Back Home

I am officially back home, back online and back to work.  It was tough to think of how to start up my blog again.  How can I summarize everything that has happened and as a result, now will happen?  In short my trip home was great and the future is very bright.  It was incredible to see my family, friends, my students and my church.  It refreshed me, motivated me and left me feeling confident.  Confident knowing that everything and everyone are fine at home.  That is exactly what I hoped for and now motivates me to work hard in Tanzania as well as comfort me with the knowledge that this place still needs me more. 

 Another big reason for my coming home was to see the work being done by Medlife in Peru.  I went down to Lima to see Dr. Nick Ellis (the CEO and founder) and Angie (Medlife employee, future dentist and Nick’s wife) who I had met months before in Tanzania.  Nick had seen me in the hotel, at the school and watched what I was attempting to manage during those days and after a few discussions decided that he would like me to help them with their work.  My experience, ability and our discussions on my understanding of how to effectively manage this project fit right with their needs here in Tanzania as well as with their larger goals.  We spent months communicating and building to this trip and it was certainly more than I could have asked for.

What I saw was an international office of Peruvian employees and American Volunteers working cohesively, up-tempo and enthusiastically talking about their work.  They were working in teams focusing on different areas; tourism, recruiting new chapters from Universities, scheduling service trips, creating new media for websites/facebook/youtube and even interviewing their volunteers for the next year.  All of the American volunteers are previous Medlife service trip attendees who were so inspired that they committed a year to volunteer, live in country and use their skills to grow Medlife and help more people.  It was so great to see so many well intentioned young people who took time after college to grow individually and serve others.  It definitely made me jealous to see the incredible community atmosphere they created with one another and how they could feed off each other’s energy.  

                Undoubtedly the best part of the trip was seeing Pamplona, the slums of northern Peru where Medlife does a lot of their work.  It was inspiring to see their development and infrastructure projects, staircases, future kindergarten that is in construction, meeting the people they serve and just getting an opportunity to feel a connection with another community.  I do not enjoy seeing these things or seeing people struggle.  It does not make me feel good to know that halfway around the world from Tanzania there is another country struggling to meet the needs of their poor.  I do love seeing the evidence of our love for one another, the sacrifices that others will make to serve the poor and listening to people talk about their dreams for a community.  Pamplona taught me more about the different faces of poverty.  The truth is, I cannot compare Peru to Tanzania.  I cannot say which is more or less of any adjective that is attributed to impoverished communities, they are just different, but they both need help.  Their problems are very similar.  The communities are trapped in perpetual cycles of poverty.  

Nick put it best when he related poverty to the game of Chutes and Ladders.  There is a road out of poverty but is long, with many turns, many hazards and few shortcuts.  Along the way there are places to pull yourself up (the Ladders) and pitfalls that can happen at any moment and bring you right down to the beginning of your journey (the Chutes).  The way to navigate this road is to avoid the chutes and climb the ladders.  In impoverished communities the chutes are medical problems.  Medical problems, illnesses and deaths can bring down an entire family.  One mother that came to a clinic was diagnosed with cancer, Medlife helped her begin her cancer treatment, but she recently passed away.  This meant their oldest daughter who is still in high school had to drop out of school to care for her family.  Now the family must try to continue on without their mother.  The children must be raised by another child (a teenager) and hopefully make it through school, with one child already forced to drop out.  These are the worst types of chutes because it is a whole family that is affected.  The ladders are provided by education.  Education is the one opportunity that exists in all countries that allows even the poorest child to succeed.  If someone is successful in school, goes to high school, goes to college and gets a great job then they can break the cycle of poverty and reach the finish line.  It is only through playing the game the right way, having the opportunity for a good education and getting medical care when they need it that our poor neighbors and friends can find a way out.  This is why I am glad to say I will be working together with Medlife to bring their medical work (Mobile Clinics) to Tanzania.  Additionally we will be working on creating a new volunteer opportunity, working in schools all over the world (Peru, Ecuador, Tanzania and India) so young people can have the opportunity to serve in education and benefit schools in a new and meaningful way.  

