Saturday, July 27, 2013

The Time is Now!

 “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 

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…


Please, try and believe in me, and help me make this dream a reality. Donate today to to be the change that we all wish to see in this world. every penny counts. 

love always, 

Wednesday, July 17, 2013


The "22 in 22" event has ended and we reached our goal of $22,000 in 22 days!!! We are so very appreciative to have had so many people contribute to this project-- thank you guys so much!!! I went out to the new orphanage yesterday to get updates and take pictures and I was AMAZED when I saw the progress that has been made. The first floor walls and rooms have been completed and the second floor slab will be started next week!! While the "22 in 22" event has ended, we would still love to have you spread the word about our work with the Tuleeni Orphanage to all your friends and family and encourage them to donate so that they too can be a part of making the dreams of 84 orphans come true. 

Here are pictures of the construction!! We still have a lot of work to do, but this progress is so exciting! The new orphanage is so large, I could not get it all in one picture, but I got some of the different sides! The holes/spaces in between in the walls are for windows and doors, which will be put in later on! 

Many more to come!!!! 

Other fun story-- Mama Faraji calls me "mwanagu" which means "my child" in Swahili and she tells everyone here that I am her daughter, and about two weeks or so ago, Mama Faraji told the children that since I was her child, they should to call her Bibi, which means grandma, and to call me Mama instead... It was such a special moment for me. We all still call her Mama because we couldn't break that habit, but now, when I walk into the orphanage, all my little babies scream "Hi Mama!!" or "Hi Mama Neema". It is truly amazing to hear them call me Mama, and my heart is filled with joy every time they do it. 

Look for more pictures and stories coming this week!!! 

xoxo love always,

Thursday, July 11, 2013

The Next Chapter...

Sorry I haven't blogged in about two weeks--things have been crazy around here as usual! Enjoy the pictures of the kids below!!

These are just pictures of us all goofing around. In the top left corner, Samson, Mwita and I found a few corn stalks that fell over, and with these children and their imagination, we wound up pretending to be soldiers/warriors and the corn stalks were our weapons. Below that picture is of Tina and the kids-- she had painted all the girls' nails and the boys were so jealous, they wanted to join in the fun and begged tina to paint their toes as well. It was actually pretty cute! Both center pictures are of Lucky-- on top, Tina and him were wrestling, and Lucky grabbed Tina's leg and wouldn't let go... Tina was hopping around on one leg for about 5 minutes... soooo funny. Below, in the picture of Lucky and me, he was trying to be an "intellectual professor" after he found these random glasses, and proceeded to wear them very low on him nose like bifocals. 

Now for 4th of July pictures!

Tina and I dressed in red, white, and blue and put our USA tattoos on our face and walked down to Tuleeni super early that morning. We put tattoos on all the kids and then went inside where we made over 100 water balloons! We set up these "do it yourself" games that I found on Pintrest, both were amazing. First, we decided to do a sort of bean bag toss...but instead of bean bags, we used the water balloons. We picked team captains and made two different teams. Then we set up 5 different baskets/bowls on the ground, each with different point values, and drew a "stand here" line where the kids would toss the balloon from. In order for the points to count, the balloon had to stay inside the bucket and couldn't bounce out. After we played this game, we played a catch and throw game with the water balloons-- we cut 2 liter water bottles in half and just used the top part of them-- if your turn the top half upside down and hold it like an ice cream cone, it creates like a little bucket, and the kids tossed the water balloons back and forth catching them in the water bottle and tossing them by ONLY using the water bottle. The edges of the little water bottle catcher things were rigid, so the balloons often popped when the kids caught them, and then splashed water all over their faces! The LOVED the games. 

Here are our puppies!!! On the top left, Tina and me are holding two puppies that live at Tuleeni-- they are brother and sister. I am holding Simba and Tina is holding Nala. They are about 10 weeks old. On the top right, Tina and I are holding OUR puppies-- Bella is with Tina and Pendo with me. Lucky named Bella way back in January when she was first born. He wanted to name her Cinderella but I told him that was a really long name for a dog, and he picked Bella instead. She is about 8 months old. Tina and I took her to get all her shots and vaccines and now she lived with me and Pendo inside my new house :) Her and Pendo play AMAZINGLY together, which you can see in the picture on the bottom right. On the bottom left, Pendo is standing with my third dog, which used to be Edward's dog, which he named Edward. Everyone calls him Edwardi, and he is HUGE, but is such a love! He, Pendo, and Bella play all day long together, chasing chickens through the corn fields, and running in circles around my kitchen table. I love having three mutts :) Rescue dogs are the best!

