Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Happy new year!!!!
It has been too long since i last wrote..so many wonderful things have happened this year with Majengo...they pile up and become overwhelming....thank you to everyone out there who has contributed to our ongoing operating costs of Majengo. Without you, this little orphanage that grew and continues to grow, would never be happening!
Summing up this year 2011....
January expansion of children: 114 children at Majengo now!!!
A couple of days before the chiming of last year's bells ringing in the new year, the Tanzanian government made a sweep of 5 corrupt orphanages along the safari route shutting all 5 down in and bringing 67 new children to Majengo. We weren't ready for this! Jamie and I'd gone over a few months before and renovated two new houses just behind our main Majengo house, so basically, and very basically! the beds were ready...but without warning, the buses pulled up and dropped off these new kids - scared, not knowing why or where they were going, without a single belonging to their name. Some of our staff were away on holiday, leaving the remaining 10 to cope with the onslaught! I could only imagine the chaos of feeding over 100 mouths at each meal, the new children stampeding the kitchen, our 27 original kids overwhelmed, and our cooks coping without knowing how much rice, cooking oil, vegetables to buy, always running out!! Peter from ICA leapt in and did an incredible job along with Hamidu our driver racing back and forth to town picking up groceries by the seat of their pants.

I called every morning, offering support - basically all i could do so far away.
The children were not in great shape. Desperate for food, and starving, they ate leaves off the trees, garbage from the street. Many of them sick, needing medical attention. On top of this, the former directors of the five orphanages rounded up the guardians of the children, and with lies of abduction and mistreatment, encouraged them to verge en mass into Majengo to take back their kids. The police were called in on behalf of the government. The guardians were interviewed, and those who could, who had the means, took back their children. The rest saw for themselves how, in just a few days, Majengo was treating their children, with a clean healthy environment and regular nutritious meals, three times a day - and backed off, thankfully.

January visit
Matt and I flew over a few weeks later, expecting total mayhem..but instead, amazingly, found the staff resting under a big old tree outside our open air kitchen, the children taking their afternoon nap- surreal, quiet! A short time later they crawled out of our three houses and flooded the grounds...it was a mob, but not unruly. Some played soccer in the neighboring Catholic Mission playgrounds..little groups of kids throwing stones into holes dug into the mud, some skipping, swinging, whirling about with spare tires circling their waists as hoola hoops. A little boy running a flip flop shoe up a mound of mud carrying a big stone, his version of a moving van...orderly, quiet...

Big staff meeting with 18 staff, our ICA team on ground, Matt and I, some village leaders, Raymond and Mayunga. The cooks, cleaners, night watchmen and teachers all telling their version of what happened when the new kids came, laughing, in retrospect.

Escalating budget!
Budget meetings: our annual operating budget skyrocketing from $50,000 USD to $80,000 now with 77 now living in, as opposed to 27!! 18 staff, up from 12....and another 37 children living out in homes in the community, but coming to Majengo by day, or being supported with medical and educational needs....WE are coping by the seat of our pants. But it is not good enough. 25 kids per house, not enough mamas to give them good emotional loving care.

We have to move the kids out into a much better environment.

Majengo Canada charitable status!!!
Warren Majengo, Matt with his family and friends, have generously covered most of the operating expenses over the last two years, about $6,000 a month!! Unbeliveably. Go on the website and check out Matt's Letter, in the Story of Majengo section, how he came on board. www.majengo.org. This truly a miracle.

But now with all these new kids, this additional $30,000 was simply too much!! I went back to Toronto, and applied for charitable status in Canada. Ten months later, with $7,000 in legal fees to ensure we were applying properly, I am thrilled to report that MAJENGO CANADA now has official charitable status, and can offer now anyone donating to Majengo from Canada, a tax receipt for their generosity. It has become extremely difficult in Canada now to be accepted.
Now, along with Warren Majengo's charitable IRS tax status...

We are on our way!!!

Our ICA agents on the ground....
Charles, our ICA project coordinator in Mto Wa Mbu on the ground, who co founded Majengo at the very beginning, is soley responsible for the logistics and financial operations of Majengo, moved his wife Grace along with preschoolers David and Derrick into nearby Arusha to be close to his family, currently applying for an online Masters degree in Public Health, will spend his time working at Majengo and in Arusha working on his degree. Doris and Joseph, directors of ICA visiting regularly, attending staff and budget meetings, keeping their eye on things and offering good local experience and advice.

October visits to other orphanages....
In October we visited 2 other well established orphanages: Rift Valley in nearby Kiratu and JBFC: just outside of Mwanza, a town on the banks of lake Victoria: INcredible was JBFC, run by Chris Gates, a tall, burly, sunburned wonder from Oklahoma who, at age 26 has accomplished a dreamof a lifetime for many. His JBFC houses 45 girls living in, in houses which support no more than 8 girls per house, with a permanent mama living in...a situation for which we strive. At this point we have 77 kids living in 3 houses....with two mamas per house, and certainly not the individual care we hope to achieve for our kids when we build our new facility....Chris's dream is to become self sustaining. He runs a primary school with 250 kids from outside the orphanage, each paying yearly fees to help keep the operating expenses of the orphanage intact. He has all kinds of animals: chickens, goats, cows, pigs, living on the land, and a great vegetable garden operated by the staff and kids themselves..a fabulous operation and one which we hope to emulate soon...WE learned so much. But especially the huge need to move our kids into smaller quarters of their own, small houses, with 8 kids per house..with their own mama to look after them...so important for their emotional health.....
With each facility, we realized the possible need to bring in a person from Canada or the US to work directly on site with our Tanzanian staff....communication has always been a challenge. I am believing the African adage that oral communication is where so many are most comfortable, whereas we in the west prefer emailing, a quick note, getting it down on paper, so easy for us to do, but also so alienating as well sometimes...In Africa..the spoken work, the handshake, the looking into each other's eye...the time to spend together, to learn, to seek, to quietly ask the questions, to discover along with each other... So keeping a regular stream of thought via the internet, via email, or skype, or the telephone with crazy electrical outages, blackouts, is a constant and often frustrating challenge...
It is only when i get over there, when Charles meets us at the airport, when we get settled into the van jammed packed with clothing and toys for the children and heading for Arusha, that the questions and answers begin their natural course to flow again, as if we have been together always.....without a few months of silence in between, it all begins to make sense.

Donation of land....
Our village leaders, Mayunga and Raymond, at a government meeting, local and district, presented us with 6 acres of land nearby to build our own orphanage facility. Already on the land is a half built primary school with 4 classrooms and office - a government project slated to be fully built by next year.

New Majengo facility:
With 77 children all living together in 3 houses..it has become increasingly urgent that we build our own facility. What we have now, has been totally make-shift, a place to house the unexpected but necessary expansion of kids last December, totally a temporary and urgent solution - a fly by the seat of our pants situation which solved a very crazy time. We had no choice.
But after visiting both established orphanages in the area in October we came away with some great ideas of the orphanage we hope to build, soon.

Our budget to get the children into better and smaller homes right off the bat is about $100,000. including a big communal kitchen with outdoor and indoor dining facilities and playground, next to the primary school the government has promised to complete by 2012. Once that is done, another $200,000 will afford us a proper volunteer house, library, computer room and recreation hall. A total of approximately $30o,000 to do the job well.

Buffalo meetings....
Great once-every-three-months meetings in Buffalo with Warren Majengo folks and Majengo Canada, keeping our eye on what is going on in Tanzania.. our 2013 new building group reporting back and keeping in touch with those two orphanages i mentioned above, arranging for Matt, Lauren, Rose and I to visit in October...pulling together the best ideas from both visits....organizing time lines and plans for our own new facility once we get our funding in place....our new website..thanks to Kym setting it up with people from McKissock in Warren, and to Maxine, Nancy and yours truly for pulling the writing and the pics together, it looks great...we're meeting Jan 07...a few days before I take off again for Africa...

