Sunday, September 21, 2014

Construction Update

The construction of the new Tuleeni orphanage and community center is coming along beautifully!!! They have finished the first floor, (which includes the kitchen, library, computer lab, clinic/pharmacy, and vocational training/arts and crafts room)  the stairs, the second floor walls, bedrooms, bathrooms and have started the framing for the roof. Be a part of this INCREDIBLE project and help keep the construction going by donating today at every penny counts so much!!! 

Above, Jackie Weiss (Founder of Faraji Foundation) and me are laying a few bricks for the second floor walls! 


A friend of mine and a huge supporter of Neema International, Leslie Vice, was able to get over 50 pairs of Rainbows Sandals donated to Neema International… SOOOO amazing-- I have had the same pair of rainbows for over three years, and have worn them daily in tanzania and they have never ripped or broken or even been the slightest bit damaged. I truly believe they are the most durable sandals in the world and was a HUGE deal for us to get so many pairs of them. Thanks so much to Leslie and to the Rainbows Sandals' Team!!


The "Texas to Tanzania" project started off as a playful bet between a high school teacher named Nishta Mehra and her students at Emery (I graduated from Emery High School in Houston Texas and my little brother is a sophomore there now)-- the bet was that if she read five books, each being at least 300 pages, over spring break, each of her students had to bring a donation to school that they would then deliver to a charity-- if she didn't read the books, Mrs. Mehra had to wear an embarrassing banana costume to the school's basketball playoffs. Mrs. Mehra chose Neema International as charity for this project, and within a few days, the entire school got extremely involved and collected more donations, clothing, and school supplies than I have ever seen-- and to show her gratitude for their dedication to the project, Mrs. Mehra wore the banana costume anyways. Eve Baliff, the daughter of Bristow Group's CEO Jonathan Baliff happens to be a student at Emery, and she discussed with her father the possibility of Bristow helping to deliver the donations. Once Bristow Group got involved, this little spring break bet between a high school teacher and her students turned into something HUGE and life changing for all of those involved. 

After Mr. Baliff signed off on it, Bristow employee, Clayton Ray,  took the reins on the project and turned it into a reality. 

On August 16th, 2014, about 25 of the Tuleeni children, Mama Faraji, and myself piled up into cars and anxiously drove to the Moshi Airport where the Bristow Group helicopter was planned to arrive. The remainder of the children, as well as another 50+ children from the village filled up the orphanage gates back in Rau and waited for the helicopter to pass overhead-- they all waved and held signs and jumped up and down as the helicopter circled about 5 times over the village!! One of the matrons at Tuleeni called me and all I could hear was screaming, laughter, and SO MUCH EXCITEMENT coming from all the children and villagers-- they had NEVER seen anything like it, and sadly/hilariously at the same time, a few of them ran into their houses thinking it was a war plane or something-- I couldn't help but laugh when I heard this!! 

Meanwhile, the kids, Mama and I waited for the arrival of the helicopter at the nearby airport/helicopter landing strip in Moshi, about 3 kilometers from our village.

Once the helicopter landed, the pilot came and greeted all of us-- he was accompanied by the 4 other crew members and Clayton Ray, who was our contact back in Houston-- he flew to Tanzania just for the event!! The pilot, Steve Martin taught our children about how the helicopter works, and they all got a chance to sit in the pilot's seat and in the back of the helicopter and wear the sound canceling headphones that all the crew wears while in flight. I do not know if I have EVER seen the kids so happy… their laughter and smiles are forever etched in my memory. 

Ericki sitting with Pilot, Steve Martin

After we unloaded the boxes and took a bunch of pictures, we took the children home and Mama Faraji and myself went out to lunch with the Bristow Group crew and even got to take them out to see the new orphanage!! Then, they surprised Mama and me and took us up in the helicopter for a short ride! We got to fly over the orphanage and see all the children waving below-- Mama had never been up in the air and her smile and laughter and excitement warmed my heart so so much. The Bristow Group crew gave me a cash donation for Neema International and the children and even expressed their interested about potentially forming a more long term partnership with Neema!! Really such an incredible day. 

Then, to make the day even better, we got to open the boxes back at my house!! Only 11 of the 42 boxes came with the helicopter. The rest of the boxes arrived two days later in a massive moving truck. There were soooo many amazing donations and items of clothing and so much organization and storage supplies/shelving units-- we were speechless!! 

The children in the village came up to me the morning after to tell me about "the awesome big flying thing that came by the village on Saturday!!" The excitement, wonder, and bliss in their eyes warmed my heart and I truly believe that just seeing the helicopter over head was one of the most exciting things they have ever witnessed. As for the Tuleeni children who came to meet you all at Moshi Airport-- I do not think I have EVER seen them as happy as they were while sitting in that helicopter… and when they got home, they started telling all their friends and the villagers about this "really nice pilot Mr. Steve" who let them sit in his helicopter. Truly such an amazing experience for them all!!

