“So, am I not a person?”

19 May 2009

A few weeks ago I received a call about a 17 year-old girl in serious need of help.  I was told she was in Form 4 (last year of high school) but had the look of a 7th grader.  She came to Mama Grace without even knowing her, but was told by another stranger she had asked for help that this woman, Grace, could help her.  Mama Grace, already overextended in her generosity to help send children to school, could not help Elizabeth, but felt like she was something special.  Elizabeth came to her not even asking for school fees, but instead asking for work so she could earn the money to send herself to school.  Mama Grace was impressed and called me to ask for my help.  A week later, Ryan (I met him when I first came to CCS and he is back now staying with me for a while) and I met Elizabeth together with Mama Grace.  She’s very pretty and well spoken and told us her story.  Her parents have both passed away and she is now living with a grandmother and her two younger siblings.  She has been shuffled around a bit between two different grandmothers who both seem unable to provide for her what she needs most: education and steady meals.  She lives far from town where she attends school and often cannot afford the Tsh 200 (15 cents) transportation fare.  And when they come around in school to kick out those who haven’t paid school fees, she finds a place to hide until the coast is clear.  Ryan was taken by her immediately and he agreed to sponsor her school fees to finish Form 4 this year while I agreed for Knock to pay for her books and notebooks.  Ryan’s agreement with her was that if she passes well enough to get into a good government boarding school for Forms 5 and 6, he will sponsor her for those years as well.  She wants to be a journalist.  She was so happy, as were we.  We agreed to meet her at school the following week to pay her fees and bring her the books and notebooks she needs.  Upon arriving at school, she was waiting outside and gave both Ryan and me huge hugs.  It wasn’t until this day that we observed that she speaks fantastic English!  And as Mama Grace pointed out, she will be a great journalist – she wasn’t shy at all bringing the three of us all around school, showing us the different classrooms and areas where they have their daily discussions.  She was impressive and we all left that day feeling like we had done a really great thing.  Ryan and I bought a school bag for her later that week and met to give it to her as well as transportation money, which we also agreed to pay.

The planning of the buildings of the new Matumaini has already been a learning experience, especially for someone who knows little about and has had no experience with architects, surveyors, and building plans.  But like everything else here, it’s intense on the job training :).  Mr. Mambo chose an architect for the job and negotiated the cost all before I met him.  He works for the government as the Moshi Municipal Technical Education Officer, which means he’s in charge of overseeing all school constructions in Moshi.  He has a diploma in architecture and sometimes does work on the side.  Mr. Mambo was impressed with a building he built at one primary school and thus felt that he would be a good choice.  Initially, he was ok and we met a few times, he drew a few sketches, Knock paid him a down payment, and all seemed to be heading the right direction.  Then Ryan, a friend of mine who happens to work in real estate in the US and has a great background in construction, came to Tanzania and helped me to realize what I may have already been feeling, that this guy wasn’t our best bet.  His drawings seemed amateurish, he hadn’t ordered a survey of the land (instead he insisted that it wasn’t so necessary because the land is ‘basically flat’ to which Ryan explained to me that surveys are always necessary), he was already complaining that the work was very burdensome and of course he would need more money to continue.  Unfortunately for many people here, I have little patience when asked for money in a manner that seems inappropriate, so that turned me off and I began to feel like my confidence in his abilities was waning and Ryan was helping me to see that we should really find someone else.  I have also recently spoken with a woman who was involved in the construction of a new building for Amani, a center for street children here in Moshi.  They pretty much had a horror story experience starting from the architect and continuing all the way to the contractors, so I do not want to take any chances.  Lastly, I’m getting a ton of advice from anyone and everyone who knows a thing or two about this and I feel completely over my head.  After a few days of feeling like I was in way over my head and couldn’t accomplish this one my own, I’ve had three extremely long and productive days, interviewing several architects and references and having a long discussion with my Dad about more questions I need to be asking and information to ascertain.  I won’t bore you with all of the details of the last few days, but a lot of progress is being made and you will be updated as we continue this process.  The next step is receiving preliminary sketches and price quotations.

Great story:
I was sitting with Eriki at Matumaini a few days ago and for some reason I started explaining to him the discrimination of blacks in America, slavery, and the Civil Rights Movement.  He couldn’t really wrap his head around the idea that whites would look at blacks as inferior.  He said, “If anyone told me that, I would just say ‘I have a nose, you have a nose.  I have a mouth, you have a mouth.  I’m speaking English and you’re speaking English.  So am I not a person?”  I smiled at the innocence and simple and undeniable intelligence of children and the way they view the world.  It was a magical moment.

Easy Fundraising Idea:
We have a great fundraising idea that we know every single one of you could easily arrange.  Many restaurants and small eateries and even grocery stores will donate their profits from a day or evening to a nonprofit organization.  The key is the distribution of coupons you make which describe the percent of donation and encouraging everyone you know and everyone they know to go.  The restaurants are inclined to do this on their quietest day…it is a win win!  My temple did this with California Pizza Kitchen and raised over $700 on a Monday night.  Our friend Lindsay is planning to do this at her Jamba Juice in Florida.  And another friend, Amy, just did this at a restaurant in Ohio where she’s at school.  If many of you took the initiative to find a place near you and plan such an ‘event’, Knock could be the recipient of a great deal of money.  Please think about it and be in touch if you would like to do so.  Thank so much in advance.



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