Year 3

kristle with Rama

Looking back to the Maryknoll Lay Missioners Orientation in New York October of 2013, Michael, Ashley and I received important information about preparing ourselves for the 3 1/2 year contract serving abroad in mission.  They told us our first year of mission would be utter chaos as we would learn a new language, adjust to a new culture, way of life, and people who think differently.  New jobs, new friends, and we left everything behind out of love for God and love for people.  They told us the second year we would build trust and mutual relationships with the people.  We would continue learning and getting into a routine of how things work. Then the 3rd year is when we would be on our feet and making the most impact of the entire mission experience.

Here it is.  This January 2016, I entered into year 3.

I don’t know what this year will bring, but it feels like it is already off to a good start.  We made a few necessary changes in our public health office, and already I can feel us working and thriving better than ever before.  We have finally been able to start making prescription glasses first recorded back in our 4 days of eye care clinics (see post “Giving Sight to the Blind”). In the pictures are two women who received their new glasses.  They were so happy and incredibly grateful, one of them kissing my hand in between her words (took me off guard! but I smiled and laughed right along with her).

We are currently in negotiations with local dentists to do a dental clinic screening and on-sight treatment.  We are planning ahead for natural medicine seminars as well as first aid seminars where we will invite the local community members of Mabatini to come learn more about preventative health methods.  Our office morale is high and motivated as we are about to take on 2 new physical therapists and one new health educator.  Our aim will be to empower the mothers of disabled children to know how to do the physical therapy themselves and get connected with government aid.  Our new health educator will visit the schools in Mabatini providing sessions of health topics such as good hygiene, taking care of the environment, diseases ect.  An accomplishment I’m happy to share, is that I had applied for a grant at the beginning of last year, and just recently we have been awarding funding in the amount of 6 million Tanzanian shillings (the equivalent of about $3,000).  With this funding we will be able to pay for our new employees, buy new physical therapy equipment, and send a few disabled young people to trade schools.  So at the moment there are many exciting things going on at work!

Today is also Valentine’s Day so I want to wish all of you much love and joy today!  As I was reflecting recently, I thought to myself, that the greatest gift we can give people is our acts of love.  Acts of love are particularly special gifts because they are the gifts that will continue to give long after the single moment of giving has passed.  When we give our love, in whatever form (five love languages: words of affirmation, gifts, acts of service, physical touch, time), this implants a loving memory in the mind of the one we are giving to.  Then long after the moment has passed, days, months, years, the person can look back and remember your gift, thus living the love all over again in that present moment.  For example, in the times when I feel lonely or down, I take the time to relax and think about the many moments in life where people made me feel so very loved.  Moments at birthdays, hugs, and special memories bring up the feeling of peace and love within me in the present moment as I’m thinking about those moments.  We can do this as often as we want and continue to feel the love here and now, even when it was given a long time ago.  Perhaps this is why love is eternal.  Love is the most powerful, beautiful, mysterious, frightening, life-giving, healing, motivating force in the world.  I’m glad we have a day to celebrate it.  I’ll end by saying “may this force be with you”! 😀

 

 

 

Mission through Dance

Something that has been very life-giving in mission has been dancing with the locals.  Back  in May I met the Boma dance group here in Mwanza.  I saw them perform at the charity craft fair and I was so impressed by their traditional African dances!  I wanted to learn.  I asked if I could attend their practices just to “observe”.  I started going to their practices once a week every Wednesday.  After about 4 or 5 weeks of just going, observing, and being present, the dancers offered to teach me a few of their moves.  They were amazed when I was able to keep up with them!  It’s now November and we’ve been building our relationship ever since.

Since September I have also been teaching ballroom and latin dance classes at the Fortes Gym.  I decided it would be a wonderful idea for the Boma boys to join the classes to step out of their comfort zone and become more well rounded dancers by learning salsa, waltz, tango, cha cha etc.  I worked out a sort of deal with the gym owner, and he gave permission for 5 boys to join the classes each week for free! (otherwise they wouldn’t be able to afford to attend).  So each week the boys join in on my classes and learn ballroom and latin dances.

