Our Garden

8:00 am definitely a big task ahead
 This weekend we had one very exciting addition to our school, a garden!   For about 9 months I have been thinking of and dreaming of how incredible it would be to see and witness our children at Stella Maris take ownership of and have a garden to call their own.  To have plants and trees to care for and watch them grow over their years at Stella Maris.  To know that every time our students come to school and eventually return to Stella Maris after leaving for secondary school, they can see what they did to help build our school.  They will be able to point to a tree or to our garden and see it as their own.  It is their contribution to our school and something that they will nurture, build and care for.  The first day I arrived I told Mama Lucy of my grand idea of a garden and she said her always famous “be cool Mr. Terry, just relax a bit”.  Luckily for me I have never been one to listen too much when I have a good idea and I just quietly waited for the right opportunity.

the boys relaxing on our random collection of wood
Then this weekend presented itself as the perfect opportunity. One of my best friends Michael Dolan just got married.  Michael and I have been friends since grade school and I was supposed to stand up in wedding as a groomsman on Friday.  Of course Michael and Emilie (his beautiful wife) knew of my commitment here and were extremely supportive of the work being done for these children.  They are both elementary school teachers, so they understand the responsibility I have that requires me to be here.  They just made me promise that I make their wedding weekend count for something, since I couldn’t be there to share in their celebration.  So I took it as a challenge and opportunity to give the school something lasting while thinking of them.

So over the week I purchased trees, some seeds, nails, some scrap wood (from the old scaffolding used to build our hotel) and borrowed some tools.  Then with the help of one of our teachers, Mr. Soka, and 10 eager, hardworking 9 year old third grader boys and one girl, we set to work.  The children showed up at 8:00 a.m. on Saturday morning full of smiles and started right away preparing an area for our garden.  We cleared out bushes, rough brush and small patches of weeds.  We leveled the ground for our garden and dug holes around the perimeter of our school to plant avocado, mango and orange trees.  Then we began to build a fence.  We need a fence to protect our smaller trees and vegetables from grazing cattle and goats.  After protecting some of our smaller trees we can transplant them around our school grounds or even sell them at the market.  Together we hammered all of the differently sized and shaped pieces of wood to create a fence.  We worked side by side for 7 hours with quite a few breaks to play with bugs, lizards and eat some bananas, but we finally finished.  With our work finished I had all the children join me for lunch at the Stella Maris Executive Lodge for a feast.  We celebrated our work together by eating some barbeque chicken and chipsimayai which is an omelet with French fries, a local Tanzanian favorite.  Every child finished every last bit of food from their plates.  Afterwards they began laughing and comparing who had the biggest belly after finishing their food.  They are all very thin, so after eating a big meal their bellies literally bulge from their little bodies. 
Our Saturday crew!

Our happy third grade farmers
It’s hard to put into words the joy I feel when I look at our garden.  I am so proud to see the children lean against the fence and smile looking at their trees.  They are glowing with pride and ownership of what we have accomplished together.  Today Alphonce, one of the boys who showed up to build the garden over the weekend said “I will never forget this weekend.  It was the best and the food was good!”  I told him "me neither, I am so happy that you are happy, it was the best weekend."  Today we assigned a tree to every child in third grade to care for and water.  They were so overjoyed they started to cheer and held their trees tightly before planting them.  They were even showing off their trees to me and the other children saying “Mr. Terry this is my tree” and “My tree is the best”. Admittedly if you looked at our garden you may not see it as a masterpiece, but it is beautiful to all of us. Our trees are not strong yet and we need more plants, but all of us see the future for our garden and our children.  We see what it will bring and represent from this moment forward.

Our garden may be a small addition.  Our trees are only about a foot or two tall.  Our garden is hardly going to end up in any Better Homes and Gardens magazine, but to us it is so much more.  Now every child can look around our school and see their work and feel proud.  They can imagine the fruits that will one day come from their tree, just like their work in school will one day bear “fruits”.  They will grow taller just like their trees and become stronger like their trees together.  One day when they graduate from Stella Maris, head off to Secondary School and eventually to college, their trees will remain as evidence of their presence and work in school.  Every day we have an opportunity to make something great at Stella Maris and shape the culture of our school together.  Every week we try to make our school just a little bit better and we are lucky to have the best students to accomplish this.  We are so blessed at Stella Maris to have 116 students that love one another and love their school.  They love their school so much and are willing to work so hard for their school.  They don’t mind coming on Saturday, or spending hours working in the hot sun just to make their school a little bit better.  I couldn’t be more proud of them, so even though I missed one of my best friend’s wedding, I know that the Dolans and all our friends in America are so proud of these children. 
Check back soon for the St. Joseph groups thoughts (hopefully this weekend).   Mungu akubariki na usiku njema!


