These last two weeks were the first few weeks of the new semester at Kilimahewa.  After 3 weeks off for the holidays the students returned to school on the first day looking rejuvenated and refreshed.  Before the holiday break Jillian and I spent a few meetings working with the teachers to develop some policies and procedures for attendance and behavior concerns that the teachers and students expressed.  We spent the first day of school going over these new policies and procedures with the kids and let the kids ask questions and make comments about what they heard.

The questions and comments were the most interesting part of the first day of school for me because it reminded me that while different circumstances exist kids are kids in all parts of the world.  The first few questions though were hard for us to field.  

Student #1:  How do I get to school if my parents spend all their money drinking and I do not have money for the bus?
Student #2:  What do we do if our parents are too sick or drunk to come to the school or we don’t have a cell phone to use to call when we are sick?

Sometimes I have moments where I am amazed by the difference in first world problems and third world problems as I was in the conversation about the drunken parents.  Kilimahewa is in an area called the Samburi Ward.  Most of the villagers are of the Chagga tribe and are pretty poor.  A common tribal drink in this area is called Mbege.  It is common in this area and is most widely known to be from this area.  It is made of fermented millet, water and bananas.  This drink is really cheap and is mainly made in the area of Samburi by drying millet in the sun for a day, putting it into a bucket with water and banana and letting it ferment for 2 days.  Then people sit around the bucket using a cup, they pass around the drink and consume the alcohol.  As a result in this area there is a bar every other building and everyone is Mbege makers or participate in someway in the creation of this brew. It also means they are often found sitting around drinking it.  For the very poor and depressed families in our area they use this brew as a way to escape the realities they are face or make a profit to feed their families.  For others this alcohol production and consumption is seen as a real struggle to fight poverty and overcome the problems caused by poverty.  For some of the kids of Kilimahewa this drink leaves the parents spending their school fee money on alcohol or forcing them to constantly take care of their drunk parents or their abandoned siblings.  In the first world alcoholism is a hidden problem people are ashamed to talk about, they might go seek out help in rehab or AA but it is not often entire neighborhoods consumed by it.   In the Samburi Ward alcoholism is a way of life.  Everyone makes it, everyone drinks it, everyone is affected by it.  This is partly why we are drawn to this area to help the kids find new ways out of this cycle by gaining education but it still makes it hard to answer the kids when they ask what to do about their alcohol affected home lives. After a short discussion about talking to the Kilimahewa teachers about that individually when it happens we then had a question about something I had fielded before I came to Tanzania.

Student #3:  Can we bring cell phones to school?

There are other times where I am amazed at the similarities between the first and the third world.  Before I left America our school was discussing a new cell phone policy.  Committees were developed to determine new rules around how kids could use their cell phones in and outside of class.  Students, parents, and teachers were asked their input and many kids in class commented on how they should be able to have phones with various lists of reasons.  Now, students at Antioch High School can carry their cell phones and some teachers are even incorporating them into their daily lessons.  Here in Tanzania the cell phone is the one object most people have.  They may only have one pair of shoes or one nice outfit but you can guarantee someone or everyone in the house has a cell phone, and that phone is taken with them everywhere.  It is usually their only link to the outside world and often it seems like it attached to people’s heads.  In my experiences in 3rd world countries it is often technology that surpasses urban development.  As Tanzania was starting to lay the phone lines to have land line telephones the cell phone was developed so there was no need.  As they started to develop internet cafes to open up people to the outside world, wireless was created and smart phones started to be introduced.  Just as the 3rd world starts to organize some basic “needed” development new technology stops everything because the need no longer exists.  Many people in Tanzania have never seen a house phone or do they know anyone who has one, but they all have cell phones. In our meeting on the first day of school, amoungst the poverty and after the conversation about alcoholism I found myself listening to the same questions and comments about cell phones that were raised by some of my students in America.  Students stated their need to have cell phones and their reasoning behind why they should be allowed to bring them to school.  If I closed my eyes and wasn’t translating the language in my head I would have thought I was in America.  It is times like this I remember where every you go in the world sometimes we are all just people and kids are just kids.  This is another reason why we are drawn to this area.  All kids in the world deserve to be educated and deserve to have conversations like this.  Granted it is just a cell phone they are concerned about but I am happy to work here knowing that the cell phone conversation means that the kids are not always worried about their drunken families and their crazy home lives.  Once and a while they get to be kids.  Kids excited about the new flashy objects and pushing the authority to get what they want. 