This exchange of dance experience brought in a new found respect between me and the Boma dance group.  Instead of being just the white girl that kept coming to their dance practices, I became the honorable teacher coming to learn their dances.  So the boys have been teaching me a traditional Sukuma dance complete with swinging a hoe around our bodies and a more contemporary song by Shakira (below).

I’m absolutely loving this dance relationship with the Boma boys.  To me, this feels the most like mission: to build a mutually respectful relationship across cultures that benefits and transforms both sides.  They boys sometimes like to pray at the end of their dance practices.  When we huddle up in a circle, I bow my head, and look down at our feet and see one pair of white feet and a dozen pairs of black feet.  Then I think to myself, “wow, I’ve really stepped out of my own comfort zone and have successfully inserted into this Tanzanian culture through dance.”  Then I smile to myself.

Below is our latest practice.  I made a ton of mistakes, but not too horrific for my first run through with the boys!  It’s a good thing they are so patient with me ;P

Keep Fighting On

*Cue the the lightning storm, the creepy castle, and the crazy doctor*

…She’s…Aliiiiiiiive!!!!

Hey everyone!  So yes, I know I seemed to have fallen off the planet Earth for the last few months, so I’m here to just say hello and that I’m still alive! 😀

A LOT has been going on.  It’s funny, the general feel of life in Tanzania is very slow paced, yet somehow I still feel like my head is spinning with so much to do.

The few months prior to August, I was preparing for a group of Americans to come and check out our Maryknoll Lay Missioner’s work.  It was quite a job being the coordinator of the trip.  The guests came, enjoyed, and went, and I’m still trying to finish up reports and post trip work.  Overall I think it was a very successful trip with only a few challenges.

Here are the FAB guests arriving on their first day here in Tanzania. Our missioners came to greet them at the airport!

Here are the FAB guests arriving on their first day here in Tanzania. Our missioners came to greet them at the airport!

In other news, I have to admit I have been struggling with my motivation here in TZ.  Sometimes the daily challenges become overwhelming.  Before coming I didn’t expect to be treated so differently by the locals, but I guess now it makes sense.  But everyday I have to live with someone yelling out at me “Hey! Mzungu (white person)! Give me money” or “Hey baby, *kissy noises*”.  It gets quite tiring some days and it makes me want to punch someone in the face.  (Of course I resist that urge).  Not all people are that disrespectful, but some are.  But I have to remember that we missionaries didn’t come for the appreciation or gratitude from our work.  Even Jesus himself was betrayed, mocked, and abandoned by the people he loved, healed, and served.  I’m getting a taste of what that must have felt like.

I’ve been reaching out to my family and friends for support.  All of your comments, phone calls, emails, and donations help keep me going to serve those who really do need help.

Speaking of which, we have started receiving eye glasses for the people from our previous eye clinics.  It is quite wonderful!  And I feel happy when people come in to get their new glasses.  PS. Thank you those of you who have donated for the eye glasses!

I’ll stop there for now.  I’m really going to try to get back to posting once a month.  Maybe shorter posts each time to stay motivated to keep it up. 🙂

Wishing you love and peace wherever you are in the world,

For those times when we feel like giving up:

Giving Sight to the Blind

20150413_114934      Hello everyone!  I’m happy to update you on some exciting things I’ve been working on lately!  In the last few weeks, my focus at work was eye care for the people of Mabatini.  It was an incredible and unexpected blessing that a major donor wanted to sponsor 20 eye surgeries for those with cataracts or other eye problems.   This was fantastic news because I always see people with eye problems who come to our office looking for assistance.  I remember meeting one lady who had cancer in her eye.  When I saw her, there was no eye ball left, but only the lid that covered the space where her eye should have been.  So when this donor offered this great opportunity I totally jumped at it! 😀

We held a screening on two different days where anyone and everyone were welcome to come be looked at by the doctor for free.  In just these two days, the doctor screened 166 people!  It was incredible!  And more were still coming the last few hours on the last day. Justin did an awesome job registering people as they came in the door and handing them a number.  Then, Natalie would do a basic eye screening before the people would see the doctor.

