Friday, March 27, 2009

Tuleeni Orphanage

Here, we have placement in the morning, followed by lunch at 1, and then we either continue placement activities, have free time, or do other types of volunteering. One of the places you can go in the afternoon is an orphanage called Tuleeni (Too-lay-nee).

I made my first trip to Tuleeni earlier this week. I had been to other orphanages here, but this one is very different. It is basically a cement wall that encompasses a courtyard – a term I use here very loosely. The pebbled courtyard is probably about 30 feet by 30 feet, and is also home to three goats, two chickens, and four wild dogs. There is a large mound of firewood in the centre, and a tap for water that sticks out of the ground. Within the cement wall, there are several rooms where the children sleep 7 or 8 to a bed. Seeing 8 kids in a bed is a beautiful, yet solemn sight. You will likely see nothing more adorable in your life, yet when the realization comes that this is not a cute sleepover, that this is actually how these kids sleep, every night, the novelty fades.

Tuleeni is home to about 30-40 children between the ages of 2 and 14, many of which are HIV positive. They eat porridge twice a day, everyday. They do not have clean clothes. There is no electricity. There are no toys. And yet, the children are happy. I will share with you three of their stories:

When we arrived, most of the children were at school. There are several, however, who do not attend school for various reasons. The first child I met was a young girl, probably around 4, named Asha. Asha is HIV positive and has a disorder that resembles cerebral palsy, but she is so sweet – always smiling and always looking for a hand to hold. She cannot speak, but she does make sounds that are pretty clear indicators about how she is feeling. Mentally or physically disabled children are often abandoned in Tanzania. Asha was found in a field when she was just an infant and brought to Tuleeni.

The next child that made a lasting impact on my first visit was an 13-year-old boy named Felix. Felix spoke better English than everyone at the orphanage, including those who worked there; he often acted as a translator to the others. He is so smart. We talked about his school, what he was learning in his classes and what his favourite subjects were. Felix loves English and Math; he does very well in these classes. He is very interested in Science, but admits it is harder than the others. In Tanzanian schools they do not have music class, art class, phys Ed, or music. All the classes that make Western kids actually want to go to school are left out in the education system here, yet the kids don’t mind. They look forward to learning the difference between an adverb and an adjective, even though back home, most kids fell asleep during these lessons. We talked about ice hockey, admittedly Felix would have rather stuck to soccer, but I figured I would do Gary Bettman a favour and spread the love of our sport. Felix wants to be a pilot when he grows up. I told him he’d have to come visit me in Canada.

Then, there was Irene. Irene is 5, and a very pretty little girl. She doesn’t talk a whole lot, she mostly just sat and held my hand, yet she had a wonderful smile that would brighten anyone’s day. Irene, like most kids here, was a pretty big fan of the swing (where you hold their hands, lift them up, and swing them back and forth). I will never forget the infectious laugh she released during this. I was then told Irene’s story. No longer than a month ago, when Irene was walking to school, as kids 3 and older do here, she was called into a man’s house and raped. This 5-year-old child, so innocent and pure, was raped. It has yet to be determined if she contracted HIV.
I sat beside this quiet little girl and held her hand, and more shockingly, she held my hand. At Tuleeni, Irene wouldn’t see many men, so for her to trust me enough to hold my hand, or even sit beside me is hard for me to understand. You meet these children, you hold their hands, you play with them, and then you here their stories of abandonment and horror. At this point, I felt nothing else than a strong urge to hold these children, to bring them home. I understand this is not possible, yet some part of me wishes it was. I think how much better Asha would be cared for, she could go to a school, she could learn. Felix could change the world one day. And Irene… Irene could be loved and protected.
I have told you the story of three children, but there is so many more with similar stories. I am going back to Tuleeni this afternoon, to laugh with Asha, to hang with ma boy Felix, and to hold Irene’s hand. Without a doubt, I will meet another three children today and here their stories.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Education System