And for those out there who keep teasing me about my traveling alot this past month (when there was no school) here is a list of what we have done over the last two weeks, just to prove to you we really are working.  :) 
  • Held a teachers meeting planning out the first day of school
  • Worked with the Kilimahewa teaching staff to plan a time table
  • Met with our head teacher (who is on maternity leave to problem solve the time table- we currently have one added grade this year and one less teacher)
  • Led an all school assembly and laid out all the new rules and policies 
  • Taught English class due to a teachers family emergency
  • Planned a Tanzanian Fundraising Campaign
  • Met with our part time employee about Fundraising Campaign and translations of Different Disability Information
  • Met with local contractor and assembled estimates about a toilet construction project and a storage shed for our food project
  • Hosted our first week of after-school group this year
  • Found someone to come a repair the broken fence at Kilimahewa
  • Met with another NGO about upcoming disability awareness educational seminars
  • Emailed various past supporters about upcoming fundraising projects
  • Met with a former student about his family situation and planned his return to Kilimahewa
  • Planned a parent meeting 
  • Created a book list of needed textbooks for Kilimahewa (we are in need of someone to donate money to buy these- any help would be awesome (: )
  • Helped teachers with lesson planning and organization
All in all a crazy busy productive week.  It feels good to be back at school and working to help the kids of Kilimahewa.  In the month of March we are going to hold our 2nd annual Edpowerment Fundraising Challenge.  We are asking people to help plan fundraisers to help support the operational costs of Kilimahewa Educational Center, (which is $17,000).  The costs cover the teacher salaries, food program, textbooks and supplies, and any little things that come up like helping kids with school uniforms.  We will be asking for supporters to help fundraise $250 or more.  The kids here will also be fundraising to help their own school by running in the Kilimanjaro 5K run at the end of February.  So start putting on your thinking caps and brainstorming some fundraising ideas.  Since we are in Africa, we need all the help we can get.  

At this time last year I was starting my first week of classes in the second semester at Antioch High School.  Tomorrow I will return back to work to help kick off a new school year at Kilimahewa Educational Center in Tanzania.  Same Same but very different.  I cannot believe how much has happened within this last year.  Doing a quick audit of my life this year here are some of the things that stand out, I.....

Got divorced
Sold my house and most of my things
Moved home to my parents house to live in the “compound” (as my family calls it)
Started a high school Rotary Group
Won a National Teaching Award
Finished my Educational Administration Degree
Raised enough money to put up a water project at Kilimahewa
Participated in leadership teams in my school and lead different teacher trainings
Traveled to 9 different countries on three different continents
Started a afterschool leadership group at Kilimahewa
Experienced my first earthquake
Learned how to surf
Attended my first Muslim wedding
Helped organize professional development for teachers at Kilimahewa
Studied a new language
Climbed Table Mountain
Had my first Christmas experience away from home in hot weather

All in all a great year.  But as the year wrapped up I was a bit homesick and missing the comforts of my family and life in America.  December is one of my favorite months at home and it was hard to not be there for all the excitement.  Christmas and New Years in Africa is just not the same as it was at home.  Although we had visitors from America, a construction paper Christmas tree, saxaphone playing santas in town, an amazing fruit salad breakfast, and a secret santa exchange it felt a little sad and depressing.  I missed my family, dad’s breakfast, the cold weather, the 24 hour Christmas music channel, the Christmas lights and decorations, the smell of holiday candles, the crazy shopping, baileys and hot chocolate, and my family raviolis.  For us Christmas eve was spent dancing at our favorite local bar until late into the night and then waking up to breakfast and movie watching.  Not a bad day, just not the same.   We did spend the afternoon of Christmas day swimming at a local pool and relaxing but I missed my family.  Skype just doesn’t completely quench the thirst of not being together for Christmas.  
So for New Years Jillian and I embarked on an adventure with some of our friends that were visiting and went on a trip to the Island of Zanzibar.  Zanzibar is an island of the coast of Tanzania.  It is part of the country but has a bit of a different culture.  Most of the people are Muslim and live a very island lifestyle.  It also was a stop on the trade routes from India and as a result is full of spice fields that are grown and exported to mainland Tanzania and around the globe.  The largest crop that is exported is the clove plant but they have vanilla, cinnamon, exotic fruits, lemongrass, cardamon, and many more.  We spent 4 amazing days soaking up sun on the beautiful blue beaches, exploring the spice fields, practicing our swahili, eating some amazing seafood and learning about the history of Zanzibar in Stone Town.  It was a great way to kick off 2012 and being with Mike and Mirielle (good friends of ours from Chicago) made it a great trip.  

Before we left for Zanzibar I was reading my favorite blog, “The Art of Nonconformity” by Chris Guillebeau and he posed a question to readers, “What is your personal theme for the 2011?”  This made me think intensely about the year I have had and the crazy changes and adventures I have been able to experience.  Through my travels often my students will send me emails and ask me what I am doing or where I am going next.  They will tell me that I am inspiring them or changing the world.  I am definitely not changing the big bad world that much and I although I am happy I inspire people I am here because I truely think that helping others allows you to help yourself.  So My answer Chris is this:  
One should always find ways to help others while at the same time trying to make life a daring adventure.  Through your humanity and the experiences that push you in ways you did not know possible you will find true happiness and new appreciation for life.  There is my ounce of wisdom for you all as 2011 wraps to a close for me.  Not quite the one word answer but after this crazy year that is what I have learned.  I am sorry this is a short post and that I haven't written in a while but I will be back to writing weekly posts this month and entertaining you with my crazy experiences.So you might be asking what’s happening in 2012….

You will have to stay tuned to find out.   (:   (If I told you what was coming next you wouldn't keep coming back for more)  

Anyway here is a few of my favorite pictures from 2011......