Another busy week in Tanzania!

  I’m still waiting to compile all of the reactions from our St. Joseph friends so in the meantime I thought I would share a little bit of what has been happening around the school as we prepare to close for the end of our second trimester (we reopen full time in September after the harvesting season).  It’s sometimes hard to explain where my day went and how the whole day was spent.  I tell people all the time I am very busy and many of the visitors comment that they didn’t know how much I would be doing all the time, but truthfully it’s still hard to recount all my days.  Just tonight while attempting to write this blog I spent an hour talking with a priest and a and then had a surprise visit from some Irish teachers who I know from 2 previous stays stop by the guest house for the grand tour and to schedule a day to visit the school!  I guess the best way to see how the days are spent is through the progress over the past week.

First off I know many friends are going to be excited to see, the roof of the two classrooms built by our guests from St. Joseph are already going up now!  They will then be closing it off this week with the iron sheet roof, painting it and getting the classrooms ready for the next term starting in September!  That means I can reopen the library and use all the new books that have been donated.  We received many books from St. Joseph school, friends of the foundation and even a former St. Joseph student of mine Isabella!  Isabella decided to not have any presents for her birthday and instead asked for books for the children in Tanzania.  It’s always inspiring when we can follow the example of an 8 year old child! 

As far as those books go…we are already using them again!  Even though our library is not able to function, I just cannot stand not using books.  The teachers in Tanzania are simply are not trained in how to utilize books outside of the government textbooks, so we have to learn toghether.  Also our library/storage/staff room it made them very difficult to even see what we have available.  But just today I had a lesson with a read aloud and had the children reading with partners and individually.  Now everyday I get to hear the children ask “are we going to read story books?” which is basically any elementary school teacher’s dream!  It takes a lot of training to use story books here because the children have so few possessions themselves it is a bit of a struggle to teach sharing books. One great thing we overlook is how blessed we are with possessions, most notably books that we could never imagine fighting just to hold one book because it had a picture we really liked.  With each lesson we will move closer to understanding that these books are “ours together” and for once they don’t have to fight to keep something close that they care about.
Last week I made the rather unhappy discovery that our children in P2 had been learning all year without English, Science, Math and other textbooks.  Also we were still missing all of the teacher’s manuals in P2 and P3 for our teachers.  Our teachers at our school have been working with only a blackboard and roughly 5 books per subject for a year and a half!  I had thought the order was filled last year when I came, but after that was lost they never seemed to get the books.  Many schools try to teach without the textbooks, but common sense tells you that just because something is normal does not mean it is right.  Not to mention those schools do not have the expectation that we want every child to go to Secondary School and University.  Just because some schools don’t have books does not mean that our school should.  I spent another couple days taking inventory and then going to various shops filling orders in town.  Now thankfully we are looking forward to the books arriving tomorrow so our children and teachers will be able to be successful together.

Another great addition was our brand new bulletin boards!  Something I always personally took for granted was how easy it is to hang something on the wall in America.  My classroom in St. Joseph was constantly rotating student’s work, themed units and fun art projects.  Here we cannot do anything easily, our classroom are fairly barren except for the vocabulary cards I made a previous time in Tanzania and the few teaching aids painted on the walls in the back of the room.  We were finally granted the “luxury” item of bulletin boards which we will be putting to great use after examinations.  Some friends and relatives of the Taylor family worked for days to create word walls and other teaching aids we are posting after examinations.  Even now as I write Becky Reilly and Amy Varney are still here and have been thinking of and creating every teaching aide we possibly can.  Luckily Becky has worked a lot with the children over this last month and has a great understanding of areas we need to strengthen.  Also Amy is an incredible artist so she has been working hard.  We have also commissioned her to create our school patch/logo that will hopefully be printed on our school polos and t shirts for our students!  Mama Lucy chose her favorite one today, so hopefully one day soon we will all be proudly displaying our new school patch on our chest.