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We were mainly looking for the ones that needed surgery.  We found 15 people, but only 10 ended up having surgery (the others either 20150409_102824didn’t come back or were too afraid).  Mr. Jemsi Joni (pictured at the top) was one of the first to get surgery.  He had cataracts in both eyes, along with major scarring.  He had surgery in one eye so that he would be able to at least have some kind of decent vision.  The last time I talked to Dr. Kaji, he said that all 10 people who had surgery went in for their follow ups and were all doing well!

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Dr. Kaji examining a patient

 

20150411_113048Also, what we found was that many people didn’t necessarily need surgery, but needed medicine (eye drops) or glasses.  Each person that needed them, were fitted for prescription distance or reading glasses.

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Fitting for glasses

After the surgeries and the eye screenings, I went back to the donor and explained all that had happened and what we had discovered.  With some negotiation, he then decided to provide the eye drops for all the people that needed them.  I ended up buying 76 bottles of eye drops!  Unfortunately though, the glasses are much more expensive and he could not promise to provide them.  However he did ask me to write up a proposal for the local Lion’s Club to see if they might help sponsor some or all of the 93 pairs of needed glasses (each at about $20 each).  So we’ll see what happens, but I’m hoping our prayers for glasses will be answered, so that the people of Mabatini will have access to the eye care they so need.

The eye drops

Eye drops

In other news, little Katherine, who I mentioned in a previous post last year, turned one year old in April. I feel a special connection to this little one because she was born a few days after my birthday, and she was born when I first got here to Tanzania.  I feel a parallel with her because as she is getting bigger and growing into an adorable little girl, I have been growing in my experience as a missioner learning so much about life and who I am at the core.

20150428_135804 20150428_135947I was invited over to their house for a birthday celebration for Katherine.  They live on the side of a mountain, so I had to hike a bit up to their house.  Mariamu made chai and chappatis and we sat around talking for a while.  I brought Katherine a little present, a pink and blue rattle I had found in town.  It was probably her first and only toy that they own, but oh my goodness, how it made her laugh and smile!!  Usually Katherine is pretty expression-less, but I have never seen her smile and laugh so much!!  We had a great time watching her play.  It was definitely a special day!

Wishing you all much love and joy! ❤

Happy Easter!

Wow, so much to catch up on!  So I went back to the US for the month of February and got to visit as many friends and family as I could squeeze in.  It was so nice to see everyone, and was just what I needed.  Did plenty of ballroom dancing, ate lots of sushi, went to the movie theater, and spent time with great people 😀  I got my fill of these things before having to head back to Tanzania.  I do wish I could have made it up to see all my favorite people in San Francisco, but I guess that will need to be another time.  When I left the US I felt great.  Having been wrapped in love for an entire month, I felt the wind in my sails guiding me back to continue the work to be done in Mwanza.

When I got back, I hit the ground running. So much to do!  We are currently trying to move our medicinal herb garden closer to the parish, so it’s been taking a good chunk of time planning for that, going back and forth from the water department getting quotes for putting a pipe in the area, as well as getting quotes for building a wire fence.  I’ve been getting caught up on finance reporting for our office as well as have been continuing planning the Friends Across Borders trip in August.  On top of this, just last week, a large donor decided he wanted to sponsor 20 eye surgeries for the people we serve in Mabatini.  So last week I started taking people to the doctor to see if they qualify for surgery.  I’m really excited for this recent opportunity because I’ve seen people with terrible eye problems coming to our office seeking help.  This donor wanted to help people have their eye sight back and I can only be grateful for those who desire to “give sight to the blind”.