Here are more pictures of us playing with the kids. Many African kids make extra money by doing acrobatic performances at dinners or events for tourists-- Tuleeni has their own little acrobatic group, and Tina and I thought it would be great if we taught them how to stunt so they could do it in their little shows!!! Tina single based Tumaini and then Tumaini and Godi held Awazi up in a prep. Tina and I also tried to do a liberty with Tumaini but he couldn't exactly figure out how to keep his leg bent up by his knee. The other kids were coloring and making friendship bracelets, while we stunted. Above the stunting pictures, Lucky and I are riding a bike through the bumpy streets of Rau-- I was peddling and Lucky was sitting on the actually bike in front of me, screaming every time we hit a little bump or swerved even the tiniest bit! He hopped off the bike as we approached the orphanage and looked at me and said "Thank you Madam, I will take it from here." Tina and I laugh at eveyrthing that this kid says... his vocabulary is rather extensive for a 12 year old and his witty comments are hilarious. On Saturday, Yusta and Mariam went back to school-- they go to an incredible Secondary boarding school called Kiraeni in Rombo, about an hour or so way from the orphanage. Tina has become a partial sponsor for Mariam, which is so exciting!! The four of us got to take a nice picture before they left! We will miss you girls so much!

On Saturday night, Edward and Adam took Tina and I to this BEAUTIFUL bed and breakfast/hotel resort about 30 minutes outside of Moshi called TPC. There is a nice bar and restaurant right next to a golf course, and on a clear day, you can see Kilimanjaro perfectly. The sunset that night was gorgeous, and the pink clouds reflected a light color of pink on the snow on the mountain, which was so pretty, but you cannot see it in the picture! We had drinks and appetizers at TPC and then headed back into town to have dinner. The four of us have had so much fun hanging out over the past month while Tina has been in town. 

Here are pictures from Tina's last few days with us in Tanzania. The kids already miss her like crazy.. and so do I. Having her here was a dream come true, and I am so glad that I was able to share my world here with her. I think she really enjoyed her time here and was able to get a pretty good idea of why I love this place so much. We hope to have her back as soon as possible but are wishing her the best of luck with grad school! We are missing you always dada Tina!




Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Kids like us should wear a warning!

This week has been incredible. Tina and I went on so many little adventures and excursions and had the best time.

On Monday the 24th, we celebrated my 22nd birthday/two year anniversary with the orphans!

The middle picture of Tina and me holding the two boys is one of my favorite pictures ever. Tina is holding Mwita and I am holding Samsoni. They had terribly rough lives prior to coming to Tuleeni with their little brother and their mother, but not that they are with us, they have been growing up beautifully and have such bright futures ahead of them. I have always had a special bond with these two little rugrats, but they clicked just as well with Tina, and the four of us have really had a ball together over the past few weeks. 

The top left picture is of Tina and I teaching about 40 children how to do the Gangnam Style dance. The birthday party was amazing-- all of our children and dozens of other children from the village came to celebrate with us. We made Pilau for dinner which is a Tanzanian dish, very similar to chicken fried rice/stir fry. My other best friend Erin sent me to Africa with tons of birthday decorations and supplies to use with the kids on my birthday. Tina brought balloons and decorations for us to use as well--- we filled a room with everything they gave me and the kids were stunned by the mass of color and decorations. After my party, Edward took Tina and me out to dinner for my birthday at a delicious restaurant called Ten2Ten. It was an incredible birthday!!!

Tina, Pendo and I went on a day trip to the Hot Springs this week! It is about an hour drive down the bumpiest road in the world.... and then in the middle of a desert, there are a handful of trees, and enclosed in the trees is this stunning spring with the clearest most beautiful water. There were tons of local children who were playing in the shallowest part of the water, for none of them knew how to swim, but their smiles were darling and their laughter filled the air. They were on a field trip with the Sisters from their church. I loved knowing that their church was able to supply them with an awesome opportunity like this. While Tina and I were thrilled to see them, it was a little awkward having these children around as well as the sisters there--- some of you may not know this, but in many parts of Africa, women and girls do not show their knees--- we wear long dresses, skirts and sometimes pants-- but not for swimming... they say it is okay to wear a bathing suit when you swim, which makes sense, but in the past when I have gone swimming in Tanzania, there are usually just tourists around... having the place filled with locals as Tina and I stripped down to our bikinis was BEYOND awkward, so we decided to at least keep our shirts on while swimming. At the hot springs, there is a giant rope swing attached to an extremely high tree. Tina and I decided to be adventurous and climb up to the top of the tree to jump into the water! The pictures above show us falling from a very very high tree, as well as the pictures of us with the local children! Pendo sat around and barked every time we jumped in the water, as if we were drowning.. however, she did not get in the water. There were too many people around and she was very overwhelmed. I am glad she came with us though!

On Wednesday afternoon, Tina and I took a long walk through Rau with Pendo and her dog Bella. After the walk, Edward picked me up at the orphanage and took me to go and meet the landlord of the house that I have been thinking about renting for the time I am here. I love living at the orphanage, but Pendo, Tina and I are all in a small room, and I was having a lot of trouble getting my work done with the children running around and Pendo barking all the time-- so Edward suggested that I look into moving into his old house which is literally a 4 minute walk from the orphanage. He took me to go see it and I fell in love with it. It is stunning-- 3 bed rooms, a living room, a study, a kitchen and dining room, 2 bathrooms, 2 showers, etc. They said I could move in on Sunday the 30th! So exciting. 