All of this has been accomplished in the past week and every step is an adventure.  I realize many people have never had the experience of traveling to Tanzania to experience it’s many differences so I thought it would be good to share one of the many cultural differences so everyone can understand a bit more about Tanzania.  In order to put up our bulletin boards I had to hire someone to complete the job.  This lead to negotiations, arguments over prices, adding together seemingly random numbers on paper all to arrive at a price of about $30 for 3 days work and wood for hanging the boards.  Which then lead to me really paying him about $35 because the wood was more expensive than anticipated.  I realize how second nature it is for me now, but one shocking thing for people when they come from America to Tanzania is that it is a cash culture.  You cannot use your credit card, anywhere except an ATM.  You are always paying cash, and on top of that hardly anything has a price.  Every single thing from a banana to your daily pay for a job is a negotiation.  You might go to the market one day and spend $20 on food and the next day spend $30 for the exact same thing! 
Thank you everyone for continuing to read and sharing the work being done for these children.  There is so much for us to be proud of, so I just want to thank you all.  Every donation helps these children and provides them with a greater opportunity to succeed.  Also thank you for being patient with my posts, I promise to get this down eventually!  One final thank you to all of those of you reading and especially those of you commenting on my blog and sending encouraging emails, you all keep me working hard and staying inspired!


St. Joseph visits Stella Maris!

Becky Reilly with the children
It’s amazing what these children have inspired.  Our guest house is now full with every room occupied and some carrying extra beds just to hold everyone!  Here we are with 27 volunteers all with one goal: help these children.  The people of St. Joseph and friends are spread out doing many different activities, leveling books for our library, doing art crafts, working with small groups teaching reading, leveling a football field to play on, building classrooms and just playing with the children.  Just today one of the guests said “it’s amazing how every day we become more comfortable with one another”.  Our two countries have been intertwined for nearly a decade and with every visit we become closer.  I can see it in the children and every person here, because we are all working with the same goal.  Everyone is using their talents and frankly busting their humps every day to improve the lives and education of the children to provide “hope through education”. 
Our Kili climbers visiting the children
We all love these children, and their energy is contagious.  One of the most fun parts of my job here is connecting people with these children.  Just last week we had two young American climbers visit our school after spending the night at the lodge.  They said that outside of climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro their best experience was playing with the children at Stella Maris for half an hour!  With every visit I become more excited to share the story of our school and hotel, but the visitors from St. Joseph are extra special visitors.  After working together for 8 years we are finally able to stay together at our hotel (for the first time) and volunteer right at the school.  Just a day after stepping off the plane each of our guests waste no time in greeting the children and beginning their service work.  They are urged on and encouraged by their smiles and talking in English with them!  The children try so hard to stretch their knowledge of English and communicate with the people of St. Joseph to learn as much as they can about our guests.  The motivation they get from these guests cannot be overstated.  They receive so much attention that every child comes away feeling so loved and feeling like the “Star for a day”.    This motivation lasts and their presence is felt in the added drive of all the students to work harder and speak more English all the time.  I never really figured it would be such a benefit to our instruction to have guests, but it truly motivates our entire school community every time we welcome new guests.

John and Priscus
In third grade Information Communication and Technology we are working on writing letters, preparing to write letters to St. Joseph and to our sponsors.  We had an especially proud moment when one of the children here, Priscus took the initiative to write a letter to his sponsors the Sheer family after meeting them again this week playing soccer together.  The Sheer family have sponsored Priscus for three years and Dr. Sheer and his son Michael are here together working hard building and leveling a large playing surface for the children.  Initially I thought it was odd that Priscus was so shy, but I realized why he was after receiving a note from the Sheers.  Immediately after meeting them he whispered to me “I will write a letter at home”.  He went home and wrote a great letter thanking them for their help in making “the classrooms and for making the football field flat” and asking them to greet their entire family even listing their names from memory.  I realize how truly blessed I am to be witnessing and sharing in these connections and watching these connections grow and become stronger on a personal level.  We in fact have many visitors here who sponsor children and families here asking me “how do I become a sponsor?” shortly after meeting the children. 
With all the visitors, we know come many fun lessons.  This week we have had many great art projects and gifts from all the St. Joseph families.  I would prefer them to write about their own experiences later, but I wanted to share a moment I had with a second grade student Margaret.  She received a nice pink snap bracelet.  After reading books with her after school one day I was walking to the street to help her cross.  She showed me the snap bracelet and snapped it around my wrist.  When I tried to give it back to her she said “No!  I want it for you because you give me everything.”  I told her “thank you so much, but I would be happy if you had it.”  Margaret replied “No Mr. Terry you give me all, I want to give this to you, I love you.”  There are no words to describe my happiness, joy and pride in writing this.  It is so special to have children that you know are going to do great things.  She is intelligent, driven and above all has a loving heart.  Even after being given a great gift, she just wants to show love and thanks.  We have a bright future at Stella Maris and so many of our children will grow and continue to make us all proud… Soon I will have a post from all the families here sharing their thoughts and highlights from their week.  Also hopefully I can upload some video from one of our favorite highlights: The America vs. Tanzania soccer game!


