So apparently my Tanzanian name is “Atieno” because of when I was born. Atieno means night in Luo and I am actually very fond of the name. I had the opportunity to go by this name a few times now-I will share with you under what context.
One of Steph’s friends got a girl’s soccer team to donate gear/uniforms/and cleats for girls here in Tanzania. We decided therefore that we should start the first girl’s soccer team here in Shirati. These past few days we have therefore been going out to the soccer field they have here in town. At the far end of the field there is another field where girls were playing handball. Steph, Pili (our amazing translator), and I went over and asked the girls if we could join. We had a lot of fun and asked them if they knew how to play soccer. They responded saying they wanted to learn. Steph and I were so excited to hear this and it gives us hope that starting a girl’s soccer team will indeed work. It is under this context that I started going by the name Atieno. Some of my new friends I made on the field could not say my name, so I told them they could call me Atieno.
On Saturday, July 31st we went to observe a pediatric HIV screening that was being offered free of charge at a local kindergarten. We found out that the doctors and staff were prepared to test 300 children, and the cost for such an event was $400, plus $400 for food. Although it was encouraging to see an event like this being put on, it was still sad to accept that children were there to find out whether or not they had HIV. My hope is that through these types of screenings, HIV will be detected early and the children will be able to live normal lives. I also found out that treatment for HIV is actually free here in Tanzania-that was very encouraging to find out as well.
On Sunday a good friend of mine, who I met while studying in Italy four years ago, came to visit me. My friend is from Tanzania, and it was so great to see him after so long. Steph and I took him to the soccer field and started a game with our local friends and kids from the community. It was so much fun. We played for hours as yet another gorgeous sun-set to leave behind a moonlit sky with hundreds of twinkling stars.
On Monday August 2nd we went to a primary school called Mkoma early in the morning. We went through the importance of mosquito nets and what each image in the coloring book meant. The children seemed so engaged and happy to participate in the activity. We then went back to Shirati Primary (where we went Friday) to announce the winners for the coloring contest. Steph and I also decided we would give an English lesson in each class-seeing as to how there were no teachers on Friday and no lessons going on. We came up with a fun lesson plan which consisted of learning how to say different body parts in English and then playing the game “Simon says.” I teach for the Los Angeles Unified School District and I can say from experience we would never be able to just walk into a class and teach without permission. However, here we did just that. It was so much fun. The children learned how to say the different parts of the body in English-and I learned how to say them in Swahili during our preparation for the activity They were so adorable-just imagine about fifty little ones touching their foreheads as you utter the words “Simon says touch your head” and then telling them to touch their knees, but seeing most of them hesitate until you say knees means “magoti” in Swahili. So cute! After our lesson, Steph and I announced the winner of the contest-the winner from each class received a free mosquito net. We then past out three crayons to each student to keep. I loved the radiant smiles we got just for handing them three used crayons that a first grade class in New Jersey donated to them. Today was truly a day I will never forget. Once again, in these classrooms I saw the undeniable coexistence of hope and despair. I looked at the empty and desolate classrooms-devoid of even a teacher-but at the same time I saw children eager and excited to learn, heard giggles and laughter, and sensed that they were having just as much fun as me.
Tuesday we were scheduled to carry out our first day of evaluation in the beautiful subvillage of Bwiri. Before heading off to Bwiri, we went back to Mkoma Primary to do the malaria education coloring activity with a few more classrooms. They asked us to come back tomorrow however-because they had teachers today and lessons were being carried out. Steph and I were so happy and not disappointed at all because we saw teacher’s teaching for the first time.
After this we headed off to Bwiri. It was stunning as it always is-a warm breeze greeted us back into the subvillage that now holds a very special place in our hearts. We were able to raise enough money (while here) to buy 50 more nets. As a result we were able to provide enough nets to cover the entire family when we went back for the evaluation phase of our project. As we climbed the rocky trails of Bwiri on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday I saw more and more of the need for nets-I am glad that we had enough to meet the need. On Saturday we will actually be distributing the remaining 65 nets to the families who most need them and we were not able to make a house visit to.
On Wednesday night, Killion (one of our translators) arranged for us to meet with two potential coaches for the girl’s soccer team that Steph and I would like to start. It was such an encouraging meeting. The coaches were more than willing to take on this project and invest time in coaching the first girls’ soccer team for primary school students. The coaches were so excited in fact that they agreed to meet with us on Thursday morning to go to Shirati and Mkoma Primary to speak with the school staff about what we are trying to start. The school was incredibly receptive and the coaches told us that they would collect sign-ups from the classes by Friday so we could hold our first meeting on Saturday with the girls.
After talking with the school staff, Steph and I continued our visits to the classroom. Just like prior days I genuinely loved seeing the charisma, energy, and dedication with which these students approach a new activity.
Everyday this past week we have gone to the soccer field after our house visits. On one particular day something amazing happened! Remember the little boy Junior I told you about? The one who is locked indoors because he has a mental handicap and there aren’t any facilities here to help him-well, his mom came and joined Steph and I when we were out practicing soccer.
The sun was setting, and a nice gentle breeze began to bring the high temperatures of Shirati down. Mother’s here are addressed after their first child’s name-so “Mama Junior” came towards us and we kicked the ball to her and she kicked back. We had so much fun-Mama Junior laughed and she just looked like for a second all her worries drifted away. That is what amazes me about something like soccer-it could bring hope when there seems to be none and momentarily takes us somewhere-somewhere different. I loved seeing her laugh-as we said goodbye to her she gave us a hug. It was as if I could feel her pain, her worrying about her son and her struggle to make ends meet as a single mother-but I could also feel that for a moment she felt like a kid who was just kicking a ball and having fun!