                Finally, I want to share a story from Peru.  The most personally moving experience and interaction I had came at a local kindergarten.  They brought me to a kindergarten to show me what their schools were like in Pamplona and meet some children.  Of course I immediately got right down to the floor, played with the children and did my best to communicate.  There was one child, a little boy named Jordan who I will always remember when I think of Pamplona.  As I got down next to the children and greeted them in my very poor Spanish, one boy made that same effort.  A little four year old boy, Jordan, got out of his chair, stood up next to me without saying a word, put his arms around me and buried his head into my chest.  It reminded me of my children in Tanzania, of Catherine when she was a first grader and all the little ones who seek me out when they are hurt, crying, feeling silly or just want a hug.  It was that moment that I felt connected, motivated and inspired for these people.  Jordan’s desire for a connection and his love was pure.  He deserves the opportunity to not get sick and to attend school every day to pull himself up out of the poverty that surrounds him.  Which is why I am proud to say that I will continue to provide that ladder at Stella Maris by teaching and working with the Mailisita Foundation, but I will also keep my eyes on the future and my heart open for more children like Jordan that will be helped by Medlife.


Back in the Americas

As almost all of you know, I am actually currently away from my work in Tanzania.  I came back stateside for two important reasons.  Although I always miss my friends, family, students, and home parish I came back to see and support my younger brother at his first ever bodybuilding competition.  He competed in the Illinois Mr. Natural in the novice division and I am so proud to say that not only did he do well, he won!  He has always worked hard in the gym, but what is most impressive is his dedication of all the months to sticking to such a strict diet.  In his first competition he defeated older contestants and personally I don’t think it was even close J.  The hard work definitely paid off and with our whole family, many friends and some of his clients from his gym supporting him, he definitely made us all proud.  

It has been a wonderful week reuniting with friends and family.  Although I keep in close touch with many people it is definitely great to speak in person.  I had the incredible pleasure of seeing my students from St. Joseph and play a lively game of kickball!  It was so great to see them, see how they have grown, and also know that they are healthy and happy.  They were excited, rowdy and I would not want it any other way.  It is hard not to see them in person and be able to communicate easily with them, but I am blessed to know their parents, and I know they are all doing great.

Additionally what has made this time at home easier than years past are the friendships I have in Tanzania.  Undoubtedly the hardest part of leaving Tanzania, is leaving my children.  Our school is on a break for a month, so I would not see them all everyday but it is still difficult knowing I can’t walk through the village and see my children.  Of course this becomes hardest with Catherine.  She insisted on riding with me to the airport and spent the entire ride crying and holding my neck.  I hate leaving her and I hate to hurt her.  It was a difficult goodbye for us but I know we are blessed to cry over loving and caring for one another.  The bright side was spending time this week skyping with Teddy (the Stella Maris Manager) and Catherine to make the distance feel a little smaller.  We have been sending messages back and forth which has made the whole process a little easier.  I am already homesick though and can’t wait to get back to see my family.

The other reason for me traveling home was to travel to Peru.  Through my work in Tanzania I had the opportunity to meet the founder of Medlife, Nick Ellis.  Medlife is a non-for-profit that serves the poor and disadvantaged in Peru and Ecuador.  They have mobile medical clinics where they diagnose illnesses and provide free medical care for many people that would be without this opportunity.  They also work in education by building schools, classrooms, computer labs and many other projects.  The way they fund all of this incredible work is through university student volunteers (more than 1,000 volunteers last year).  Most of their volunteers are from American universities who donate their time to help the less fortunate.  This NGO appeals to me for so many reasons.  They are doing wonderful work for people who deserve it, but also inspiring young men and women to serve and give of themselves.  I am happy to say that they will be helping them with their work in Tanzania this year and I will be helping them coordinate their efforts.  Additionally we are going to be working together to start offering “mobile schools” and encourage teaching majors to do similar work as their aspiring doctoral student peers.  More details will come of this as we work on this idea in the coming days.  

As a result I need to see the work, meet their staff and see first-hand how they operate to help Medlife start their work in Tanzania.  I am currently sitting in Lima, Peru on my first afternoon about to embark on this next adventure God has planned for me, but I could not be happier.  Soon, I will be able to continue to work for Stella Maris and teach my children that I love so much when we resume school in May, but I will also be able to help more.  The work and the love of our children has inspired me to try to do more and seek out more opportunities to take a larger and more active role in caring for the less fortunate.  It is an addiction, but it’s one that I hope spreads.  Tomorrow I will be heading out to the slums and schools of Peru to see the projects that Medlife has already accomplished as well as get to know the staff, the work and most importantly the people.    

If you want to learn more check out their website here: