Sunday, September 21, 2014


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!!


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