The Red Dirt

Playing "in and out the bamboo forest"
It’s always hard to tell how much progress you have made as a teacher from a given day.  These children, especially the children that have been with us for years now have grown so much and are unrecognizable when compared to years ago.  But day to day you teach the material, give assessments, sometimes the children do great and other times they don’t.  You just kind of hope, pray, do your best and then try harder the next day.  As a teacher you do have evidence of learning and success in moments.  If you are lucky you see the “light bulb”, a new hand raised high and waving or you witness the children teach each other.  Here in Tanzania it is the same as America, but with one exception.  You can truly see the evidence of a successful day when you wash your hands and see the red dirt swirl down the drain.  

Mt. Kilimanjaro watching over Francis and Mack
Africa is dusty.  These children play hard and they get dirty.  The children here are constantly craving individual attention that they are missing from their lives at home, as they often get lost in their large, sometimes extended families.  Many students will never know what it is like to read a book with their mom or dad or even give them a hug before bed time.  So when we play and learn together “dirty” just happens.  From the moment we enter our school grounds the children are high fiving, holding, hugging, playing, and grabbing at you just for a single moment to share together.  I hear the calls of “Sir” and “Mr. Terry” constantly, every day, all the time.  They want so badly to be educated so they can become a doctor, teacher, pilot or whatever, but many times they just want someone to care.  As Matt mentioned before they are vulnerable, they want to be loved, cared for and to be educated.    The one way I see progress in every day is through their smiles and their complete understanding that this school is here to help them.  That I am absolutely sure of, because today like yesterday and every day before I washed the red dirt off my arms and had proof of their caring wash down the drain. 
Since I have been on school grounds I have been very busy with the many needs of the hotel, guests and the school.  One of my big goals is to really continue to shape the school's expectations and rules.  I can be tough at times when it comes to education and the "kesho/tomorrow" response doesn't work for me, luckily we have an incredible head mistress in Mama Shayo.  She has been throwing me into any class she feels needs help and I have had the pleasure of setting a new school rule and expectation.  Children are now required to address all teachers, adults and other students in English at all times on school grounds.  The only way they can learn is if they are totally immersed in the language and this rule will hopefully make that happen.  Of course this is a big change for them, especially since Swahili is their primary language.  The greatest evidence of it's success today was when I heard the children commanding each other "speak English!"  So now they are jumping rope, playing catch and playing soccer screaming "here" "throw to me" and "kick it" and keeping each other honest about speaking English! 

The boys are showing how excited they are
 All of us at Stella Maris are anxiously awaiting the many amazing guests from St. Joseph so we can show off all our progress and new rule.  They are going to be arriving over the next few days, which means a ton of work will be done constructing two entire classrooms as well as visiting with the children over the next two weeks.  We are busting at the seams in our school and desperately need two more classrooms now...as well as a lunchroom, headmistress office, storage room and teachers' office, but for now the two classrooms will help greatly.  Luckily for us the people of Tanzania are nothing if not resourceful.  For all of us here we know there is no better time of year than when St. Joseph comes to visit, help, pray and play with all of our children at Stella Maris!

Praying before heading home
Today I feel a little better than most days.  We are all so excited to welcome our friends from St. Joseph.  We know that in only two weeks they will build classrooms and transform our school.  It will also grow closer to the image that everyone at St. Joseph and the Mailisita Foundation envisioned when starting this project.  I am also proud knowing today I was able to witness a strong and promising change in our school culture to become a true English Medium School.  A school focused entirely on immersing and helping the children learn more English.  But as always at the end of the day my favorite moment was still watching all the red dirt and evidence of caring and love wash off my hands and arms from all the children our school helped today.