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

BREAKING NEWS!!! MAJENGO CANADA, now an officially recognized Canadian charity, able to provide YOU with Canadian tax receipts!! And more about that later...

Back home a few days, jet lagged, tired but thrilled with our October visit, we have managed to accomplish so much!! Briefly....visited two wonderful established children's homes, as they prefer to call them, not orphanages, in Tanzania....one JBFC near Mwanza...the other Rift Valley Children's Home...near Karatu, a stone's throw from Majengo.

And we're in the beginning stages of building a brand new facility for MAJENGO!!!

We learned and saw so much! Great ideas to move forward ..the govt has approved giving us 6 acres of land, flat, wide open - a huge cry from our current site, where we look after 77 children living in or should i say squeezed into three houses!

It is insane, but totally understandable. One year ago we were flying by the seat of our pants, with the government shutting down corrupt orphanages on the safari route, last December, and bringing to us 67 new children, freaked out, badly abused, starving, not knowing where in earth they were heading...

No warning. All these kids arriving by bus over a two day period!
Our staff, half on holiday, scrambling to keep up, especially with the food, dinners, cooking, cleaning clothing and washing kids. Big challenge...but we did it...with huge credos to our staff who managed to pull it all together, beautifully infusing all these new children into our once calm, together, well organized and quiet facility.

And huge thanks to our friends in Warren, Pennsylvania.
Our budgets skyrocketed overnight, from $55,000 annually to $85,000 now...not bad considering the support of 114 children and 17 staff, but way more than they can handle.

So it's my turn now...
As they say on CNN: BREAKING NEWS!!!!
MAJENGO CANADA just got our official approval from the Canadian Government to become a registered Canadian charity. Thank you thank you thank you!! As a result we can offer tax receipts for the first time, to all our incredible donors out there who have been supporting us over the last 3 years! bravo!!

Off and running....stepping into a brand new phase, our goal to raise $300,000 over the next 6 months toward the new facility..the situation now is desperate. With 77 wonderful beautiful children squeezed into three small houses, with not a lot of land in between. We feed over 100 mouths, three times a day, with 4 cooks spinning their magic out of one, not that big, outdoor kitchen. Lines of laundry swinging from post to post throughout the site... cleaners and children alike, scrubbing madly to keep all those clothes and children clean, every single day.

It is a miracle. We have managed to pull it off.
But we need more space for those children!!
Our goal: to give them every opportunity in a safe loving environment, to grow and blossom into happy, responsible and self sufficient members of their community.

Starting, with our new facility....dreaming, but I know, within only a short period, it will become a reality: here's the picture: lots of wide open playground space for the children to run free, soccer field, great climbing jungle gym with slides and swings, buildings designed with solar, skylights, with wonderful smaller dormitories, each with their own living in mama, sitting areas, study areas, bathroom, a big open library, dining hall and kitchen, rec room, with a nearby fully equipped primary school, goats, vegetable garden...chickens....the ideas go on and on..
I invite you to become a hands-on helping member of Majengo's TEAM CANADA!!

Revving up an exciting fundraising drive....with presentations, parties, sponsorship programs for every one of our 11 4 children, pictures, bios...raffles, paintings, exhibitions with all proceeds going straight towards this new facility. We need your help!!!

Please email me your ideas and suggestions for how you can help...lynnconnell@sympatico.ca
Lots of love, and huge thanks for everything, so far....xxLynn

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Greetings from Addis, Ethiopia! 7 hours here waiting for a 2:45 am flight to London and then home! Crazy, but you just relax into it; there is a great little cafe wedged into the middle of souvenir shops, duty free, clothing, misc...mostly woven scarves, shoes, African jewellery and dresses for little kids, leather bags...I'm sitting on a stool in the cafe watching the stream of humanity glide by... huge muslim community here, men and women wearing white from head to foot, the men in long wrapped gauzy long dress, groups dressed alike, a team of men in green, emerald green tops and long pants passing by, some dressed in what we would call pajamas, the matching designed fabric of the loose pants and tops...not alot of North Americans here tonight, mainly African from every country...in the women's washroom, next to the women's prayer room, a low sink where muslim women slip off their shoes and wash their feet before entering to pray, water everywhere, another woman bent over a piped in speaker spewing out an African beat, she is rocking, moving her hips and swaying, mezmorized.
It was an incredible week...Rose, Lauren and Matt from Warren flying into Mwanza meeting me at the hotel, and off we went to spend the afternoon and dinner with a fabulous guy who has opened an orphanage school on 46 acres on the lake, beautiful setting, 40 kids living in, all girls and another 250 coming everyday to primary school. We're researching back home different places to see; heading into building a new facility for Majengo by 2013 when our leases run out. Between this centre, and another one up in Karatu it becomes evident what works best for the kids: small houses, with 8-12 kids per house, each one with a live in mama to cook and clean for just those kids, a big communal kitchen is great with an adjoining dining room where everyone can hang out together, continuing the feeling we have now of one big huge happy family. Both children's homes supported primary schools, either on site or nearby, offering good teachers, English, and welcomed an ongoing flow of volunteers, mainly women coming from Canada and the US, and staying for a month or two, each one paying $35. US a day for the priviledge of working there. It works! Very exciting, and great that our team back home did a great job finding these facilities for us to visit.
Visited the 6 acre plot the village leaders of Majengo have agreed to hand over to us to build our new facility, about 3 miles down the road from our current site, big open field with a quarter built primary school at one end, a project of the government,promising to have it finished by the time we start to build. We are working together, the best way to do things over here. If you get the backing of the local village leaders, and then on up to the Executive director of the entire district who reports directly to the president of Tanzania, you are on your way..and we are!
Meetings all week, sometimes three a day! Focussing on 2013, the new facility, our education plans for the children, budgets....a great few days for me painting animals and children on the outside of the new Majengo office, with the kids. Finally getting to know them a lot better this time around. Education: lots of talk about sending our kids to the English medium private school a good walk away from the orphanage, someday. Here all the subjects are taught in English, a great advantage from the government schools where kids learn everything in Swahili, until they hit Secondary school, where they plunge into English. Still talking... getting to know the director of that school, Mama Anna who i am totally enamored by. Her views for me on education, and what is important for the growth of the children, for now and into the future make sense to me. But it is costly, about $400 per child per year for this special education; we've decided to step back, take a good breath and wait...our budget has exploding with all our new kids since December last, the three houses we rent Tiger, Serengeti and Kilimanjaro on site bulging with 77 kids, a far cry from the spaciousness of those other orphanages we visited early on in the week.
A big staff meeting with all 17 of our staff.. each one expressing big thanks and good feelings about where we are going, along with the challenges...Four of our Masai girls sponsored through 4 years of secondary school have gone back home to their Masai bomas, pregnant.
ON Saturday after an incredible few hours roaming around the big monthly Masai market, which is almost indescribable, but if you can picture small grass huts with legs of goat roasting inside, we join Masai men and women wrapped in the bright red and blue checked sheets, lounging on plastic chairs, a Morani warrior bringing in the leg along with a long sharp knife, cutting the meat off the bone into chunks put into a big round bowl in the middle of the table, we all lean forward and chew and chew till your jaw hurts, delicious! Stuff sold outside, laid out on blankets, stuff, everything you can imagine, clothing of all kinds, shoes, underwear, sports jackets, shirts dresses, plus jewellery, kitchen good, hardware, everything, this is the way the Masai shop, moving along from blanket to blanket, a goat and cow auction going on at the far end, packed with Masai and us....and that same day on to visit the Chief of the Engaruga tribe to his boma, meeting once again his two wives, children, and greeting his 95 year old father who sits at the entrance of the boma, a cluster of cow dung and grass circular houses, surrounded by a fence made from thorn trees, we make sure we bring the requested bottle of Konyaki, bending over to pay our respects, the young women bowing low their heads for the old man to spit into their hair. It is all part of the experience and on to the goat yard where Chief introduces us once again to our goats which we have purchased, one or two every year, who have had babies. I now own 9 goats...!! Named for my family back home! This year two new white ones, twins, bought for Pyper and Finn!
Culminating with a wonderful last night at Majengo with the children, all lined up along four long tables on benches, receiving juice and goodies as a good bye treat...a show of dance, song, and acrobatics a first with these kids for us, mixed with laughter, and tears, so difficult to say goodbye. They have become our other family away from home, these children and for us, it is heartwarming, these visits, and heartbreaking to leave...
Got to run and catch this flight!

