“Open your eyes people, take a look around, catch the tears filling up all those cracks in the ground…Turn off your televisions, leave your picture perfect neighborhoods, a lotta folks out there ain’t doing so good. Too many of us left out in the cold, no invitations given, no welcome mats unrolled. But you can be the change you want to see. Be the hope to those whose lives are far from easy, reach out and lend a hand, share everything you can, and be the change… be the change. Carry the world on your shoulders for a little while. Put on someone else’s shoes and walk a mile. Too many cups running over while so many are going dry, the grass ain't always green on the other side. There’s still a lot of work to be done. A lot of wrongs to right a lot of battles to be won… We all talk about how it outta be because we know that talk is cheap, but the time has come to let our actions speak, its getting late, no time to waste, be the change you want to see…. Be the change you want to see. Be the hope to those whose lives are far from easy, reach out and lend a hand, share everything you can, and be the change… be the change.”
- Corey Smith
I have never been one to make a blog post filled with depressing stories or pictures that will guilt trip my readers.. that is not the point of this blog nor do I believe it is an effective method to use when trying to gain support from the public for a project. However, I read a quote that has a somewhat “guilt-trip” effect, and I read the quote for the first time many years ago, and have re-read it dozens of times since then… and I want to share it with all of you because it has been a constant reminder to me about how lucky I am, and I think we could all use a reality check every once in a while. “If you have food I your fridge, clothes on your back, a roof over your head, and a place to sleep at night, you are richer than 75% of the world. if you have money in the bank, in your wallet, and some spare change in your pocket, you are among the 8% of the world’s wealthy. If you woke up this morning with more health than illness, you are more blessed than the million people who will not survive this week. If you have never experienced the danger of battle, the agony of imprisonment or torture, or the horrible pangs of hunger and starvation, you are luckier than the 500 million people who are alive and suffering. If you are able to read this, you are more fortunate than the 3 billion people in the world who cannot read this at all… for they have never been taught to read, either because they couldn’t afford to go to school or because someone took their rights away and they weren’t allowed to receive an education or to learn."
Before I started working in Tanzania, this quote was simply words and statistics… when I read them, yea they broke my heart and made me feel sad, but after a few minutes, I would move on with my day and go back to complaining about materialistic things such as my weight, my appearance, or even about the cute guy I liked that didn’t like me back… whatever it was that I was complaining about and that was occupy way too much space in my mind was more important to me than the billions of people out there who were in dire need of love, support, and help. I have always cared about people. Since I was very young I wanted to make a difference in this world. and I saw many of the aforementioned statistics every week when I would feed the homeless in Austin. But the statistics regarding war, education, illness, and starvation didn’t become real for me until I came to Tanzania. The region that I am living in here in Tanzania is far from the worst of the worst. But at the same time, every single person that I come in contact with is fighting a battle that I know little to nothing about, or which I have never experienced myself. My babies here in Tanzania, who I have now dedicated my entire life to, and who call my mama and look to me for guidance and support have encountered more hardships in their short lives than I could ever imagine. I have too many orphaned children who are products of rape… other children who will not live the life they deserve to be able to live because they were born with HIV and are fighting for their life every day… children who were forced into child marriages before they were 10 years old, and then were forced to have children with their new husband, who was at least 50 years older then them, and had 15 other wives living in his home. There are children in my village who are unable to go to school because they cannot afford to pay for both their HIV medication as well as their education.. these children didn’t have any control over their current situation. They didn’t have some lapse in judgment and make a poor decision that resulted in some major consequence… they were simply born into this world and dealt this hand of cards… They are stuck in a vicious cycle of poverty and until someone comes along and reaches out their hand and decides to pull them from it, the cycle will continue on for generations to come. And unfortunately, this is the case for billions of individuals in this world. I am writing all of this for a reason… it is not to guilt trip anyone. But I know from my own life and experience that when we have been fortunate enough to be born into a family that can supply for us and pay for luxuries, and when we live in a developed country, and have access to all the things we could ever want or need, it is easy to forget that not everyone has the things that we have… it is easy to turn our heads and not see how many people need our help or how many problems there are, not only in the world, but in our own backyards. I worked at one of the poorest middle schools in Austin this past semester and met 7th grade students who were pregnant… others who were living in a single bedroom with 5 other family members, living on $14,000 a year… kids who had no one to help them with their homework because their caretaker was working two jobs to take care of them while their parents were incarcerated and in jail. These problems are affecting so many individuals around us, but since that are not personally affecting our lives, we often forget that they exist, and or we don’t see it as OUR problem… but it is our problem. This world is our world. it is our turn. Our responsibility to love our neighbors as ourselves…. Our turn to think about someone besides ourselves, and to remember that if we were in their shoes, we would hope that someone would want to help us and pull us out of these terrible situations and help us get a second chance at life. We cannot make all these problems go away over night. but we can do our part to invest in the lives of these children and show them that we believe in them and want to help build a better tomorrow for them...
The kids I am working with here in Tanzania deserve the best and so much more but I cannot give it to them on my own. They have taught me more about myself and about this life and how to love and about the world than I have learned throughout my 22 years of living.. They taught me things that my 12 years of private schooling didn’t teach me, or that I didn’t learn at an incredible university in America. they are bright, sweet, honest, individuals who want to go to school, and want to learn to speak English, and learn about the world and ways that they can help others… they cannot truly help themselves and they are still thinking of others… The amount of problems in this world are overwhelming, and while it is important to stay optimistic and think positively, at the end of the day, we must face reality and put our own needs aside and help out those in need.
