Early on our fourth morning, with Hussain at the wheel of the taxi we are off to the domestic airport for our flight to Mufindi, Tanzania! Fox Air Links promised they could transport us and ALL our luggage in a Cessna 208 Caravan. Thank goodness as now we have several boxes of books to add to our load. Our pilot is a Canadian from Thunder Bay, eh? Once air borne we are told we will land in the Selou to pick up German Safari travellers. Down we go--they have only backpacks--of course. Airborne again we fly into grey-black clouds. Rains pound the metal outside.The rains are "Noah" quality. Anne and Ruth quake, possibly one of us prays, we both become nauseous! The air sickness bag is a small blue envelope!!! I try to read instruments that Don has taught me. It is time for "Suck it up Buttercup"! A few rays of sun appear in a yellow glow, thankfully we dive through it to land on the soaking green grass of the Unilever tea plantation airstrip. We are at Ngwawazi and Geoff Fox, British expat, head of our NGO has driven on to the strip to meet us.
Fast forward to today, January 16th !! We have lived several lifetimes since landing and negotiating the greasy red dirt roads to Mufindi and Highland Fox Farm. It has rained thunderous rains part of each day. We are installed in the newly opened volunteer quarters at Protea Point. Anne and I are in one room while Dr. Leena Pasenen, a missionary doctor from Finland shares the other. Leena, a pediatrician has lived in Tanzania for 28 years and she is fluent in Kiswahili. We were thrilled when she joined our NGO on a part time basis.
Approaching Igoda school we are delighted to see that it is uji time. Children pour out of the school and run the length of a football field to the outdoor kitchen where they all (545 of them) line up in their blue and green tattered uniforms to receive "Meal in a Mug" an enriched maize based porridge known as uji. The ladies from the village arrive at 5:30 AM to begin preparation.This program has meant that now children eat twice a day instead of just once. The teachers told us that the children are more alert and attendance is much better too. A higher ranking on country wide exams, so important here, has been achieved this year as well.
Usually 4 and 5 year old children attend "Chicka Cheya", kindergarten. Up to 80 children sit in straight rows on low benches staring straight ahead.
Large group instruction involves chanting answers in unison and sitting very still. The teacher has no paper, pencils, crayons or paints for the little ones to use. Anne and I arrived at the door on Thursday with tinker toys, puzzles, paints and a selection of appropriate children's books. Much of this had been sent in containers from the UK and one from Canada. We also brought wooden construction toys from Eric and Gabrielle of Jalu toys. And we borrowed the wooden African animals from "our" library that we brought previously.
We were so fortunate to have Akida, a young man from the village fluent in English, Swahili and Kihehe. accompany us. Akida has perfected his English in Jenny's English night class sponsored by the NGO. The little people were divided up into groups to sit on mats. At first it was as if they were frozen, frightened by the old white faces (Wazungu) amongst them. Thank goodness for Akida's encouragement.
Most had never touched a toy. Certainly not one had ever held a paint brush. It was a magical time for Anne and me. We watched delighted as gradually little black hands reached for the materials. Concentration and smiles appeared as they began to tentatively build with the tinker toys or hold a wooden giraffe and use it to pretend. Painting was a source of wonder. There is no electricity or running water, so precious water for painting had to be collected. Buckets have to be thrown down into the cement water catchment containers deep in the ground. Bigger children hauled the buckets up hand over hand together. Yet watching those little faces as paint brushes were rubbed carefully over the colour tablets and then applied to the paper in changing shades brought surprised chatter from the new artists and pure pleasure to us. Story books were held upside down at first and puzzles were puzzling but intriguing!! Kornelia, their teacher was quick to adapt and do some innovating of her own. She asked us to return the next day. We did and are.......
Next we were off to the NGO supported library (maktaba).The villagers made the sun dried bricks. It was the first library for about 45,000 people. Yusto, our third and "just right" librarian was welcoming the Standard two class. Yusto is the only teacher not to use a whacking stick to maintain order! Although with classes in excess of as many as 90 students who knows what one might do.
Learning English is so important and so hard. High school attendance is dependant on passing difficult exacting English exams. Holding ones own library book is still a treasured experience. The maktaba is the favourite room in the school. The children are from unbelievably poor homes. They arrive in torn and tattered uniforms, crumbling shoes and still with chiggers in bleeding toes. 40% have lost one parent and many are HIV positive and suffering from malnutrition. Being transported by picture books speaks to the resilience of children and the human spirit !!
A village experience to be shared........if the generator keeps chugging......suffice to say poverty is NOT ennobling. How we can ever complain in Canada I don't know.
Love to all our caring friends,