homeward bound!! talk soon!!!!
check out our new website: www.majengo.org...it is pretty wonderful!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Update!! Jambo!! a great week....in Mto Wa Mbu...and today in Mwanza, a beautiful town built up on hills circling around the massive Lake Victoria on the west side of Tanzania - the second largest fresh water body in the world. I am hot, soaking hot, but happy at an internet waiting for Matt, Charles, Lauren and Rose to fly in from Kilimanjaro - flying in happy, dazed and exhausted last night. Me, i took a local bus all the way across the wild and rugged terrain of Tanzania bumping along from Arusha to have an adventure, leaving yesterday at 7am, on what they said would be a 10 hour ride, which turned into 15 hours on the slowest local bus anyone has ever ridden. Miles and miles of African villages, mud huts held together by sticks cow dung, busy markets filled with bananas, cooking oil, bright plastic kitchen attire, hardware, socks, bright coloured cotton and satin dresses hooked onto wire hangers and squeezed into small top frames expanding into huge voluptuous hips, swinging and sache-ing next to plumbing poles and women stooped bent in half stirring pots of freshly made ugali over open fires. Pulled in with wild lightening and thunder, mvua sana, much rainfall, me, tired and very cranky by 10:30 last night. Rasta...a friend of Dula, who regales me all the way from Arusha with stories of Rasta beliefs, meets us at the bus station. Goodbye to Colliette my good German friend who spends two months every October in Mto Wa Mbu, awesome, working by herself traveling into four primary schools gathering lists of children desperately needing uniforms, shoes, sweaters. She hits the local markets with Dula, her Rasta translator, to buy clothing for 200 kids in the area with money she raises back home all year. She visits Majengo laden with 120 single bedsheets and 70 pairs of Masai shoes made by a shoemaker in the corner stall of the Masai market, the money a gift from a German company interested in working with someone who uses his hands. Masai shoes are made from rubber pieces cut with a small sharp knife, away from old tires. Everywhere she takes pictures of children with the new sheets and masai shoes, to take home, a record of what a few Euros can do here in Mto Wa Mbu...

Last week a government inspector makes a surprise visit to Majengo, a program social workers are performing all over the country to all children's homes. For 7 hours she questioned our staff, and me: what do we do when a guardian shows up abusing a child? how many beds do we have for 77 children? are our kitchens clean? do we have fire escapes and extinguishers? what education do our staff have? what are we doing to help them? On and on with questions..and a visit around the orphanage, through our three houses, which just last week painted clean and fresh, across the grounds past outdoor toilets and showers, to the big open dining room area with the cement floor and high thatched roof, electricity now, with four tables lined with happy healthy children squeezed along benches eating a sort of beef stew, greens, and rice, a banana on the side. All is well.
On that day i interviewed Zack who came recommended by the private English medium school down the road. He stays with his sister next door at the Catholic Mission, from Kenya, having just completed his teacher's certificate to teach English. I am ecstatic. It is perfect. We have been trying to find a good full time English teacher to help our kids and staff learn English, since we started. Hopefully, Zack is the answer. He comes the next day to work with our staff and teachers setting up a schedule and began the monumental task of teaching everyone English by January 2012. Every day, 8 hours a day!
Visited the director Anna and her principal Mr. Thomas at the nearby private English medium school, where all primary classes are taught totally in English. The kids there can speak well after only a few months in class. We set out an idea where we hope to enrol all 51 primary kids into Anna's school, this January. It has to do with loaning her money to finish the building of three new classrooms, and for this, getting a year free for our children, and two more at half price. Matt comes today, we shall talk it over, he will visit Anna and her school and we will decide. For me it is a great idea. I have loaned money here, through my People Living with HIV AIDS program, where, after one year, all four HIV AIDS groups of 80 people, almost all women, paid me back interest free, in full - but in shillings, not dollars. USD can't be transferred back from shillings except at an exhorbitant (sp) rate, up to 25%. So how do i get my money back in dollars? Almost impossible. But if we can funnel the shillings back into great programs for our children, it will cut costs on the USD sent over each month in accordance with our budget.
Win win on every side.
Promised Charles i would paint animals, fruit, graffiti, children on the walls on the outside of the office, with the kids...but with great trepidation. He has the walls left white for this endeavour, but the day i showed up someone had painted them brown...ack! what to do? We had all the kids draw animals, buses, airplanes, birds, and children on paper, which with a highlight marker, two of the older boys and I drew huge on the walls, on day one. Then, with a lot of help from enthusiastic and impatient kids, painted those images white again - all 77 kids swarming me and the freshly painted images and coming away slathered in white oil paint indelibly stuck onto fingers, faces and hair. I am dreading the next day's job of colour.

I am trying to think of a way where only two boys brighten up the images with colour, but how to do that with all these kids, curious, enthusiastic, desperately wanting to paint! I give up and mix colours into lots of small plastic containers, hand out sponge brushes, and watch them go at it. Mimi, mimi. Me me...!!! ME! they are all shouting, stampeding, the colours, the brushes falling on the dusty ground, a mess! I am drawing as fast as I can now, leaves coming up from the bottom of the office up and onto brightly coloured animals, everything dripping wet with paint, with kids vying for pots of green, blue, brown, orange and red, splashing and splattering it, they make them come alive.

Hamisi, the night security guard at my hostel who has been painting the walls on the inside of our main house all week, appears with a can of black paint and finishes off the job by painting the ledge along the bottom, covering up the splatters and drips.

It looks incredible!! All painted entirely by the kids. A great day. I walked home well after dark alongside the long main road, past vast expanse of rice fields blackened by the night sky, sprinkling with stars, so dark you can see nothing but for the flash of bicycles coming into view just in time to jump aside safely.

I visit the children at the nearby Pambazuko children's home along the way last week, passing Colliette taking Tabia, the mama of those children to the market to pick up needed kitchen supplies, they wave, as i head over to their house. The kids racing out to meet me, one of the joys of each time i visit Africa, these kids I have known now for 5 years...coming from the very first orphanage i volunteered with back then, so long ago. I know them well, especially Elia, Sifuni, Jackson, Ruth, Zack, Justin, Melania and Fabiola...my daughter Seanna and Sierra coming to Africa two times laden with art supplies teaching these children. They are loved and blessed. Tabia and her husband Elias are their mama and baba, with my Swedish friends Kerstin and Berndt now in charge of supporting the 14 kids here at Pambazuko. It is truly a lovely small family, and a good example of how children coming from many tribes, orphaned mostly by HIV AIDS, can come together in one small house and become brothers and sisters together, with a mama and baba. We hope someday soon, at Majengo to emulate this example there, with the 77 children we look after, creating a new facility encompassing a number of small houses, each with up to 14 kids, overseen by a mama and baba, if our dreams can come true.
I set up my computer and roll back to 2006, when i first met those kids waving outside the rickety orphanage along the safari route, Home Comfort. Photos, hundreds of them, of us on safari with those kids, painting with them, drawing, and my teaching them how to swim at the nearby tourist campsite swimming pool, every Saturday afternoon for two years, until they raised the prices, and rules encouraging 'whites only', where we no longer go. Watching the photos, the kids crowding around the computer, entranced. Memories of images of them spanning the last five years, beginning as little kids, and now healthy, strong, and tall.