With this post I would like to address one of the largest problems Tanzania is facing today: battling against their own education system. Essentially what has been set up is a system in which it improbable that you will reach success. First of all, school is very expensive. Primary school is free, yet after that, it becomes very hard for people to afford. This creates a neverending circle of poverty for most families - if you are uneducated and poor, your children will likely meet the same fate.
Even if your family is able to pay your way through, it is not very easy to pass. All through primary and elementary schools the children are taught only in Swahili, yet as soon as they reach secondary school, they are taught solely in English. This would be the equivelent of the average teenager from Ontario, who knows some French, moving to a Quebec when they are thirteen and having to learn everything in French. Not easy.
Everything the kids are taught in primary and elementary school is wrote. As soon as you walk in the door they may say, "hello teacha, how are you?... I am fine sankyou teacha," but they have absolutely no idea what that means. They can count to 10, but if you show them a page with four dots on it, they wouldn't have a clue as to how to identify the quantity of dots. They recite the days of the week, but are unaware which ones they go to school on. It's sad, and also very hard on the volunteer 'teachas' who have making efforts to communicate with them.
To be a teacher in Tanzania, all you need is to have completed schooling above the age that you are teaching. For example, many of the local teacher who are teaching the equivalent of grade 4 have a grade 5 education.
This problem is one of the largest contributing factors to the divide in Tanzania - there are a few people will a lot of money, and a lot of people with no money.
So for those teachers back in Canada who can't find jobs.... learn some Swahili and come fix this system. haha.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Pole Sana

Before I get into my intended topic of this post, I would like to inform everyone of the light at the end of the tunnel. Sally is in school. She arrived on Tuesday and has attended everyday after that, including today. Also, the Witch Doctor has gone into hiding somewhere, because apparently the police have actually continued to look for him. We DID accomplish something. I DID make a difference.

Anyway, I will continue on with the new topic. Pole Sana (pronounced Pole-ay Saw-na) - if you have talked to me at any point during my stay here, you have likely heard me use this term. In Swahili, it is an expression of deep sympathy, yet, it is appropriately used at any possible time that one could say "sucks to be you." It has become a staple here at CCS Tanzania and is said probably more than anything else... similar to the phrase "don't worry about it, it's Cuba" frequented any conversation I was engaged in on our wonderous adventure to the Carribbean.

The best possible example I can give you of a 'pole sana' situation was one that happened to another volunteer that was at CCS. One thing you need to understand about Tanzania is TFT (Tanzania flex-time). Nothing is scheduled, and if it is, it will certainly not run on schedule. Things happen when they happen and when people can get to them.

So: the other volunteer travelled to Zanzibar for the weekend - for those of you who are completely geographically challanged, Zanzibar is an island off the east coast of Tanzania in the Indian Ocean; it is said to have some of the most amazing beaches in the world and is a very popular tourist area. Upon her return, she arrived at the airport at around 2 pm and handed her ticket to the airline receptionist. The receptionist then said, "Ah, 3 oclock flight left at 12, pole sana." That happens here. Yet, with a pole sana, any feeling of angst is simply supposed to evapourate. So, the volunteer, who had been here for a while just laughed, because really, that's all that you can do here. She proceeded to walk the 5 meters back across the hall to the ticket booth and exchange her ticket for a Precision Airline flight at 5 oclock. After that was worked out, she turned around, took the 5 steps to the other counter and, once again, handed in her ticket. "Oh, no Precision Airline flights today, pole sana." You would think that they would have communicated that across the hall to the ticket booth and stopped the sale of Precision tickets, but that just wouldn't be fitting. haha. T.I.A. (this is Africa).

So, please, start using it back home, because I know when I return its going to become a known saying. "Your computer crashed in the middle of your paper? Pole sana!" ... "Your classroom hampster gave birth to a little of babies, then over the weekend ate them all and died? Ah, pole sana!"