On Thursday evening, Steph and I hopped off the car from Bwiri and were greeted by the aunt (Cecilia) of the little boy (Babu) we are sponsoring. We were so excited because Monday we had bought him a bed and school supplies. Steph and I drove over to Babu’s new home with everything we had purchased for him. The evening was so surreal. When we arrived, a sky blanketed with clouds changed colors as the sun was gradually setting. Our car began to slow down as we approached the house-and as Steph uttered the words “I wish we could see Babu,” we see none other than Babu running as fast as he could towards the car, with the clothes we had bought for him a few weeks ago! He greeted us with such a big smile and we could not help but wonder if he knew that everything we had in the car was for him. We unloaded the car after exchanging very warm hellos and then began the memories that will forever remain in my heart. The men who drove us over insisted on putting the bed frame together and did not let me do anything other than watch and encourage them. Very gentleman-like, that or they knew that me and a wrench do not mesh very well Just kidding! Steph and I then helped Cecilia make the bed. Immediately after the bed was built and made, Babu ran over and jumped under the covers. We were told that this was Babu’s first bed. Babu smiled as the bright flash of the camera illuminated the room-it was truly a moment that brought tears to my eyes and that I couldn’t possibly forget. We then gave Babu the backpack we got him and told him that we wanted him to try his absolute best in school and do very well. We then said our goodbyes-I will miss Babu so much-but I trust that he will excel and be well taken care of and I am so excited that he will be able to attend primary and secondary school.
The best last day
Today is Saturday, August 07, 2010-our last full day in Shirati, Tanzania. I woke up feeling incredibly overwhelmed with sadness because I knew that I would leave tomorrow. Shirati has become a home for me-a huge part of my heart belongs to its’ people and the beauty that characterize them.
Our first objective of the day was to get to Mkoma Primary where the coaches had invited the girls who signed up for the FIRST GIRL’S SOCCER TEAM on Friday! Steph and I had no idea what to expect-we arrived and there were 38 girls waiting for us!!!!!! 38!!!!!!!! I was so happy my eyes began to fill with tears. We all walked over to a classroom together and soon there were actually 56 girls! 56 girls came to the first meeting! It was amazing! The coaches explained the objective of soccer, the different positions, the way practices and matches would work, and drew diagrams on the chalkboard. It was right out of a movie-in rural Tanzania-an empty classroom was filled with 56 girls staring intently at their new coaches as they were explained the basics of soccer. The coaches then asked the girls who (which players) would “shoot” and make a goal-the girl’s answered perfectly. Then they were told to freely asked questions-with confidence the girls rose from their seats one by one and projected their voices to ask great questions! One particular question was directed towards Steph and I, sweetly a girl asked “Why do you girls want to do this?” We explained that we wanted to build sisterhood, promote teamwork, build confidence and strength-and also just create a time for them to have fun.
The girls were so excited! We set up the 1st practice for this Tuesday, August 10 at 4pm and also got each girls’ shoe size so we could provide them with shoes soon. From now on there would be practice every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday from 4-5:30pm. Unfortunately, Steph and I will not be there for the first practice but we look forward to hearing reports about how it goes-I have faith that this is the start of something big! We then took a group photo. This moment was so surreal for me! 56 girls were standing next to me-all coming together with the intention of starting the first girl’s soccer team in Shirati! Steph then taught them what a “huddle” meant- we all put our hands in the middle and at that moment I could not believe this was happening. 58 pairs of hands piled on top of one another-an image that will forever remain with me. As our hands came up we shouted out “Girl’s Soccer!”
After we left the meeting, our translator Killion told us the story of one particular girl who was there. She was an orphan, whose mom had died and who was taken in by a church. He described to us the hard life this child’s mother had. I was so glad this child came and is going to be part of the team-my hope is that her new teammates will be a support for her-that this group of girls will become so closely knit that they truly will regard one another as sisters.
We then left to Bwiri to distribute our remaining nets. It was so surreal for our work to come to an end-but really I knew that this was all just the beginning. This summer has taught me more than I believe I have learned in a lifetime and I am both excited and challenged at the thought of taking everything I have learned and applying it.
Upon returning to Shirati, we invited our three translators for dinner, and shared a meal with them and our housemates as well. It was great to just spend time with some of the people who have made me a better me and who have changed my life for the better.
Circle of friendship
On Sunday, I went to church but I left early to meet Steph. As I was walking out a friend I had made, ran out after me and gave me a hug goodbye. This completely epitomized my experience for me-she told me I was always welcome and to come back soon. She looked at me and I could feel her sincere kindness. My hope is that I will come back soon and that I will never forget what I have learned here. Steph and I then went out once more into the narrow roads of the village we called home-we visited Junior and Mama Junior and said goodbye, then passed out some more crayons to local children.
We came back and did some last minute packing. We then went outside and a circle of people who meant so much to us were there to say goodbye. As I looked at everyone in that circle I could not believe it-in one summer I had met all these amazing individuals who have left an irreplaceable imprint in my life. As I went around the circle to say goodbye, I was embraced by each person and I knew that these are friendships that will last. I knew that what these people had taught me will not dissipate or fade-I knew that these people instilled in me a hope and an inextinguishable desire to help in any way I could.