Today begins my final week in Africa...with Matt coming with Rose and Lauren, with Charles flying in from Kili to Mwanza, where we visit an orphanage set up by Jamie and our team back at home, to learn and see what they have done to make their children's home a success. Then back to Arusha tomorrow, to visit three more, and on to Mto Wa Mbu...a week set up of budget review, visits to Majengo with big staff meetings, time with the children and Doris, our ICA director, meetings with government officials and visiting possible plots for our new facility. Always a whirwind when Matt arrives, I look forward to his laughter and jokes, his enthusiasm, his positive energies and good sense. Catch up next week!
Have a great one....!! Lynn

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

sitting here the bright morning sun blasting into the courtyard outside my office door, i can see a group of 8 men, lounging on tippy plastic chairs, engrossed, Swahili, Charles inside the closed door across the hall giving someone a test for HIV AIDS...emerges to tell me that these guys are planning a friends father's funeral, who can contribute what, who can go to the burial, tonight..in Africa they don't embalm and celebrate soon after the death..all the while i am waiting very patiently and very silently without complaining for one hour for this computer to connect into my blog, and finally, after many attempts, i am here. Bravo!
Wrote yesterday...and since then- a day later, reporting a great meeting with Charles and Abdul about our possible future orphanage facilities...I drew out the idea plans we have talked about, a big communal kitchen...a pre school, maybe a primary...with small houses big enough for up to 14 kids sprinkled about, a playground, goats, veg garden...library...we look at all three options for where this could be...a govt given plot, the land and houses we currently occupy, or the big plot across the road...Abdul settles on the one i like best...IF we can strike a deal with the owners of all three houses...plus two adjacent plots, with one, get this, adjoining the English medium primary school..where, if we can manage to reduce the private school rates with the principal...maybe our kids can go there...

it is now, all a dream...but dreams here in Africa come true and i'm banking on it...

And in the afternoon, sitting here at this computer with Charles working on staff and visitor policies...rules for child protection...another chart of our organization...one with the staff and their responsibilities..one with the names and ages now of the children...living in and next week meeting the guardians and the kids living out sprinkled around the community...our menu..
And last night, dinner of shish kabobs with little pieces of charred beef bbqed alongside a plate of chipsies...a boy from the streets slumped into a nearby chair, maybe 12, 13years old, he can't go home, his father beating him brutally, with no relatives or friends to take him in, watching the guy cookingthe bbq..watching us eat.
Charles calls him over...what can be done about this boy? As they talk in Swahili i see that look of such pain on his face, the way the mouth is open and set, drooping, holding itself there. i have felt it once in awhile in myself. that mouth, just open and hanging ...the eyes brimming hot almost with tears, shining and anciently sad...he sits down - i can't help myself, i rub his back, i am so sad and sorry..our orphanage is full ...and this boy, Charles calls him Msonjo cause he comes from the Msonjo tribe, but what is his name? has made his way on the streets, stealing and prostituting, whatever, anything to keep himself alive, and tonight talking with Charles and this white lady from Canada rubbing his back, he doesn't flinch. Waiting now for his dinner..

This morning at MiCasa, the cafe around the corner, i am lying on the floor showing Miriam the owner some pilates moves, and she invites me to run with her tomorrow morning at 6am! great...i am feeling good...much better than the days around missing Thanksgiving back at home...another day!!
but here...i copy yesterday...and see you tomorrow!

Jambo! Happy thanksgiving!!

I miss you all out there…tried to reach Canada last night, so many times, but every time someone picked up, a series of weird screeches sounding like the yelping of some wild animal emoting from this side of the planet! The lines went dead. Ah…I am lonely...

Mto wa Mbu..Saturday night, driving over here from Arusha we saw over 20 giraffes standing silently alone, or in groups chomping on the top branches inside a clump of thorn bushes, alongside the road. The sun setting, long dark and very tall silhouettes against the night sky. Welcome to Mto Wa Mbu….a supper of roasted goat chopped into small pieces and served on one plate for all of us to pick at, dip into salt and hot sauce and encircle with a right handful of ugali, the national staple in Tanzania, other than rice, sort of like thick crème of wheat cereal, hot, where you grab a clump of it, make a ball, stick your thumb into the centre to indent into a spoon-like scoop, to collect your goat and hot sauce!

Hamidu our driver without a car, but always with one of Charles friends from ICA lending transportation for us…this time a Masai guy called Henry - a safari driver, who speaks great English, who will be my translator I hope, when Charles is away this week…

Charles’ family, Grace his wife with his two little boys, David and Derrick moving from Dar to Arusha to be closer to Charles. Grace transferred her work as a nurse for the military..their worldly belongings being shipped in this week, with Charles at the other end receiving, then driving to Dar to bring his family back.

It is good. He needs to be near them.

I am sitting in my office at ICA Mto headquarters, with, in the next room one of our PLWHA people living with HIV AIDS support groups meeting Monday morning – a roomful of mostly women, wrapped in colourful cloth and magnificent and matching head pieces, great habari, jambo!! How are you doing? Karibu, welcome back!

My uncle lent them through ICA one year ago, four seed start-up money to embellish their small businesses, and here we are one year later, all four groups have paid us back. Great…meeting in a few days to determine success and challenges of that project.

Over to Majengo orphanage bright and early Saturday morning heralded by a stampede of welcoming happy children, showing us the new office they built this year just outside our main space. It is big, spacious, clean. Charles had the outside painted pure white. Yesterday I bought cans of oil paints to create a mural with the children…lions, elephants, giraffe, sun, moon, stars..whatever they want, in red, pink, blue, green, yellow…pouring rain today, so we start tomorrow…one of the older boys, an amazing artist. On Sunday surrounded by a mass of kids, I am drawing animals on one of those echo sketch pads, this boy takes it, erases mine and draws a much better elephant than I ever could; wow! This guy, who has just graduated from primary school will design the mural.

They’ve built a huge outdoor dining room, cement floor and thatched roof at the back of the group of houses we call Majengo. Philippe, one of the original boys, points up to an empty space on the ceiling and says TV…he wants a TV plus 5 bicycles for the older kids to run around in, and they shall get them somehow, this week. The inside of our main building, which we have occupied for the last 2 ½ years is filthy….the plaster crumbling – two years of a hundred little hands, n dire need of a paint job. Charles hired Hamisi from our overnight pension, we bought four buckets of good paint, brushes and plaster, and today they begin. Plus ordering 4new tables and benches and the promise from a local carpenter to repair the ones we already have, the slats holding them together broken down from a million little feet, kicking. We’ve done a lot in a couple of days.

Big talks about education. For the young kids under 7, a pre school on site with two great teachers, Glory and Grayson who speak only a little English; the older kids trot off to one of four nearby govt primary schools, but with no English….consequently, when they graduate after 7 years into English-speaking-only secondary schools, they have trouble.

On the side, four of our kids are being sponsored by a guy from the UK into nearby private English medium schools - a decision we have to discuss. Is it fair that only a selected few get to go to private school, the others waiting and hoping for their chance? Or who are we to deprive those chosen kids an English education? What is best for the orphanage? We have heard from other orphanages who observe a ‘no gift policy’, where each child must be treated the same, otherwise jealousy and discrimination can divide and erode.

Charles says the govt primary schools actually offer a better all-round education than expensive private English medium schools, but they don’t teach English. We have decided to bring one or or two really good English teachers on site and full time to teach our kids and staff..at least for a couple of years before we build our whole new facility. At that time, we may build our own primary school, one that teaches English and Swahili, in a government approved program. And when they get older, maybe a secondary school, or trade schools….