On Wednesday night, Adam and Edward told Tina and me that they were taking us out of town for the night to a near by little place called Lake Chala. It was a 45 minute drive to the campsite that was filled with tents and beautiful straw huts-- it looked like a beach resort mixed with a campsite. The four of us had dinner by the lake next to a bonfire that they had made for us. We stayed up for hours looking at the stars, listening to music, chatting, and enjoying the cool breeze from the lake. When we woke up the next morning, we were greeted with a lovely breakfast next to the lake where we could watch the sunrise. When we first arrived there, it was dark, so we couldn't see all the scenery. We were amazed at the beauty of the area, and the clarity of the sky allowed us to see the small mountains/hills in the distance that Edward informed us was actually the border of Kenya. We had a wonderful time. 

Edward and Adam went away on a Safari this weekend with a huge group of kids from CCS (Cross Cultural Solutions) and so Tina and I stayed home at the orphanage with the kids. We had a great time hanging around on Thursday and Friday, but then I got some very sad news on Saturday morning... When I was here two years ago with CCS, we had the most amazing staff-- not only at the base house, but our drivers, who would drive us to our volunteer placements everyday were these young guys who EVERYONE loved spending time with. My driver that summer was a man named Richard. Richard was the one who brought me to Tuleeni on my 20th birthday and introduced me to the children. On friday night, he was out in Moshi with some friends and was not feeling great. He told his friends he was going to go home and sleep and that hopefully he would feel better the next day. The next morning, Richard did not wake up, and had passed away in his sleep. They are running tests to find out the cause of death, but it seems to look like a natural yet tragic health complication that occurred while he was asleep. I was heartbroken when I heard the news, as was everyone who knew him. He was in his late 20's or very early 30's and had such a zest for life. He will always have a special place in my heart for he was one of the people who helped me to fall in love with Tanzania. 

Miss you already Richard. Rest In Peace.

On Sunday afternoon after church, 20 of our children, Tina, and myself got dressed and headed to Zumba Land. 

In the middle of the pictures below, there is another beautiful picture of Mwita, Samsoni, Tina and Me. I want to print this one out and put it in a frame next to the one of the four of us from my birthday!

When I took the kids there last year, the complex had not been completely finished, and the pool was not open yet. Last year, I put all the kids in cabs to get there, which was outrageous, espceically considering how close the park is to the orphanage. So this year, we decided to take our kids who are about 9 years old - 17 years old, and we walked there! It is a very scenic walk through the dirt back roads and trees. Mwita (7) and Samsoni (5) were the two youngest ones we brought with us that day. We wound up carrying them on our backs half the way because their legs were too short to walk fast and keep up with the rest of us. All the children decided that they wanted to swim at Zumba land instead of spending time on all the inflatable slides and bounce houses. Tina and I told them their wish was our command, and we proceeded to jump into the FREEZING cold swimming pool in our clothes that we would be walking home from the park in later that evening. There was a shallow end at the pool and the kids splashed around for about 2 hours. I have successfully taught little Hellen how to swim, and I am so proud of her. The rest of them are still learning. We had a wonderful time at the park, and left around 6pm to start walking home before it got too dark. Tina and I dropped our kids off at home, and then proceeded to our new house!!! I had dropped all our bags off at the new house earlier that morning while Tina was at church with the kids. We are all settled in already and having a great time here. Adam and Edward came over for dinner and a movie late on Sunday night to celebrate my new house--- even though they had been here millions of times together in the past, considering the house used to belong to Edward!

Here are just a few pictures of Tina and me with the kids from the week-- I love the picture in the top row, second from the left, of my sweet Lillian wearing an Alpha Phi shirt that I gave her. 

On Monday, I took Tina on a coffee tour-- coffee is Tanzania's cash crop and one of their biggest exports, if not the biggest. We went out to my friend Oscar's house, where he and his family have one of the most beautiful all natural coffee plantations in the area. Many parts of Tanzania have started using pesticides and other chemicals to help speed up the coffee bean maturation process. Many farmers have also started using chemically engineered hybrid coffee plants that are not pure organic coffee like that of the farmers whose plantations have been around for decades. Oscar's plantation has been growing for 65 years and was started by his great grandfather. He walked Tina through the entire coffee making process, and showed her how he and his family make a living. 

It has been an absolutely amazing week here in Tanzania and we are having the best time! I wish that Tina could stay here with me all year. I will miss her so much when she leaves. To all of you wonderful people who have donated to the "22 in 22" campaign, THANK YOU! We have raised a nice amount of money and still have 15 more days on the event ahead of us! Please share the event with your friends and encourage them to donate to help us build a beautiful new home for the Tuleeni Orphans. 

Love always,