eye care

So there has been a lot going on keeping me busy busy busy!  I was thankful for the Easter holiday, because we get a few extra days off to rest and re cooperate.  Easter mass was lovely with all the beautiful decorations and liturgical dancers (some with fire bowls on their heads), but I have to admit it was the longest mass I had ever been to (nearly 3 hours long).  I think what made the celebration the most special was bringing a teenage boy with cerebral palsy to mass.  He can’t walk and can barely speak, but he wanted to go to Easter mass to pray.  So Margaret and I picked him up before mass (he had to be carried by other young men to get him into and out of the car).  He seemed quite content all throughout mass and afterward he was taken home.  I was glad that this poor kid could come join in on this special occasion, to be with others and to enjoy the celebration. 🙂

My friend Kat reminded me of the Easter season being one of new beginnings.  I’ve certainly heard that several times before, but this time it really made sense to me.  I think I am entering into a season of new beginnings now.  I’m not sure what all it will entail but I feel it in my spirit.  I think God is always gently guiding us back to our true selves, and this time in Africa has been one of discovery and experimentation learning more about who I am and how I react to things at the core.  Now that I have uncovered some things, both pretty and not so pretty, I think now I can work my way back to that beautiful true self that I want to be.  So I say karibu! “welcome” to this season of new beginnings.

Below is a video that touched my heart when I first saw it a few years ago.  It reminded me that no matter how far we feel, no matter what we do in this life, we are never too far out of the reach of Unfathomable Love.

A Brand New Year

Wow, I can’t believe so much time has gone by in between posts!  I feel as if I’ve been going a mile a minute since my last post.  Since I missed the holidays, let me take a moment to say I hope you all had a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!  My good friend Kat gave me the idea of giving a word label to different years.  My word to describe this past year would be “chaos”, but this year I’m hoping my word will be “rhythm”.  A whole year has passed by since I left my home in the US, moved to Tanzania, Africa, learned a new language, began adjusting to a new culture, got a new job, made new friends, and developed hobbies.  It’s really been a whole new life.  What a year!  And I’m hoping, now that I’m a little more used to life here, that things will get into more of a rhythm.

New Update!  After months of searching, I finally found my own little place! 😀  Its a little one bedroom place inside a safe compound in an area called Kilamahewa.  I have two bathrooms, a good size kitchen, and a little sitting area.  There are good neighbors, and a great guard.  I just moved in a few weeks ago and have been running around like crazy trying to make it livable (ie: getting the stove to work, installing a water heater for the shower, getting furniture in etc).  This was a wonderful Christmas present and an awesome way to start the new year.

Work update:  Thank you to those of you who have donated to my ministry account (following the steps under the Support tab).  I was able to build the Tippy Tap that I mentioned in the last post, and it’s sitting right in front of the church bathrooms.  The only challenge is getting people to want to take ownership of it, cleaning, refilling ect., instead of our staff doing that.  In other news, some of the roles in my office have shifted a bit, and I’ve taken on some more responsibilities including the finances of our office.  I’m welcoming these new challenges and asking for your prayers to guide our work.

tippy tap

Awesome news!  I am making a trip home to the states this February for a month to rest, rejuvenate, and spend time with family and friends.  I will be in Southern California from February 4th to March 4th.  I would like to spend time with as many of you as possible, so if you would like to hang out please feel free to email me and we can try to set up a day and time.  Looking forward to seeing you soon!!

On a bit of a sadder note, in the past month I received news that my stepfather Mike O’Brien passed away from cancer.  This was a huge shock to me and many others.  I am becoming more and more aware of the preciousness of life, and how quickly it can all be over.  I have so many mixed feelings over this, especially because I wish our relationship had been on better terms before he left this world.  Some people are not always the easiest to get along with, but when it comes down to it, you always wish them well and hope that there will be some kind of reconciliation in the end.  But I am consoled by the fact that he was visited by several of his friends, and he wasn’t alone in such a difficult and scary time.  Wishing him a peaceful place in heaven, with endless rounds of golf.

mike

“If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.” – C.S. Lewis

This life is only our temporary home…

 

Good Work To Be Done

Hi everyone! I thought I’d write a little something on the work that I’m doing here in TZ, in case you are asking yourself, “what exactly is she doing over there?”.  Well here we go!

