Babuu is feeling MUCH better and was discharged this afternoon after nearly 2 weeks of hospitalization. He is back at Amani, and receiving all kinds of attention. I think he likes it quite well :) Things aren’t over with Babuu, however. He never was able to receive any kind of diagnosis; only the symptoms were treated, so we are still concerned that whatever was causing the fever/seizures might return once he is completely off his meds. Next week he will go back to the larger referral hospital for additional observation and testing. Thankfully though, he is feeling healthy and strong!

Posted by: Nicole | March 12, 2012

Babuu

I’m sad to report that one of the little guys at Amani has been really ill lately. Over a month ago, Babuu was suffering from a high fever, headache, vomiting, etc. He stayed home from school for a week or so, but never really seemed to get back to 100%. We thought he was getting better until ten days ago when he took a quick turn for the worse. After suffering from a seizure, Babuu was taken to the hospital where they started treating him for a serious strain of malaria, though he never tested positive for any of the tests. He did not respond to the drugs and continued to have a high fever. After a few days, the fever let up and they sent him home to Amani where we continued to monitor him. The next morning he began to have another seizure, and was taken again to the hospital. He’s been there ever since (10 days so far) and still no tests have shown what could possibly be wrong with him. There is only one test left to take, a lumbar puncture to rule out meningitis, but we don’t think that is what he’s got….hopefully not at least! Please, please, please keep Babuu in your prayers. I just came from the hospital and his fever was gone (!), so pray it doesn’t come back, especially once he’s off his drugs. Now I’m off to take a nap…sleeping at the hospital is not the most restful of experiences.

 

Posted by: Nicole | March 1, 2012

February Update

Here’s the news from my last newsletter…

So far, the new year seems to be flying by with plenty to keep me busy! It has been a wonderfully rewarding start to the year, full of many new experiences, lessons learned, and a lot of fun too! This February marks my one year anniversary of being in Tanzania (and twenty months total in Africa)! It seems long, yet I can hardly believe so much has happened within that period. When I meet people in Moshi and tell them that I have been around for one year, I usually get a reaction such as, “Wow, that’s a long time”. However, a few days ago, I met a Tanzanian NGO worker, and after telling him my length of stay here, he shrugged his shoulders and told me, “Oh, not so long then”. I was surprised at his reaction, but suddenly it hit me that he is absolutely right. What I’ve realized lately is that the deeper I get into something, the less I seem to understand it. Sure, I’ve learned heaps of lessons that will definitely help me later on in life. However, the longer I’m here, the further I realize that there is SO much more to learn and understand about people, culture, traditions, values, communication, development, and even about myself and my relationship to this world. I have noticed that many of the insights I first gained when coming to Africa have changed very much over the past twenty months, and I’m sure if I stay another five or ten years, those insights and lessons will still continue to evolve and develop. Things take time. I can never expect to come to this culture, spend a few months, and suddenly master how to live and work well amongst the people here. And really, I’m okay with that! I am so incredibly grateful for the experiences and lessons I’ve had so far, and excited to see what lies ahead.

Okay, enough reflection…on to what I’ve been up to lately!

Last month, my dear friend, Babu Wes (Grandpa Wes), came back to Moshi for some follow up work on the projects that he and his wife were working on last year. If you remember, Wes and Elizabeth are the reason I ended up in Moshi in the first place – I originally came last March in order to pay them a visit. Their warm welcome and grand introduction to Moshi made me feel like this was home! Anyways, Wes was back to make some new partnerships in order to help sustain their projects while they are not in Tanzania. I had a great time reconnecting with him as well as the village he has been working in. I was also very happy to connect him with my Tanzanian friends, Nie and Jonas, who are running an organization in Moshi called TAFCOM (www.tafcomtz.com). They are coordinating many community development projects in a low income district in Moshi focusing on vulnerable children and widows affected by HIV/AIDS. TAFCOM does an absolutely fantastic job, even though they are small with limited resources, and I have so much faith in and respect for this couple! I would vouch for their integrity 100% and definitely recommend them to anyone who is looking to invest in development projects. Thankfully, Nie and Jonas will be able to assist Wes and Elizabeth in helping to coordinate some of the community projects in the village they are with.

Another project I am also excited about is a research study that is launching this month in some of the surrounding rural areas. I have been in contact with the organization/university that is conducting the study, and they have invited me to participate. The research will be studying chronic diseases in the community and investigating what cultural behaviors are contributing to the increase in those diseases. This particular subject is well aligned with what I am hoping to study once I go back home and go back to school, so I am really looking forward to the opportunity. I don’t know the details of how it will all fit into my schedule yet, but I know I will be able to make time for both the research and Amani.

My time at Amani Center has continued to be fruitful. Thank you for keeping Bonifas in your prayers. After hearing some bad news that he had run away to Dar es Salaam, which meant that his return would be unlikely, he showed up at the center two weeks ago, telling us that he had only gone to visit the people in his home village. I definitely breathed a huge sigh of relief when I saw that boy!!

This month, the nurse and I have been starting a new session of health education, focusing on reproductive health, HIV/AIDS, and substance abuse, all of which are vital lessons for these kids to hear. The typical behaviors of street children in Tanzania are incredibly dangerous to their health, and many of these kids have no concept of what taking care of their bodies looks like. 100% of the street children that come through our doors, despite their age, have been sexually active to some degree while living on the streets. Whether it was forced or voluntary, practically none of the children enter Amani with a healthy view of their sexuality. This has become a major focus, especially for my department within Amani. A challenging, yet significant task!