Get used to it! It is one thing that I'm sure I will bring back to Canada!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Traditional Tanzanian Medicine is Hard to Swallow

Again, I apologize for my tardiness. Yet, this time, I needed to wait for a conclusion to what has been happening here before I posted the whole story. I have been back and forth several times as to how much of the following story I will actually post. I have made the decision to tell you everything, yet I need you to understand that I do not need to be lectured on how to be safe in a foreign country, and you need not worry about me. I would not have changed my actions if I were put in the exact same situation again; I acted as I chose because it is who I am and what I stand for. That being said, here is an explanation of my last couple days:

As I indicated in the previous post, the organization I am volunteering with sponsors several local orphans for school. It came to our attention, on what seemed like the most normal of mornings, that one of the orphans that we had sponsored, lets call her Sally, had not been attending school for the past month. The accountant from the organization, who does a lot more than accounting, told us that the word on the street was that Sally had been kidnapped by the local Witch Doctor and was likely being drugged and used as a sex slave. Sally's story was that her father had passed away a couple years prior and her mother was unable to work due to her progressing case of AIDS. Essentially, she is a street child.

So, the accountant, two other volunteers, and myself set out to Sally's house to talk to her mother. After walking for a couple hours to try and find this house, we were greeted by an elderly woman (Sally's mother) and welcomed in to sit down. We sat clueless for a while as the accountant and the mother engaged in a conversation in Swahili that was far past anything we have learned to comprehend. We were told by the accountant upon departure that the mother was denying Sally's abduction. She told the accountant that Sally was simply at the hospital for the day because she was a little sick and that is why she was not home. We knew this was not true, as she had not been to school in a very long time. What we did not know, was why a mother would like about such a thing when her daughter was in clear danger.

We then went to the Witch Doctor's house, where the whole situation went from being something of oddity to that of reality. At the house we did not find the Witch Doctor or Sally, what we did find was another girl. She told the accountant that Sally was in fact staying with the Witch Doctor, but they were not home. She also told the accountant that her brother had been staying there before, yet hadn't been seen for a week. The boy was around 5. We needed to contact the Witch Doctor so the accountant could try and reason with him to get Sally back to safety and to school. So, I left my phone number, with an alias, and told the Witch Doctor in a note that I was a tourist who wanted to recieve one of the tours he conducts of his forest. It was the plan that when he called me I would set up a meeting with him, where the accountant would meet him. Sketchy, I know.

When we were leaving the Witch Doctor's we asked the accountant what she thought had happened to the boy, to which she replied, in a shockingly calm way, "I think he has given him to the ancestors." Meaning she thought the Witch Doctor had murdered this boy. I had just set up a sting operation with a child abductor, probable rapist, and possible murderer. That is how that day ended - awaiting a phone call.

What was frustrating during this day was the organization's reluctance to contact the authorities with the information they had. I am quite aware that the police in a first world country are significantly different than those of the third world, yet this was escalating into a situation far beyond my maturity level. This day was essentially The Hardy Boys, yet written in the style of Chuck Pahlnuck.

Day 2: We started this day by going to seek advice from a human rights lawyer. We explained the situation thus far and she told us that we needed to present the case to the police. (Duh?) But, first, we needed to go see the mother and tell her we were going to the police with the evidence we had in an effort to try and get her to admit what was truly going on, so that she too could advocate for police intervention. We set out for the mothers house, yet this time we were not greeted by the elderly woman - we were greeted by Sally's brother. He was far more co-operative. He told us that not only was Sally living with the Witch Doctor, but so was Sally's mother, in secrecy. He said that he too thought that Sally was being used as a sex slave, but told us of another, equally as scary situation. Days before, Sally had presented her brother with a letter which required his signature. Apparently the letter stated that the Witch Doctor knew an American man who was going to take Sally to the U.S. and provide her with an education, all that needed to be signed was a form of parental consent. We learned that Sally had never met this American.

I can not begin to explain what I was feeling at this time and what was going through my head. There is this girl, who is being raped by the 60 year old Witch Doctor, who has promised her a way out - a way out that does not exist. It is quite obvious to us that a simple letter does not suffice as adequate documentation to bring someone from Tanzania to go the school in the United States. There was no American. This was the Witch Doctor's way of having Sally's family believe that she was safe, yet they would never see her again. At this point, we got scared.