The Jewish Herald Voice printed an article about the Texas to Tanzania project in their newspaper and online as well… here is the link to the article!!



This is little Yusta. I met Yusta when she was about 11 months, and she will be 4 in January 2015-- CANNOT believe how grown up and beautiful and smart she is… really such a pleasure getting to watch her turn into such an awesome kid! 

sweet sweet Jonathan.

Karen, Happy, and Violet playing dress up with some clothes that were donated to the orphanage

Lucky, Dignah, Gunde, Liliani, Hellen, Samson, Karen, Ismaeli, and me playing at the orphanage one evening :)

Karen in her new pretty dress! 

Awazi looking cute as ever!!

Hellen and Anna, both enrolled at Sangiti Secondary School, were invited to the graduation ceremony for St. Louis (the private school they attended for primary school) where they were honored in front of the whole school and all the parents and then presented with an small gift and certificate for their extraordinary performance on their Primary 7 National Exams last year in 2013. So proud of their hard work!!!

Above is a picture from St. Louis Primary 7 Graduation-- Very special day for me because these beautiful smart boys, Jonas (Left) and Lucky (Right) are the two children that I personally sponsor and they have become like sons to me… Lucky was awarded with two additional gifts that day-- he was third overall in grades and performance at the school as well as FIRST in English and was honored for these amazing achievements. Jonas did very well too-- I believe he was 12th in overall performance, which is beautiful as well!! SO amazed with these young men everyday and am SOOOOO lucky to be their sponsor, mom, friend, and mentor. I love you both so much and am so so so proud of you. I know you will go on to do incredible things in your lives and make a difference in the world. 


Earlier this year, a family friend named Evans Finger put together one of the coolest projects I have ever witnessed/been lucky enough to be a part of!!

Evans put together a One World Futbol campaign for Neema International. The One World Futbol is a nearly indestructible ball that never needs a pump and doesn't go flat-- even if it is punctured by a thorn! These soccer balls are ideal for children living in villages like ours here in Tanzania where there aren't nice groomed soccer fields and instead we play on dirt fields filled with rocks, thorns, class and other objects that can easily puncture a regular soccer ball. Many children prefer to kick around a coconut covered in socks or rubber bands instead because it is more durable than a normal soccer ball--- but that was before Evans was able to collect 30 One World Futbols for Neema International!!!

I kept many of the balls for the Tuleeni Orphans to use both now and especially for the new orphanage 
that we are building in Uru… however, I took about 12 balls and donated them to a variety of different groups of children here in Tanzania. We passed out the soccer balls to the impoverished primary and secondary schools, other orphanages, and to a near by after school community center/club that many children in the village go after classes or even on the weekends. 

Above are some of the Tuleeni Orphans with me when we received the One World Futbols. 

Above, the kids are checking out how the balls self-inflate without a pump… SO COOL!

My good friend Becca Sliwoski was the director of an AMAZING school called the O'Briend School for the Maasai for the past two years-- The school is located in the middle of a Maasai village, which is very very very rough terrain/landscapes-- We were able to get them a One World Futbol and I have been informed that it is still going strong and has no punctures or problems :) SOOO awesome! 

Thanks so much to Evans and all others that were involved in helping us make this project possible!!!


So sorry to all of the AMAZING Neema International followers and supporters for the MAJOR delay in blog updates… this here have been BEYOND BEYOND BEYOND busy-- June is the start of "high season" in tanzania for safaris and climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro, and therefore, with the huge flood of tourists brings a flood of volunteers as well, and we have been swamped!! THRILLED with all the help, but still swamped and busy :) Anyways, below is a recap of some exciting events that have occurred over the last several months! Hope you enjoy!!

In June, Neema International launched its annual fundraising event in honor of my birthday and anniversary with the Tuleeni Orphans. This year's campaign was called "LIGHT UP A LIFE." It began on June 24th, which was my 23rd birthday and THREE YEAR anniversary with the Tuleeni Orphans-- crazy how time flies-- and the event ended a month later on July 24th. I posted the campaign poster which included all campaign details below:

My birthday/the light up a life celebration was FABULOUS and we had so so much fun.

We even bobbed for oranges, which was HILARIOUS!!! 


Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Tuleeni has shoes!!

Got these amazing shoe donations in the mail! So exciting! Thanks Rachel Ivanhoe and Deborah Sondock and all of you who contributed!!! 

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Amazing rainy day donations!

Got these amazing donations over the past few weeks!!! Thanks to all of you for your help in keeping us dry from the rain!!! 

Rainy season made fun!!!!