One of the amazing things that Jillian and I are participating in while we are here in Tanzania is the creation of a comic book on child’s rights.  We are working with an organization called Mkombozi, which works with street children and promotes child rights in Northern Tanzania.  One of the administrative staff members approached us about helping them work with the street children in their group home to create a kid friendly comic book promoting child rights.  To do this Jill and I met with the kids at the center a few times and talked to them about child rights.   We gathered many ideas from the kids and put together a story line for a comic book that we are currently working with an artist to now create and give out to 5,000 kids across Northern Tanzania in the upcoming months.  Although the comic book is still in the works  to kick off their large campaign on child rights (haki ya watoto) Mkombozi had an event in Moshi for the children in town to celebrate their rights and to celebrate all the youth of Moshi.

All children were invited to this event and Jillian and I gave out invitations to our students at Kilimaehwa Education Center.  We told the kids it was up to them to get to the event and that we would be there to hang out with them but they had to talk to their parents about going and getting home.  The location of the event was on the opposite side of town and required the kids to take two dala dala (public buses) to get there and then to walk for about 25 minutes.  We did not think that the kids would show up but they seemed really excited about it.  Saturday morning, the day of the event, one of the children called us to tell us he was there and we needed to hurry up and come hang out with them. 

We arrived there at 10:30am to see 25 of our Kilimahewa students there.  We were so surprised and excited to see them.  They had gotten up early and many had arrived when the event first started at 8am.  While there we hung out with the kids, told stories, encouraged them to watch the presentations, to learn about their rights, and we laughed and danced.  The special needs students from Gabriella Center (another school we support) sang a song about children and other school groups performed.  We treated the kids to popsicles and enjoyed the day with them.  It was a great day and so much fun to see the Kilimahewa kids involved with the local community. 

Although the comic book is still in the works and we are hoping to have it published and distributed to children in both Moshi and Arusha before we leave in the beginning of August.  It is our hope that this book helps educate children and parents on children’s rights and gives kids something positive to read.  When we finish I will publish the comic book for you to see on my blog. 

Here are some pictures of the Kilimaehwa kids from the amazing event this weekend.  

25 students showed up on their own to participate in the event
It was so much fun
Winifreda wore her EdPowerment t-shirt
The kids dancing
Salvatory and Peter enjoying popsicles
Joseph's serious face
Some of the girls
Reading the Rights of children and smiling for the camera
Some of the older girls
Sorry for the late blog entry….

For the last month I have been travelling around East Africa.  I have visited different places I have never been in Tanzania, seen some of the amazing beaches of Kenya, Trekked with gorillas in Rwanda, and visited the Source of the Nile River in Uganda.  It has been a pretty amazing journey.  Before I left on this long adventure one of my aunts asked me, “Kerri, you visit some amazing places but I still don’t understand why you love to
live in East Africa?”  This answer is not always the easiest for people to understand.  The things that make this place very different from America and very difficult to live in, are sometimes the same things I love most about it.  So in an effort to help everyone I love understand why I chose to try to live here this blog is dedicated to some of those reasons.  

Just for comparison purposes….

In the United States I am a highly educated award-winning teacher (so fancy I know but I am proud of that) who works long hours for my students.  I am insecure at times about life and some times get so passionate about my work that I can argue about the smallest things or break into tears over my frustration of the slow pace of educational change in America.  My co-workers spend a lot of time making fun of how involved I get in school and my need “to save the world,” one after school group at a time.  I run a Model United Nations and Interact Service Club.  I keep score at the volleyball games and take tickets at the football games.  It would be an understatement to say that I live for my work or that my work is my life.  I lived the last few years in a suburb 45 minutes outside of Chicago where the houses were pretty much the same and the grocery stores, restaurants, and places to go for fun were all corporate chains.  On the weekends I hung out with my family, ran activities at my school, or watched tv or talked to friends on the internet.  All events with friends generally had to be scheduled in advance because people were so busy with America’s crazy work expectations that no one had time for spontaneity and everyone had wall calendars, phone calendars, and email calendars to keep them on track.  I love to travel to fun and exotic places but many of my friends have kids and realistically their idea of travel is weekend trips to Wisconsin, weeks in Florida or other small trips due to the short amount of days people were given off of work.  Don’t get me wrong I love my life there and it is an interesting one full of amazing students, fun times, and wonderful family and friends.  I love Sunday mornings with Bill Mahr and Starbucks Coffee.  I love to go to the Chicago museums, eat at cool restaurants, or to just walk around Millennium Park.  But for me after everything I have done and all the places I have been at times every day in the US tends to feel the same.


In Tanzania I live in the north of the country, in one of the most beautiful, environmentally diverse regions, I have ever visited in all my travels.  I live in a middle sized city called Moshi full of crazy and insane interactions and experiences.  In a way of life that is completely different to what I am used to in the United States I am amazed every day by the things that surrounded us….