We’re considering options. We’ve created a 2013 group back home to research other Tanzanian orphanages to decide what kind of facility we want to build over the next two years. I toured 6 acres of land that the local government is offering us for free which includes an already half-built primary school, with four classrooms and one office. It is a big wide plot, open and flat, but about 3 miles away from our existing premises. Location, location, location.

Across the street from where we are now is a huge plot, perfect for our purposes, owned by a Tanzanian woman married to an American, who we’re checking into, re availability and cost. There ia a possibility of buying our existing three rental buildings and expanding from there. All options at this point.

Currently, with last December’s expansion, there’s no doubt, we are overloaded! Where once we had 27 kids living in with a staff of 12, we now support 77 kids living in, with 18 staff, with another 37 kids living out around the community, their education and medical needs! It was an emergency, we pulled together the best we could do. We’ve got three houses with 3-4 bedrooms in each, a dormitory system with as many bunk beds possible, and in the case of little ones, sleeping two to a bed. The dormitory system is common in Africa.

But we have seen also a system where smaller houses are built around one big communal kitchen and dining area, with each house supporting a mama and 12-14 kids, offering a much better sense of family…Kids in each house become a unit, a family unto themselves. A much preferred system, more expensive, but one well worth considering.

But for now, our kids are getting the best we can provide: a clean and loving environment, good food three times a day, regular medical check-ups, and clean clothing and uniforms. We realize this as temporary, excited by plans down the road for a much bigger and better facility for these kids.

Last night, Charles and I raced across a wide plain of darkened desert just outside of town, for dinner at our friend Abdul’s incredible, brand new lux and wonderful safari lodge. Outside on a stone patio overlooking Lake Manyara in the distance under a sprinkling of a million stars and almost full moon, a warm wind blowing, with a few glasses of wine and dinner fit for me! Any of you out there coming to visit Majengo, and going on safari, you must stay a night or two at this magical place. Abdul has hired Masai tribal warriors as his manager and security guards, adorned in beaded necklaces and great drooping ear lobes, dressed in red plaid blankets and carrying spears, they are stationed at every corner along paths winding through tall grasses to separate boma like guest homes, made of thatch and cement, fit for me! I helped Abdul a little last year. He had finished this incredible place, but had no water! He’d erected a pipe running from pure spring water some 20 miles away to his hotel. But along the way, Masai women chopped into it, collecting pools for their cattle…Not once, or twice, but along the route in a period of 6 months, a good 250 times!!! refusing to leave it alone, despite what Abdul promised and did for them! He gave up and tried to drill for water on his premises, but found it salty.

Finally, he built a separate line for the Masai, teaching them how to turn off and on the water themselves. Abdul’s hotel pipe now is strong with good pressure, the only guaranteed water source in the district.

Every time I come here it is a different experience. With Charles last year applying for his masters which would take him away from Africa for a couple of years, our ngo, ICA, wound down their main projects. Charles was refused his visa twice to the UK for no good reason, is moving his family to nearby Arusha, and plans to take an online masters in international public health from Liverpool. All good. He will be able to stay with his kids and wife, work on his masters in Arusha at home, and still coordinate the comings and goings of the orphanage in nearby Mto wa mbu.

But with no other major projects in Mto Wa Mbu…the office is quiet these days but for the mooing outside my window of a neighbouring cow and the incessant blasting of rap down the road, a rooster crows. We’ve cut our staff down to two, Hamidu who doesn’t speak English and Charles. When he takes off, I am on my own, struggling with kidogo Swahili, next to none! A challenge so they say in the struggling communities...a calamity in my world...but only for a few days...

And this too will pass….

Friday, October 07, 2011

Jambo! still in Arusha, the exciting Arusha Savings Group Summit over yesterday...learned so much! To clarify, this entire group of reps from 43 countries, all over Africa, India, Egypt, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Vietnam, Cambodia...from Plan, World Vision, Catholic Resource Centre, Feed the Hungry, Kids International - all the big world-wide organizations coming together to talk about how they are organizing small VSLs...Village savings and loans groups, in their countries..where poor people form groups of up to 25 people, elect their own leaders and each person putting as little as $.25 cents into the pot each week or every two weeks. The total amount accumulates, and members can borrow at an agreed upon interest rate. This money is used to enhance or begin small businesses. Profits from it are used to better lifestyles of their families, support education of their kids.
It is an incredible model.
I spent alot of time with Jones, a great woman working in Zimbabwe, setting up these small savings groups especially with teenagers from age 13 on.... sometimes even with younger kids, from age 6 on! All wanting to learn how to save, many of whom have witnessed the successful results of their parent's in savings groups. The kids would borrow money from their parents to begin their investment. Then take out a tiny loan, buy sweets with it, and sell to other kids, raise a small profit with each sale...end up buying their own shoes, uniforms for school, and even helping their parent's with basic needs of their families. It is incredible.

This VSL group model is different from micro finance.
With micro finance, someone from the outside lends money to a small group of 5-6 people...with an agreement that this money will be paid back, sometimes at great interest, at a certain date, each member responsible for each other. When someone can't pay back, the others must jump in to cover.
Micro finance has been a great model for years, but has been abused as well.
I heard, at a conference last year on alternative investing in Toronto, a woman from NYC actually stand up on the stage promoting micro finance as a viable option for your money, say "a lot of money can be made from the poor! They always pay back, much more dependable than most people from the west!" Shockingly, huge interest rates of up to 40-50% were sometimes demanded. Often borrowers were illiterate, not understanding what they were 'signing', or in many cases, this was the only game in town for them to borrow. Yes the poor were paying back, terrified of what might happen to them if they didn't. Harassed by creditors, I have been told that they actually sold family land to pay off debts, even hire their children out for prositution, marry them off - anything to get the lender off their backs!

With VSL, outside money is not required which makes this model sustainable to the people in the group. Large interest rates are not incurred. The group decides and agrees upon the interest rate themselves. VSL is a model that was started by a Norwegian woman back in the 80s and has spread world wide...the people at the conference this week, some pioneers this movement, but all hugely enthusiastic about increasing the numbers from millions to billions in the years to come.

Last year I sunk seed money (from my uncle, therefore from the outside), interest free, into four savings groups of 80 people, mostly women, all living with HIV Aids. These groups had been in operation for a few years, struggling along, not making a lot of profit, with more challenges than most - their money going toward good food to support their medication, travel to doctors, as well as toward basic needs for their families. So on Charles' advice we sunk this seed money into their pot, with a contract for one year. I am delighted that at this writing three of the four groups have paid it back in full. The last group promising by next week, the date of the loan last year.
Charles tells me it has been a success, with most of the people enhancing small businesses, like selling bananas and fruit at the market and along the main street, buying a little bit of land, renting a tractor to till it...and harvesting 150 times what they were able to make initially. Out of the profits expensive school fees have been paid for kids to attend secondary school, houses have been fixed, new businesses started.
I can't wait to hear all the stories next week during their paying back ceremony...great!
Jones from Zimbabwe tells me things are getting a little better since the opposition party is working hand in hand with the Mugabi govt..food in the supermarkets...a little fuel at the pumps...life a little easier..I'm told our western press embellishes stories, making them sound a lot worse than they are, according to the people living there. When i worked in Zim back in 2006 the US govt advised Americans not to visit. I was the only white I saw for a month, walking down the street, jammed into local buses. It was not what we were told. I never felt unsafe. The people were warm and welcoming. There was horrible sickness with an estimated 30% suffering the ravages of HIV AIDS, amongst terrible poverty, but in the midst of this I felt such resilience, banning together helping each other, community, joy, singing, dancing as well. WE can only imagine this at home in times of collective disaster. The ice storm; Sept. 11. the death of Kennedy, even Jack Layton.
People coming together, forgetting themselves. Working as a whole. It feels good.
Our truck broke down yesterday; Charles was unable to pick me up, so last night was spent buried into a book at the Naz hotel in Arusha...delicious after the mind bending intensity of the conference.
Today: the internet across the street from the Naz....a luxury...power on...rain falling softly outside, atop the crashing of traffic racing up and down, vendors selling shoes, fruits and vegetable, belts, cell phones alongside the road...and later, if Charles comes, off to the SOS orphanage just outside of town to check it out... starting to research other orphanages to determine the best way to go with a new Majengo facility to be built by 2013.
How many kids? Big dormitories or small houses with a mama and baba? How many staff, kitchens, toilets, government help?> restrictions? playgrounds, vegetable gardens, chickens and goats, pre school? primary...? I'm looking for an English teacher to hire full time in the interim...translators at the conference promise to send someone my way, someone qualified who comes from the Mto Wa Mbu village area...with family near the orphanage. All good...
Till then, I'm off to Mto Wa Mbu without easy internet access...
will get back to blog, when i can..have a great day! xxLynn