I work for the Mabatini Parish Public Health Office, and my position allows me to wear several different hats. If I were to break it down by what I spend most of my time doing it would be split between working with natural medicines, home visits, health education, and working towards sustainability for our health program.

1. A large portion of my time is spent learning about natural medicines, cultivating and harvesting them from our gardens, and helping in the management of packaging and selling the medicines to the Mabatini community (which is the most poor and densely populated area in Mwanza). One of the great things about this part of my ministry is that we sell these natural medicines at a very cheap price in hopes that the people can afford them and will use them for preventing diseases and conditions like malaria, amoeba, high blood pressure, malnutrition etc.  These medicines grow easily in the Tanzanian climate, so many people have the trees and plants right in their own back yard.  We try to do education in the schools and community to help the people know about these amazing and available resources.

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In the garden with some Artemesia. This plant helps prevent Malaria and is a main ingredient the medicine Doxycycline.

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Some of our medicines. They don’t look like much, but they do help.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2.  I have also spent a good amount of time with our physical therapy nurse Margaret, and we go up into the hills to do home visits to the sick and disabled.  Sometimes we do massage, physical therapy exercises, or we just check in with the client and see how they are doing. There is one young man I visited several times who can only walk with the help of crutches because a few years ago he was stabbed in the back near the spinal cord.  He sits in front of his house much of the time, and usually drags himself wherever he needs to go.  When I first met him, I never saw him smile.  He seemed so down and out, which I can only imagine the pain and struggle of what he’s gone through.  Slowly I got to know him a little better and found out that he likes to draw (and he wasn’t that bad at it either!).  So I emailed my friend Susan back in the states, who is a great artist and with whom I worked with at the St. Vincent de Paul Wellness Center.  I told Susan about this young man and his artistic talent.  Susan was amazing and ended up sending a huge box of art materials along with a donation.  I used the money to hire an art teacher to go up into the hills to visit Ramadani (the young man) and to teach him art.  After 3 lessons with the art teacher, I began noticing a huge difference in Ramadani.  He was smiling, laughing, and creating beautiful African art.  I witnessed life coming back to this young man and a sense of empowerment with his new found talent and skills.  He himself told the art teacher one day “I feel like my spirit is refreshed”.  It was an amazing change to see, and I told Ramadani, that if he could accomplish so much with art, that surely, with exercises and practice, I believe he will be able to walk again someday.  Margaret and I have already noticed improvement when he walks with the crutches.  Now we are encouraging him to continue his art as an income generating skill.  He is making many cards and paintings that hopefully he will be able to sell.  Overall I am very thankful for this experience with Ramadani and for the support back at home to help impact this young man’s life.

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Ramadani sitting on the ground, art teacher to the right, and me looking at his newest drawings

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One of Rama’s art lessons, with several curious onlookers

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

art with Ramadani

Rama’s art 🙂

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My supervisor, Br. Mark, has been working with Rama for a while and even got him a hand powered bicycle.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ramadani is just one of many disabled people we serve.  Often we visit several children with physical or mental disabilities.  Sadly, just recently, two of the children with cerebral pasly we had been visiting passed away.  And in the same week, the gentleman I mentioned in the previous post (with terminal cancer) passed away too.  It was a hard week for all of us staff.  The worst part, in my opinion, is that the deaths of the two children could have been prevented.  The cause of death was malnutrition.  Most of the people here in TZ eat a lot of starches and carbs like porridge and ugali with little to no nutritional value, yet vegetables and fruits are so easily available.  On top of that, we grow and sell Moringa, a tree that produces highly nutritional leaves that can be pounded and put in food to boost vitamin, protein, calcium and potassium intake.  I believe these deaths could have been avoided, which brings me to another important part of my job.