I have spent the past two years of my life building my nonprofit organization, Neema International with the hopes of being able to fundraise enough money to build a new home for the 84 Tuleeni Orphans. While this is still our goal, and we are making incredible progress on the orphanage, we have a long way to go, and these children are not getting any younger... so there is something else that we must focus our attention on as well.. and it is the one thing that truly sets this orphanage apart from the others, and that is the children’s education. Mama Faraji cares more about these children’s education than anything else in the world and has dedicated the past 30 years of her life, starting when she was 23 years old, helping orphaned children, and sending them to school with the hopes that they will be able to build a successful future for themselves by using their education and knowledge as a foundation. Mama has done an incredible job making sure that every year, all 84 of our children are enrolled in school, even if it means, that we cut down on food or clothing or electricity... she has never failed in getting these kids to school.. but she is exhausted and needs our help. Aside from fundraising for the new orphanage, I have been working on finding sponsors for the children for schooling, so that I can eventually move all of them from public government schools, to private English medium schools, where they will receive the best education available in the region. We have been successful in transferring a couple dozen of our children to private schooling, but there are still too many in public schools, where the teacher to student ratio in each classroom is 1:70 vs private schooling where it is 1:25. I have started volunteering in the mornings again, at one of the local primary schools where I have taught in the past, and been teaching English, and helping these teachers manage classrooms with 70 students…
I have been working very hard with mama the past week on getting all of the children's school records and information in order. We have 7 children that are 7 or 8 years old, who are all attending the local government school, Mrapanga, where I have been teaching, and where Mama Faraji is the vice principal. It is nice having them there, because Mama can keep an eye on them, but we have ultimately decided that it would be in their best interest to be attending a private primary school instead of a government school. I am very excited about this switch, but in order for it to happen, we need to find these children sponsors for school. These 7 children are all either currently in Class 1 or Class 2, which is the grade level. Children start primary school at age 7 and finish at age 14, after completing class 7. The school year begins in January and ends in October or November. Children completing class 7 this year will take a national exam in November for entrance into Secondary School. We have 8 children completing class 7 this year, and I will be tutoring them daily, starting in August, in order to prepare them for their exam. Last year, Neema International teamed up with another organization called Toto Aid, which is an education based nonprofit that offers scholarships to Notre Dame or Edmond Rice, which are two of the very best private boarding schools in Kilimanjaro region-- These schools are very expensive but have success rates that are not to be believed. Toto Aid seeks out academically gifted orphans and pays for them to attend these schools, if they gain admittance to them following their national exams. We currently have three children attending these schools under Toto Aid sponsorship, and had another 8 lined up for the upcoming year. I just found out that Toto Aid will not be able to take on any new students this year, due to funding. They are holding a fundraiser in the upcoming months, which will hopefully be successful, for they do such an incredible job with the students they sponsor. However, in the meantime, I am now going to have to find other sponsors for these students for secondary school, since I cannot rely on Toto Aid to pay for them this year. Between these 8 children who I would like to have the opportunity to attend a private secondary school, along with the 7 youngsters who I am trying to transfer to private primary schools, we are in need of 15 sponsors before January. I am still continuing to fundraise for the new orphanage, but I have heard from individuals who have already donated towards construction, that they would be interested in paying for a child to go to school as well, and so I thought there might be more people out there who may have the same interest…. I have visited the private schools where our children would be attending school if they find a sponsor, and the schools are AMAZING. I am currently sponsoring two children for private schooling on my own, and am so pleased with my kids’ progress in school. I also have a few friends who have taken on kids to sponsor as well and we all agree there is no greater gift that you can give a child than the gift of education. I will be happy to give anyone information regarding school fees if they are interested in sponsoring a child. You can get a group of ten people together and put your money together told sponsor a single child… you will be changing these kids lives first hand, and they will be so excited.
Between the money needed to finish the construction for the new orphanage and the uphill battle of trying to find these kids sponsors, it has been hard for me to stay relaxed and positive… I have quotes all over my room and my house here in Africa, words that are inspiring and uplifting, especially in difficult times. They remind me that self-confidence can work wonders and mutual confidence can work miracles. “Believe that you might be that light for someone else”, “believe that you can make a difference” “believe in taking a stand” etc and these words have helped to encourage me, but I want to badly to give these children the best life that one can have, but cannot do it alone. No matter how hard I try, I cannot come up with the money alone…at the end of the day, it is up to the public to join me in the project and to be the change…
we have also been crazy busy sewing iPad cases to sell in order to raise money for construction and schooling.... each case has been named after one of the orphans and will include a picture of that child and his or her story inside the case, which you will receive in the mail when you order yours! See all the cases at www.facebook.com/neemaintl
The start to better work, or a better life, or a better future lies simply in our belief that it is possible. I believe it is possible. And I heard it said that when you have picked a dream that is bigger than yourself, that truly reflects the ideals that you cherish and that can positively affect others, then you will always have another reason for carrying on…. And no matter what kind of challenges lie before you, if somebody believes in you and you believe in your dream, it can happen…
I BELIEVE IN MY DREAM AND I BELIEVE IT CAN HAPPEN…. DO YOU???
Please, try and believe in me, and help me make this dream a reality. Donate today to www.neemainternational.org to be the change that we all wish to see in this world. every penny counts.