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

jambo! hi from Arusha, arrived Sunday noon after a harrowing 2 days in the air and lounging on airport benches..Toronto, London, Ethiopia, Nairobi and Kilimanjaro! Charles at the airport with his wife Grace to meet me and over to the Naz, across the street from the best internet cafe in the whole of Africa I swear! It was cold..no kidding, cooler than the world i left so far away only a few days ago - meeting with Doris and Joseph, ICA Tanzania heads and Charles the next day, great...briefly getting caught up, things amazing at the orphanage, with our kids settling in, no one in dire need of medical attention...long talk about the new orphanage facility we need to build by 2013...either by buying the 3 existing buildings we already occupy and rent plus a few nearby plots, or by using the 6 acres of land the govt is giving us, not too far away from the orphanage and building fresh. I sketched out a quick idea that we've been talking about back home, especially emphasizing the small houses plan rather than the big dormitories we have now...they talked about a big operation here in Tanzania with three orphanages, called SOS which i will visit with Charles on Friday. Here they have about 15 houses scattered around, each with 5 or so kids and one mama in each house, and one baba overlooking the whole enterprise. a big kitchen to service all houses, dining areas in and out, playground, goats, chickens, eggs, vegetable gardens etc...sounds amazing...talked about education. When all those new kids came to us last December from the corrupt orphanages along the safari route, two of those kids were being sponsored by someone from the UK and sent, by day out to a private English middle school where they teach everything in English from the get go, pre school and primary. Much better than the existing govt schools where everything is taught in swahili. These sponsors came recently, checking up on their two kids now at Majengo, thought it was great what we were offering those kids, and chose little Pendo for a sponsorship this time as well, plus one more child. Had a long talk about this, whether it was good to have some kids take much better schooling outside the orphanage, yet living in with the other kids...and according to Doris and Joseph, it could cause jealousy, us and them etc...not a great idea...
they came up with the plan, if we can manage it financially to create our own pre school and primary based on the English Middle school way...which is regulated by the govt, the ciriculum being the same as in govt primary schools, but taught fully in English from the beginning..great idea...and by doing this we could not only offer this much better education to our kids, but charge neighbouring kids as well the opportunity thus becoming a little self sustaining ourselves.
RE the donor box over at the orphanage, an idea to request all visitors to put donations along with a note with their contact numbers into the box -
Charles and i are about to create a Volunteer guideline sheet, much needed as a lot of people are wanting to work at the orphanage, Jamie in Warren in charge of US donors and volunteers...
I'm off and running...
In the second day of a big savings conference, the first Arusha Savings Group Summit of its kind, held at the Arusha conf centre where they are conducting the international Rwanda trials...interesting. we have 250 people from 43 countries \across the world, all talking about their savings programs for very poor people, even with primary school children learning how to save, which i am most interested in. Yesterday after hours of small and specific sessions targeting the many aspects of village savings, many of which dealing with gender issues, culminating with a 'living room' discussion with the whole group, 5 people on stage...all men! The gender issue reminding me of what NA experienced in the 60s and 70s with 'woman's lib' which was really about equal rights, not the negative bra burning slant put upon it today...with women getting together, finding their own voices, empowering..men standing back wonder what the heck!! and sometimes denouncing the whole thing, or feeling intimidated a little or a lot...the same thing here 50 years later...
Thinking of Marg who lost her Ernie last week, my cousin David, and other friends struggling back home with such issues....missing you all and wishing you my love especially in these hard times...loving being back here, the colour, the noise, hustle bustle, the radiance, the joy, the everyday resilience...
Hey...did i tell you? Majengo Canada were granted our official charitable status from the Canadian government just last week!! We can now offer tax receipts to donors!! All set to hit the round running when i get home in November...love to all!! xx

Sunday, September 18, 2011

September 2011....Toronto, Canada

Hi everyone..all the best to you all!!

I am in the process of applying to the Canadian government for charitable status and am reminded of the great enthusiasm and generosity of so many people who made this very exciting project actually come true! The Majengo Orphanage! Thank you so much!!

I'm off to Tanzania in October...signed up for a great micro-finance conference in Arusha for a couple of days with a participant list made up mostly African people, very exciting. Our PLWHA (people living with HIV AIDS) micro finance project is coming to a close in October. So far 3 of the 4 groups have paid back interest-free loans my uncle donated a year ago..very successful, with lots of them reporting profits in small businesses, enough to enable their kids on into secondary school...

All is well at the orphanage. The 67 new kids who came to us last December have settled right in, our teachers giving them extra tutoring to bring them up to the levels of our original kids.

We're revising our website...just had a great meeting with the folks in Warren Pennsylvania to map out plans for the next year...our budget almost doubled with all these new kids...I'm praying for my CRA charitable status. Very exciting...

I sent the following letter out to all our Canadian donors who kicked off the first year finances to get the orphanage going....you guys were the first FOUNDERS. You may have heard the story, but to refresh, sit back and enjoy!

Like they say, we have come a long way baby…the above pictures are of the orphanage as I found it back in March 2008, with 52 little kids squeezed onto a mud floor in a dark, dank, leaking foyer of someone’s house – no furniture, no resources but for one teacher who gave a year of his time with no pay, and a few neighbouring farm women who came by to cook lunch for the kids – in most cases the only food they would receive all day.

These were the poorest of the poor kids in the district of Majengo, an agricultural community just outside the rural village of Mto Wa Mbu, Arusha, Tanzania. Back then they ranged from age 3 up to about 6…none were old enough for primary school. Many were found roaming from house to house without family, their parents lost to HIV AIDS…relatives and friends off at work, without a home.

Charles Luoga our local project coordinator took me to see these kids the day after I was kicked out of an orphanage on the safari route, overloaded with sick and starving children set up purposely to lure in tourist money. I was the whistle blower, and after working with those kids for two years, was forced out by their director who in fact had a criminal record, had spent time in jail, and was paying off local church and government officials.

I was devastated and determined to pack it all in and leave Africa for good. But Charles dragged me over to Majengo, and that is where it all began..

You wonder whether, if you knew what you were getting yourself into, like for any project - a marriage, having a child, renovating a house - would you have gone into it in the first place?

Sure, sometimes I wonder…But when I look into the faces of these kids now, and the so many others who have come to us since, I have to say YES YES YES!

It has been a harrowing experience and a miracle too, as I will tell you…but before all that, know that you guys were the first, the FOUNDERS…who got this little orphanage off the ground…I thank you so much!!

March 2008….We found a half finished house down the road and committed ourselves to fixing it up at our expense, for use of it. We figured the reno would cost around $15,000, but once we put in a cement floor, new roof, electricals, (although we wouldn’t actually get electricity hook up till last December! Imagine putting 77 children to bed in the dark!!), water, built an outdoor kitchen, showers, toilets, ran a fence of bougainvillea around the whole property, planted trees and flowering bushes, tiled, painted, new windows, screens, 17 bunk beds, mattresses, kitchen equipment, cleaning, clothing, and towels…we were up around $23,000 when we were finished!