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Our physical therapy nurse Margaret working with disabled children and their mothers.

 

3.  Health education in schools and the community, is another area of my position.  I have been accompanying my co worker Natalie on a few school visits.  Usually she teaches a health topic of hygiene, preventative care, environmental care, natural medicines etc.  Right now, until my Swahili improves, I’m more of a supportive role drawing pictures of what she’s talking about on the board.  The hope is that we can teach the children and community proper ways to avoid sicknesses and to encourage health prevention BEFORE they get sick and it’s too late to do anything.  Currently, Natalie and I are making plans to start fungal screenings in the schools.  Ringworm is a common fungus that many children have on their heads and skin.  Our office produces an oil from the Marobaini tree that helps get rid of the fungus.  As a part of the health education aspect, I’m hoping to start a theatre club in the near future with the parish youth that will meet once a month to act out health topics.  That way they are learning and having fun at the same time.

4.  Last but not least, I am spending time trying to network with other surrounding organizations and work toward sustainability for our public health office.  In general, our office does a lot of other good work such as counseling, surgeries for children with club feet or bowed legs, and eye and dental clinics.  So it is helpful for us to partner with other organizations that might be able to help us out with financial and material resources to provide the services that we do.One of the main focuses of Maryknoll is “to go where you are needed but not wanted, and leave when you are wanted but not needed”.  The point is to help people help themselves so that you can phase out and they can take ownership of the work and continue to sustain it even when you’re gone.

Justine (the guy from my previous post The Amazing Things People Do for Love, who is missing his right leg) teaching a teenager with mental and physical disabilities to write his name.

Justine (the guy from my previous post The Amazing Things People Do for Love, who is missing his right leg) teaching a teenager with mental and physical disabilities to write his name.

So again my main jobs are working with natural medicines, home visits, health education, and sustainability for our health program.  It is good work and I’m happy to be doing it, but there is still so much to be done.

As far as future projects, I would really like to build and introduce the Tippy Tap to our parish, and if it has a positive response from the community, we will be able to promote it’s usage in schools.  The Tippy Tap is a very basic hand washing device that can be made with wood, ropes, and large water containers.  There are several diseases and infections we would like to help prevent, especially the ones spread through fecal-oral transmission, given that many school toilets do not have toilet paper and most don’t even have water.  “So what do the children use to wipe themselves?”  I asked… I was a bit surprised when I found out the answer is “their left hand”.  This is a common practice in developing countries where water and toilet paper are not readily available.  So!  Given these circumstances, I would really like to build and introduce the Tippy Tap to promote better hand washing.

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The tippy tap (I don’t know what language that is, but at least you see the toilet and how the tippy tap works)

Being here in mission in Tanzania is such a rare and unique experience and there are many instances I find myself thinking “wow, this is so much more than a tourist could ever experience.”  My friends, family, and welcomed readers, it is a pleasure to have you journeying with me, seeing these people and this culture through my eyes, and I would like to take the opportunity now to invite you all to help me in this good work to be done.  I remember, before I left, many of you mentioned to me how much you would have liked to have had the opportunity to experience mission and serving the people, and I am so glad for all of your good intentions and desire to do good in the world.  So now, let me be your eyes, ears, hands and hearts for the people in need here in Tanzania.  Please consider being a friendly sponsor by visiting my support page (just click the Support tab that is located near the top of this page).

Much love and peace!

 

Video below: A new video series I have begun to watch is the Poverty Cure.  It talks about our good intentions to help the poor in developing countries by ways that actually help instead of causing more problems.  I am happy to say that Maryknoll Lay Missioners are sensitive to how our help impacts the communities we work with and we try to focus on what can be done to empower the people so that they can achieve sustainability.