July 20-25, 2010
Steph and I decided we wanted to go to a village where most people do not have nets and perhaps do not know what malaria is. The malaria director for this district suggested we go to a village called Bwiri. We woke up very early and began our journey to the “unknown.” We were warned that the roads were quite rough and that was the reason why the government did not do such an expansive distribution of nets during last year’s anti-malaria campaign. We mounted the car with our translators and began our journey. The roads were unpaved, filled with rocks and ditches. The brushes and trees scratched the windows as the driver forced his way through the narrow path. It was actually a really bumpy yet fun drive, we kept referring to it as our “safari.” Once we got to what appeared like the entrance to the village, there was a stream that we had to cross, I could hear the friction between the tires and rocks, but we made it! Bwiri was absolutely breathtaking from the moment we got off the car. We were surrounded my green hilltops, huge rocks that spanned countless feet, corn fields, and cassava plants. When you looked out onto the horizon, you just saw rolling hills-it was beautiful! We walked over to the village office and were in a small room where several men came to welcome us and our translator Killion began to explain to these men why we were here. One of these men formulated a list for us of homes that probably did not have nets and that had a child 12 months and under living there.
As we made our first few house visits in Bwiri- surveying the families, going into their homes to see where everyone slept, and to see how they were using their nets if they had any-we began to see that the need here was drastic. Most families did not have a mosquito net and they could not afford to buy one even if they were aware of their importance. Everyday I returned, I met with more families who had lost family members to malaria, and still they could not afford a net. The need in Bwiri is so great that we do not have enough nets to cover the need. I think I have begun to realize that we could only do what we can with what we have-if that makes sense. Although it is hard to accept, it is something we have to do.
One day this week, we also began our evaluation phase (in Yakina)-trying to assess whether the educational component of our project changed or instilled the healthy behavior of using a net. It was so exciting when Steph and I went inside a few homes and saw the nets properly tucked in, our pictorial diagrams hanging on their bed frames, and heard the correct responses to our questions about who should sleep under the net-how often should you wash the nets-etc.
July 26-29, 2010
We continued our evaluation phase in Yakina. It was both rewarding and difficult. As we went back to homes, we began to see that even though we had visited 70 homes and tried to provide everyone with the nets they needed, there were people we missed and people who still needed nets. It was difficult because we want to cover everyone-no pun intended-but we unfortunately do not have an unlimited supply of nets.
One thing I noticed is that as I returned to these homes, everyone welcomed me with warmth and a sweet “karibu.” One particular visit that stands out to me is when I went to a home where the mother and father had eight children. As I walked into a home- that I know was intricately made with the very hands of those who live there-I could not help but notice various children staring at me. Timidly they came closer as I shook their mother’s hand and they decided to all sit next to me. One beautiful little girl began to rub my skin, and then carefully and very diligently looked at her hands-it was as if she thought I was wearing paint or something. She then began to touch my hair and look at it intensely. She began to giggle and I could not help but join her. The girl’s mother shared with me that it is important for everyone to sleep under a mosquito net-and as I looked at the eight children huddled around me-I could not help but smile at the fact that she understood that to be truth.
July 30, 2010
Every morning I hear children singing in unison. I could tell it was a song they would sing at the beginning of the school day. I would wake up to the beautiful sound of their voices rising as they reached the chorus and then the bridge. I always wondered who these children were and which school this sound was coming from.
On Friday, Steph and I would find out. We were scheduled to go to “Shirati Primary School.” As we approached the school, I heard the voices of dozens of children yelling out “Hi, how are you?” and “Good morning sister!” We walked into the school office-an office with bare walls and wooden desks stacked with what looked like record books. We were first directed to the second grade classroom. All four walls of the classroom were completely bare-the children were sitting on long benches that appeared to barely support their weight- there was not enough room for every child on the shared desks-and there were large craters all over the ground. And yet the children were so adorable and looked so excited to see what Steph and I “had up our sleeves.” I could not help to notice though how many children were packed into one classroom. There were about 43 faces peering intensely at Steph and I, and according to the teacher many children were absent. Steph and I had our translator Killion with us. Killion explained to the children what causes malaria and the importance of using a mosquito net. He would pause and ask the children questions about what he had just explained. It was soooo cute. The children would yell out “Ndiyo” (which means yes) every time Killion would ask if they understood. For each child we had a 6-page coloring book that basically explained the importance of using a net and how to properly use it. We also had the countless crayons that we brought with us to Tanzania (50 pounds worth of crayons were donated by a school in Steph’s hometown). I am so glad we brought all these crayons because it did not seem as if the children had access to any crayons at all. The children were so engaged and happy. Steph and I walked around the class and with the little Swahili we know, we gave the kids words of encouragement and told them they were doing great. I was feeling such a rollercoaster of emotions-I was happy, excited, in awe-but at the same time saddened by the condition of the classroom and saddened by the fact that when we asked the children to write their names on the front of their book, many did not know how to write their name. I fully believe that sometimes it is not about what is in the classroom-how many supplies there are, how technologically advanced the classroom is, etc-and that sometimes all you need is a good and devoted teacher and students who are devoted to learning. I fully believe that. However, as we walked over to the third and fourth grade classrooms to do the same activity-I realized that unfortunately the need for teachers is not even met. I found out that there are 720 students at this school, and only 12 teachers! Immediately after finding this out, I did the math and that means 60 students per teacher. The situation is even more dire however because teachers are so underpaid here that often they just do not come to teach. When Steph and I walked into the other classrooms there was not a teacher in sight till several minutes after we arrived. Despite all this though Steph and I had a wonderful time with the children. We collected all their coloring sheets so over the weekend we could judge who colored the best. We plan to go back Monday to announce the winner and also give an English lesson.
The experiences I have been having have really just reminded me that Tanzania is characterized by coexisting poverty and resilience. Despite the situation many find themselves in there is so much strength and hope. This is something I hope to never forget.