February 2009. Off to Africa but desperately short of funds to finish the job, erupting into Tim Forbes’ wonderful “52 thank you’s!”email to which so many of you responded, sending me off again with enough money to finish off the renos and furnishings..

March 2009. Enter Matt McKissock from Warren, Pennsylvania, who called to rent our family cottage via the internet, so fascinated was he that he flew over to meet me sight unseen a few weeks later to check out for himself the conditions I described during our cottage contract. He came with two friends, for one week. We pushed with all our might to finish the job, moved 27 kids in the night before, and celebrated his arrival with a very grand opening. Matt met Charles and our staff, our local ICA Tanzania agents and government leaders and was blown away by the children, ecstatically racing around their new home, happy now with three meals a day, mosquito nets, running water and a team of 12 wonderful people to care for them. It was heaven. Matt stayed for one week, arriving with 12 duffel bags of everything we’d asked for, had the time of his life and took off with a film he’d made of the kids singing “Twinkle twinkle little star”. He promised nothing, but I sensed something was up!

Surreal. I’d focused on raising money to get the kids off the mud floor, and hadn’t thought for one minute about who was going to pay for basic ongoing needs: food, medical, education, uniforms, shoes, clothing, staffing and maintenance! Matt kept asking about operating costs, but it wasn’t till I got over there that we had the foggiest idea of our yearly budget. Insanity, really. But in retrospect, Matt would never have flown all the way over with such urgency had I appeared to be in control. It wasn’t that I wasn’t in control, I just couldn't focus beyond renovation at that point.

He went home and two weeks later wrote a letter to his family and friends that caused me to burst into tears in the crowded internet café. He committed himself and his family to taking over our operating costs of $31,000 for one year, and now, 2 ½ years later, these incredible people are still helping. If you want to read that letter www.majengo.org. It will make you cry.

With Matt on board, his mom Diana and her friend Jamie came over the next year. Matt brought another friend who teaches linguistics at UBC. I started going over twice a year: October and February…budgets, monitoring, working with the staff and kids and trying to learn Swahili.. Kids in our on-site pre-school went on to primary and now stand in the top ten of each class, year after year. In Feb. 2010 the village leaders brought 15 new kids to us for pre school, by-day, at the beginning crying and too scared to open their mouths, but soon fitting in to the growing Majengo family…

Until December 2010 we were whistling along with 55 kids, our staff happy with yearly bonuses and their own children helped by Majengo with the financing of their schooling. We had it made…

Until last September. I got a call from Charles. The government was about to shut down the corrupt orphanages on the safari route running through town. The director I worked with back in 2007 had been charged with sexually abusing one of the girls en route to Secondary School. She escaped and charged him. He spent a month in jail, was now pending court charges. The government could no longer ignore his behaviour. He’d wracked in thousands of dollars from unsuspecting tourists. They would close him down, IF they could find a safe place for the children. Maybe 20 kids, 30 tops, they said. I called Matt. I'm going on record, he said: "we have no choice. We have to help those kids. We will take them on."

I flew over in October. We organized the rental of two houses behind our main facility. Not an easy feat. Each house was overflowing with tenants who knew a good thing when they saw one. White people desperate for their rooms. We found them better rentals and renovated at our cost, and paid six months rent - the only way they would leave! Finally empty, we rebuilt them, new floors, windows, ceilings, the whole thing all over again, bunk beds, sheets, mattresses, towels….done.

And then we waited. I was worried; the shut down plan was kept secret from directors on the safari route. They were dangerous. Some were worse than others; one was running a pornography ring with the children. At this point we were told there were 5 orphanages slated for shut down. We had no idea how many kids we would be getting. I got shingles and took to bed. Not fun. Jamie flew over and together we waited. There was an election in Tanzania; the government was campaigning. Our two houses were ready; but we were waiting.

Charles arrived with shocking news. The same guy who threw me out for being the whistle blower, the one who was up for rape charges, was dead, thrown out of the back of a pickup which crashed into a lorry and flipped over on top of him. I jumped out of bed and went to his funeral, to see for myself that it was indeed him. 700 people in brilliant sunshine assembled alongside a dirt road with 8 guys in leather jackets and shades crashing through the dust and potholes on motorcycles leading a red pickup carrying a wooden coffin perched askew on back, the tall hand-made cross sticking out one end, sketchy lettering in white paint with his name, birth and death dates. I was the only white. And because of that, the honoured guest., pushed alongside the family behind the coffin threading our way into the courtyard into the house. Without question, it was him. He was the ring leader and now he was gone. In Africa, they say it was the word of God. He couldn’t hurt us or the children anymore.

Tired of waiting, I flew home.

Christmas, December 2010, the government sweeps in and shuts down 5 orphanages on the safari route, dropping 67 kids off to Majengo within a two day period, ages 3 to 14. The kids were freaked, our staff overwhelmed. Half of them off on holidays, with 67 new kids stampeding the kitchen, scared, bewildered and afraid - eating garbage off the street, leaves from the trees. I can’t imagine what our original kids went through either. But it couldn’t be helped.

Some guardians had been told lies about us, showed up the next day in revolt, demanding their children. The police were called in. The government declared Majengo the only officially-recognized orphanage in the district. The cooks figured out how much rice to cook. Over 100 mouths to feed per meal, three times a day. We called the staff every morning: Money wired over, food bought, kids checked for HIV AIDS, malaria, lice…washed and scrubbed.

Majengo now supports 114 children. Age 3 up to 14.

But we said: no more, we are at our limit. And then the police bring in baby Anna, age 1 with the skin-drawn, gaunt and wretched body of a 3 month child, wracked with hunger, with 3 days to live. Our cook Adhija takes her home that night, for now and forever, home to her family with five children of her own, bringing her back by day, the whole orphanage, staff and the children, feeding and carrying that little girl around till she is right again…
How can you say no?

January: Matt and I flew over to see for ourselves. I am expecting mayhem… as we drove up, we find our staff lolling under the shade by the outdoor kitchen, laughing, talking, the kids quiet and safe, tucked into their beds…the afternoon nap. The next day, a meeting with the staff, ICA, government officials - each person telling their stories, chuckling now that the worst is over, the kids have settled in.

These kids are happy - little groups squatting in a circle, playing games in the dirt with stones, or swinging, gyrating with a hoola-hoop or racing across the field playing soccer or just sitting around gossiping together, watching the day unwind, happy, relaxed, finally, safe and at home.

Budget day. New stuff needed, recorded, priced: big pots, 40 new plates, cups, bowls, utensils, cleaning products, uniforms, shoes, Vaseline, rice, maise, new toilets, showers, enlarge the outdoor kitchen, build an outdoor dining area. A huge water tank on a tower. An office. It never ends.

Our budget escalates, from $55,000 to $85,000 a year. And we are managing, or I should say, they are managing, well.

WE fly home, and meet up in Warren, Penn. How to pay for it all. There’s no going back, we all have to help out now. I’ve gotten off easy, with Matt taking over a good lot of the operating costs these last two years, but it’s too much to expect, now. I have to do something that I have been avoiding for six years now, applying for charitable status, creating a board, establishing MAJENGO CANADA.

What a long way we’ve come since we saw those 52 kids on the mud floor… thanks to hundreds of people like yourselves, both on this side, in Sweden and in Africa, cheering this little orphanage to become a substantial, healthy and exciting part of rural life in Mto Wa Mbu, Arusha…

Bravo to us all!! Big thank you!

And the pictures…at the top...of the kids at the beginning..of us all now, and of a local painting with the names of so many of you who have helped, from the beginning....


Monday, March 21, 2011

Majengo UPDATES!! March 21...Happy spring...raining out my Toronto window this morning, dark and grey, not exactly spring yet..but hey!

Decided last week not to go over this month as i hoped. I've been over twice in the last 5 months and am going back in October...it is costly and better to save up here and get things done on this side....but still, am dreaming of being there....

I will miss our 2nd Majengo Orphanage anniversary party on April 1 (fools day!), plus the four April dates I was supposed to receive the money my uncle lent, interest free, for a 6 months term to 4 VICOBAS micro-finance groups back in November. I met with them in February...all going exceptionally well. Almost all of the 80 People Living with HIV AIDS who borrowed money had reported a profit in their small businesses during the 3 months time between November to February. They did so well that they were able to register their own children into Secondary School, paying the expensive fees of $650. for the first year.
An exceptional feat!
But consequently, having spent their profits for school fees, they are back to where they started. They asked that the loan be extended for another 6 months. Why not! Since I can't get back until October/November, we extended their loans till that time. More time for them to regain their profits, and for me to be there personally. Great!

Lots of great news from Majengo Orphanage thanks to Peter and Kissa keeping in touch regularly now, our communication issues more or less resolved, despite the difficulties with electrical blackouts, disrupted phone services, etc...

The 16 kids who got chickenpox in January are well now, with only one small boy suffering. All 77 live-in kids were tested for HIV AIDS on March 5 with only 2 positive! This is incredible considering that most of the kids lost their parents to this terrible disease.

We have one little 5 year old girl, Vailet Alex who came to us in December. Her blood is weak. She is tired, listless..doctors at first treated for malaria which worked for a few weeks, but still the situation stays. They took her to the hospital in Kiratu, but discovered it could be a kidney issue where she will have to be taken to Arusha or Monduli, much bigger hospitals about 2 hours away for further treatment.
Our matron Glory has been away for three weeks now, as her older sister passed away suddenly at the age of 43. Glory thanks the staff and ICA for their wonderful support during this time. Martha, our Majengo treasurer took over the health and well being of the kids, sleeping every night at Majengo, assisted by Witness, our head cleaner. What i find wonderful here is how close the staff work together as a team. When one needs help the others pitch in willingly.

Grayson, our teacher is getting married in June...ICA and Majengo staff offered a portion of their salary to help pay for this wedding...money for the church and party afterwards to be held at Majengo, and just as much to be paid to his fiance's family, as dowry for her hand!

A November 2010 university study by Audrey Crocker from Texas focusing on why the kids from Majengo are winning top academic spots in all classes at Primary school discovered that, according to the staff, it was due to immediate medical access and treatment, followed by good food, loving attention, security and stability.

CHILDREN'S RIGHTS workshop...Saturday, March 19th...our ICA lawyer, Glory conducted a full day workshop with all the live-in kids at Majengo to teach them of their rights: rights to good food, medical needs, education and attentive loving staff and people looking after them. That they should not be beaten; that they must learn to respect each other, and their teachers, and most of all to respect themselves. Back in December 2010, the the 49 new children brought in from corrupt shut down orphanages, clung together with the children from where they came , but within a month they had integrated with all the kids both from the 4 other shut down orphanages or with the 28 kids already living in Majengo.

Even little Anna, our youngest child at Majengo is doing incredibly well. The police dropped her off in January. At 9 months of age she had the sick and weakened body of a seriously malnourished three month old - given three days to live. But Adija, our head cook, scooped her up and declared Baby Anna as her child, taking her home every night to her own family of 5 children. By day, Anna is the little queen of Majengo. Just four weeks later, she is now strong enough to sit up in the middle of a blanket surrounded by her adoring assembly of staff and children - the kids hooking her onto their backs roaring around with her, and she eats nonstop all day. Anna's parents are unavailable to look after her.

Considering privacy rights for Children, we are not allowed to post publicly the history of these children or specifics of what happened to their parents. But basically, every child we have at Majengo is among the most vulnerable and poor in the community, each one totally alone in the world without anyone to look after them - no relatives, neighbours or family friends. But now they are no longer alone. They live as a huge family among 77 other kids with a staff of 18 and another 30 kids sleeping out but spending most days at Majengo with meals and pre schooling. One big happy family. Not the best, of course. But much better than living on the streets, passed from guardian to guardian, with little care, food, medical needs or educational.

Thanks again, everyone out there donating regularly to support these children. Your generosity is making a huge difference! I wish you could see with your own eyes what your dollars are doing, and what just a few weeks of tender loving care can bring. When those new kids arrived in December, they were "scrounging like starved animals", eating anything they could get their hands on: leaves from the trees, mud and garbage from the road. They pushed and shoved at mealtimes, desperate for good food, or any food, eating sometimes 2 or 3 servings at a time!

But now they have settled in. When Matt, Ian and I visited in January they were lining up at mealtime, quietly and in order, not stampeding the kitchen...happy, relaxed and confident now that they were finally home. This could not have been achieved but for the patience and direction of our staff. They work hard to create an atmosphere of love and respect amongst each other and the children - and for their environment. They get together with ICA staff and village leaders twice a month to report challenges, ideas, to clarify job descriptions and needs and decide what is working well, what needs to be helped. The atmosphere we are trying to create is one of respect, love, competence and transparency.

Recently they agreed that Saturday mornings would be set aside for "compound cleanup", where all the staff and kids scour the grounds for garbage and things out of place..to keep their new home clean. Great idea~

Back in February at a huge staff meeting we learned of everything needed at Majengo now that our numbers had catapulted from 28 to 77 live-in kids! Since then, staff and ICA have bought everything on the list: uniforms and shoes, sweaters, school bags, paper, pens, chool and sporting materials, cleanliness items like shampoo, vaseline, soaps, disinfectants, etc...all the new kitchen needs as they went from feeding 40 people 3x a day up to over 100 people!

They have been busy: They finished building a security fence around our three rental houses to keep cows out! and the kids in!! They erected a huge 5,000 litre water reserve tank up onto a tower made of metal posts outside the main house....waiting now for electricity access which should have been hooked up when we paid for it in December.

They had signs made for the highway: "THANK YOU FOR VISITING THE MAJENGO ORPHANAGE", with arrows pointing to the facility and opened a Tourist Information Centre in the ICA offices to inform and attract people to the orphanage to see for themselves what is happening here. Before, corrupt orphanages on the safari route easily lured in tourists by keeping children sick and poor. Now, we hope to encourage those same tourists to visit Majengo and contribute donations into our secured Contribution Box, thus helping those same kids they saw out on the safari route, now being cared for properly. This month we hope to build a small office outside the facility as an Information Centre.

Our 2nd Anniversary party is coming up! April 1.

Two years ago on March 08, 2009, we officially moved 28 children into our newly-renovated facility, from the mud-floored dark and leaking foyer I found them in one year before. And how we have grown! It is so very exciting, and deeply rewarding.

Anyone wanting to help or hear more about Majengo, please email me at lynnconnell@sympatico.ca., or Jamie and Di at our Warren Pennsylvania US offices at majengo@mckissock.com.

On Saturday I ran out to the airport to wave off Ian Ashbaugh, his wife Becky and his parents from Pennsylvania as they fly over to Tanzania - Ian's third visit! They will spend a week at the orphanage helping to build the outdoor dining area and new office, spend time with the kids, maybe a little gardening, and then off on safari! I gave them a computer to pass along to Dr. John who treated me back in November with my shingle thing. He promises, along with Sister Monica at the Catholic Mission next to the orphanage, to take a big part in the ongoing medical health of the kids...

So that's it!
have a great week....

ps: I'm taking a 5 week course on Word Press blogging at CSI Centre for Social Innovation - I am sure we will see a great change in this blog, plus linking it all to Facebook, Twitter...and whatever, i am doing my best to leap into social networking..here goes!!

...and plus plus...i am renovating the top two floors of my house in Toronto's Anex to create the MAJOR STREET B - a B and B but where you have the opportunity to make your own breakfast...anyone interested..please call me: 416-951-6528.