Now on to March!

Posted by: Nicole | February 17, 2012

Scream Ward

I just spent the past two days taking one of my boys, Baraka, to the hospital to get his ankle x-rayed because it’s been swollen for long enough. As always, going to the hospital is quite an adventure, especially this particular hospital because it is the main regional hospital for Kilimanjaro. I feel like I am in a war zone whenever I go to the regional hospital – so many very, very sick people with illnesses and deformities that I have never even seen or imagined. There is a separate section of the hospital reserved for setting and casting broken bones, and it is definitely one of my very least favorite places on earth. I like to call it the scream ward because the doctor is setting about 10 bones per hour, and it’s not a pretty sight. Too many patients, not enough doctors. This particular experience was definitely not one of my most successful trips. Day one started out by spending four hours waiting for the x-ray, only to be told that the power went out and we should come back the next day. So, the next day we went back, and I thought would get there early to be at the front of the line…only to find that we weren’t early enough and at the back of the line. We waited another four hours and finally got the x-ray. We returned to the doctor to have him read the x-ray, and from there spent another three hours getting Baraka’s foot casted. Over ten hours in total! I’m tired!

So the reason that Baraka ended up with a busted ankle in the first place is pretty much depressing. Baraka’s been a tough case from the beginning of his time at Amani. Well before I started this job, Baraka was wreaking havoc at the center, beating the other children, refusing to stay in class, etc. He did show a lot of improvement, however, after a week of genius sticker therapy, and has slowly been improving since then. He does occasionally have his days, or weeks, that are hard for him, and a couple weeks ago was one of those challenging times. After having a rough week, he decided to run away from Amani. As he began his ascent over the back wall of the center, he took a fall and landed on his ankle, right back where he started. He sat there crying for a bit until the guard found him and brought him to me. The actual reason that he needed a cast, however, is that he fractured his ankle years ago, and never had it repaired. The fall he took two weeks ago, just reinjured the original fracture. It’s so sad to know that so many people go without any kind of care after serious injuries like that.

Now that it’s over, Baraka’s a bit grumpy, but happy he didn’t have to have a shot. The man who went before him at the hospital had to be given anesthesia in order to have his arm set and went through incredible pain, and Baraka watched the whole thing in horror. He kept telling me, “Sitaki sindano! Sitaki sindano!” (I don’t want a needle! I don’t want a needle!). Poor thing. He’s a pretty tough guy. The only person I saw today who didn’t scream in the scream ward.

By the way, the method of casting here in Tanzania is done with Plaster of Paris and something comparable to toilet paper. The casts don’t hold up in this environment for more than a week before starting to crumble. I don’t even see how these casts actually are able to repair the bones. If you ever want to make a donation to Amani or any medical facility in Tanzania, fiber glass for casting would be an incredible gift!

Posted by: Nicole | January 23, 2012

John

I know it’s been awhile since my last post, but fear not, it’s definitely not an indication that nothing’s been going on! Things are back to normal at Amani – the kids are back from visiting their homes and in school again, and I’m remembering what it’s like to have 80 kids instead of 30. It’s busy! I am continually reminded about how amazing these kids are. They are so vibrant, with the most unique and bold personalities, each one so different from the next. I am starting to get so very attached to them, and am already afraid of having to leave them someday!

In addition to Amani keeping me busy, I’ve also had the pleasure of having my Babu back in town. Babu Wes (Grandpa Wes), as he’s called here in Moshi, is my dear friend who I originally came to Moshi to visit last year, along with his wife Bibi Elizabeth. They were generous enough to introduce me to Moshi during my first month here, and basically they are the reason I ended up here. It’s time for their annual visit to Tanzania, and unfortunately, only Wes was able to come this time, but it’s been great to spend some time with him and to check up on the projects I was assisting them with last year while they were here. I’ve had the chance to go out to the village where Wes has been working, which is always an adventure. Whenever I get tired of the hustle and bustle of city-life, I find myself drawn to the villages around Moshi, where time slows down and doesn’t seem so relevant. Things definitely move at a different pace in Kambayanuki, and it was good to find myself there for a few days this past week.

On Saturday, I joined Wes as he met with the village leader and some of the parents of a preschool that they have been trying to open for the past year. I also got to visit with a boy named John, who I met last year, and was amazed by his story. John is about 13 years old, a Maasai boy, born to a father who has a total of 21 children between his two wives. A few years ago, John was climbing a tree outside his home, and took a fall, badly injuring his leg. Although John’s father owns a large herd of cattle, which puts him high up on the Maasai social hierarchy, he refused to pay the small doctor’s fee to have John’s leg repaired. After awhile, John’s leg became severely infected, and as a result, required an amputation just below the knee. During one of Wes and Elizabeth’s visits to Tanzania, they were able to find John a donor to have a prosthetic leg built for him. Now John is walking around like a normal teenage boy with his head held high, and no longer faces the shame and rejection from the village that he once faced.
About two years ago, the government visited John’s family and found that none of the 21 children were attending school. After pressure from the officials, John’s father decided to allow one of his children to attend school, and John was selected. Two years later, John is ranked #1 in his class out of 52 students, and is as bright and as proud as can be. He came to us this past weekend with his report card in hand and a big smile, and received a round of applause from the village chairman and other community members. I have no doubt in my mind that John will go on to much greater things and make a name for himself and his village. It’s people like John that give me the hope I need each day to keep doing what I’m doing here. Some days are tough, but hearing stories like John’s make it all worth it.

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