We rushed to the police station, with the brother, and presented the case. We were told by the human rights lawyer to ask for a specific cop who was supposed to be very good. He was drunk. We talked to another man, who from what I could tell was quite high up. He explained to us that under Tanzanian law, if the mother said it was okay for Sally to be there, there was little they could do, as she was still a minor. Yet, they agreed to check out the situation, as we reiterated that it is not legal for Sally to be withheld from school, and the situation of the missing boy is very scary. They then proceeded to ask for money to carry out the investigation. URGH! This day was my culture shock. There is a girl who is being used as a sex slave, who is being fed a made up story about an American who is going to take her away, and there is a boy who is missing, yet no one seemed to care. Everyone was thinking about number one. The one thing we had going for us, was that there were three white volunteers present. The police were afraid that if we were not satisfied with the action they had taken that we would use our power of influence to create a situation that was not favourable for them. They told us to meet them back at the police station at 6:30.

They wanted us to go with them on the police raid to the Witch Doctor's house. I am not a cop. I do not know the language, and I do not know my way around the Witch Doctor's village. I should not have been going along. Yet, he enlies the problem. If I did not go, there was no guarantee at all that action would be taken. There was no guarantee that anything would be done to help Sally, or this little boy.

At 7 o'clock, The accountant and I, as well as the other volunteers who insisted I was not going alone, pilled into the back of a police truck with six police officers, equipt with AK-47s. The truck was the kind that we envision to be used for smuggling illegal immigrants into the US, the one with a tarp covering the back. It was dark, and I was in the middle of a police raid in Africa.

We arrived at the house to find Sally, the missing boy, Sally's mother, but no Witch Doctor. I spent the entire time that we were in the house, when heated Swahili was exchanged between those present and the police, talking to the little boy with what basic Swahili I knew. I was scared, yet I cannot even fathom the thought of being 5 years old and having the place at which you stay swarmed by men carrying automatic weapons. Sally was taken for questioning.

On the way back, I sat beside Sally in the back of the truck. Nothing was said, no acknowledgement was made. I felt as though I should have said something, even hello, but I couldn't manage anything.

We hung around the police station long enough to find out that Sally would not co-operate. She would not admit to staying at the Witch Doctor's, saying only that she was visiting for the night. She said that her brother and her did not get along and that he was only trying to get her in trouble. She said that she was fine. She denied that any promise of America had been made. There was a girl that was in grave danger, she was being used as a sex slave, and manipulated, yet no one cared. Not even the girl.

Sally remained at the police station overnight, awaiting bail. It is illegal not to attend school in Tanzania. She was released on the condition that she live at home and that she attend school.

I went to Sally's school today. She was not in attendance.

I have never felt more frustration. I struggled with things I should not have been exposed to in an effort to provide this girl with safety, to even provide her with opportunity, to tell her this American was not real. For what? nothing. You cannot force someone to change. You cannot force a country to change. I know I did everything I could have done, and certainly more than I should have done. I saw no change. I saw no reward of having helped someone. Sally will continue to live with the Witch Doctor; she will not go to school; who knows what will happen to her in the end when 'the American' takes her away. There is nothing I can do.

Someone very close to me once said "help the people you can, and learn from the ones you can't."

I am awaiting my realization. I am waiting for some greater lesson to be taken from this experience.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

My Placement

I apologize for the length of time it took for me to make this post - I have been busy doing lots of different things.
So, I have been place with a non-profit, non-governmental organization dedicated to AIDS prevention and local youth empowerment. The organization gives presentations to local youth, truck drivers and commercial sex workers (prostitutes) on how to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS. They also raise money in an effort to send local orphans to school.
Here is the amazing part of my placement: there is no red tape. I do not have a set schedule, and I do not have set activities. I can do what I want when I want to, which seriously works for me. This is my niche. I can come up with activities, fundraisers and presentations and deliver on them, yet I struggle when I am held back by administrative guidelines. This works for me.
In addition to being free to make the most of what I have, there is another volunteer placed with me who also makes my placement great. She wants to make a difference as badly as I do, and she brings a lot to the table. We operate in very different ways (as usual when I am partnered with someone else), and it just works. We have goals, and by working together, I fully believe that we can accomplish what we have set out to do.
What I am currently doing, with the exception of the past two days (a post will follow to explain these activities), is researching and writing proposals for government grants from foreign countries. Right now, what the NGO can do is limited to the funds that they have been given from grants. Applying for a grant is essentially the same as applying for a scholarship. I was lucky enough to gain a bunch of experience in that type of sales pitch this past fall. What a grant proposal typically consists of a summary of the organizations goals, a presentation of a series of activities that the NGO plans to carry out, and a budget of those activities including the total amount you are asking for. So, we (the other girl and I) have narrowed it down to what grants we are applying for and will start the application forms shortly.
Following this, I will be traveling around to different communities giving a series of presentations on AIDS prevention, which I am excited about. Also, one of the major goals that we have is to show our NGO how to become an efficient organization all the while understanding the different speed of this culture. There is no hurry to do anything here; there is no sense of urgency, but there must be a sense of purpose.
There is a lot of good to be done at my placement. There are countless things that I will be able to help with, and at the end of the day, if I accomplish anything that I have listed above I know that a difference will have been made.

There is a part II to this post that will follow shortly, outlining my last 2 days, which may I tell you, have been the sketchiest of my life.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Rau Village

Yesterday, the group of volunteers took a day trip to the village of Rau. Villages and towns are very different in Africa. Towns are filled with shops and people and have cars and roads. Villages are the places that you see on the world vision commercials, with huts built from mud and people living in shockingly impoverished communities. Rau was no exception.

It started out as a fun day trip, we all brought cameras, we tasted the local 'banana beer', which has more of a wine taste than a beer taste, and we met the chief of the village. In the chief's living area, there were several chickens, goats, and a bunch of pigs that he kept to sell. He was not dressed in the spectacular clothes one would picture to complement the title of chief. He was wearing dirty, raggity clothing. He was an extremely nice man and encourged us to take pictures of his village. I certainly took this welcome openly, snapping a total of 250 pictures in the 2 hours we were at the village.

We saw poverty unlike anything I have ever seen, but another part of what we saw, something else unlike what is considered normal back home, was extreme happiness. The children, running through the village, between the mud huts, were laughing, smiling, holding our hands, and glowing with excitement. There is a sadness that passes over you when entering a place of such poverty, yet, the children made this adventure one of the happiest I have ever seen. They exemplified the true Tanzanian way of Hakuna Matata. They demonstrated that material things are not what makes happiness, and that as a society, the west is certainly worst off for our greed. Appreciate what you have, because it certainly is far more than you need to be happy.

I have learned so far that one of the best ways to make a child happy in the community is to take a picture of them and show it to them on your digital camera. They love to see themselves in a picture, as it is quite likely that many of them have never clearly seen their own face. Mirrors are a true luxury here. The innocence of the children, the way you can make their day with anything you do, is astounding.

The trip to Rau quickly went from an excursion filled with smiles to one of feeling true hopelessness. At the conclusion of our so called tour, we were invited into one more home. There we saw a teenager lying in bed, unable to move. His mother explained to us that two years ago, he fell out of a tree and hit his head, suffering significant brain damage. He lay there, bed bound, unable to talk... for two years. He would look at you, reach out and grab your hand, acknowledge you with his eyes - you could tell that he was present inside. She explained that he was unable to receive rehabilitation treatment because it was too expensive and the hospitals here did not have the proper resources to deal with such a severe injury. He will likely die in his bed in the not too distant future as a result of the suffering his body deals with because of his immobile situation. If this child were in the West, he would be walking, he would likely be speaking, and he would have a life. Yet, this is Africa.

The trip was concluded with a bus ride of solemn, quiet thought.

Regardless of how my trip started out, I was truly reminded why I am here. I am not here for the tourist attractions. I am here to make a difference. I am here to make a change in someone's life. I only hope that I can be successful at what I have set out to do.