Everyday when I wake up I look out my back window to a view of Mount Kilimanjaro.  And everyday the view gives me the chills just looking at it.  It is the largest free-standing mountain in the world and with the glacier on top it looks like a massive piece of ice and rock that could kill anyone who challenged it.  But for me, I do not think of the rock and ice or of the thousands of people that are on the mountain that day trying to reach its peak, instead I think of possibilities.  It is this mountain that people come from all over the world to climb and stand on the top of so they can say they reached the roof of Africa.  The mountain provides jobs to hundreds of people in the region and brings so much money in the form of tourism to the area.  The glacier at the top provides water to thousands of people that would not have it otherwise. The slopes of the immense mountain are full of coffee plantations and banana trees that so many people work to earn a profit from.  Every time I see Kilimanjaro on a clear day I think.-  Wow, Amazing!   

View from my backyard window
We then spend time at Kilimahewa Education Center or Gabriella Center with amazing children who come from all over the area to get an education.  Some of our kids walk hours to get to school and then stay after school and on Saturdays just for some extra help that might help them pass the national exam and determine if they can have a secondary school education.  The kids at Gabriella have huge smiles and are so happy for positive attention that they light up a room when they walk in.  The kids listen to every word and although they do not always understand our messages they truly want and are grateful for every moment we spend with them.  Our afterschool group teaches leadership and life skills and you can see our students implementing the lessons they learned through their interactions with each other, their teachers, and through the stories they tell about their homelives.  Our outreach programs work with parents craving information about their child’s disabilities and you can see the small amount of hope they have start to shine brighter at the possibilities of support.  The desire for education and appreciation from students, parents, and organizations we work with warms my heart and is the most rewarding thing I have every experienced from a job.

Moshi, the town we live is a small town that booms due to tourism and a huge sugar plantation but if you travel west an hour you come to a much larger city called Arusha full of business, development, and many people. Both cities are full of traffic and congested with cars, people, motorbikes, buses, and businesses on street corners with funny names like “Chicken Pub”.   One of the things I love most about this part of where I live is the drive to Arusha.  On the way to Arusha you go from the lush forests and crops that fill the slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro to a vast open Savannah full of Acacia trees and people that live like nomads traveling around looking for water, food, and business.  You look out over the rolling planes and see the dust, the trees, and the moving people and I think of the Africa one envisions before they know better.  I think of ancient Africa with warring tribes, spears, mud huts, and people wearing small loin clothes from old history books.  This is the stereotypical perspective that most Americans have of Africa and is not completely accurate today but looking at this vast Savannah you can imagine what it was like and actual envision it coming to life.  

When you live in a place like I do you often miss the small things from home that make you so feel comfortable.  You miss silly things like good coffee, comfortable couches, places to hang out where you won’t get bothered because you are a minority.  When you are in the United States you have access to these things everywhere you go.  A cup of Starbucks coffee just becomes a part of normal life.  Sitting in a cute café with comfortable couches is not really as exciting because they are on every corner.  You walk down the street and everyone in the United States looks different so people leave you alone and you can go about your business without talking to anyone.  In East Africa good coffee, comfortable couches in cafes, and places where you don’t stand out like the statue of liberty exist but they are rare.  When you find them you love them for the happiness they bring you that you never would have thought a comfortable coach could bring you.  You get excited to go to them and you make special trips to visit these places just to get that feeling.  If they have wireless (which does exist here in some places) you get even more excited and sink back into your American habits of playing on your ipod and not talking to the people around you.  You love it and tell all your other friends about it because you want them to share in that feeling and go with you.  This new appreciation for the small things in life makes you happy you live in a place where you can finally see the value of the miniscule experience of living.

Living in a place like this you also learn about how to live differently, you have to  adapt, learn how to relax and wait, and learn a new form of patience.  Life here is very slow and so much different than the United States.   The work ethic is almost the opposite of what you see in America and the values of life are very different.  The culture you have to adjust to here is one built on relationships and social interactions.  People value each other and interactions as a way to share stories, gather information, and do business.  Working is important and there are systems and rules but often nothing can be done here without talking to many people, making others feel comfortable in the process, and not stressing over small things that might derail your scheduled day.  As a result working and living here leads to different experiences everyday and everyday is spent waiting for someone or something.  I cannot tell you of a single day that has been the same as any other day.  Everywhere we go we meet people, talk and socialize and develop new ideas of how to improve what we are doing or how we are living.  These interactions happen on the street corners, in offices of friends, at the grocery store, next to the bus stand, in the road, everywhere.  Everyday our planned workday changes, we talk and work with different people, and we hang out with friends and relax without a pressure to get work done for the next day. In one day you might have to have 15 conversations to get one piece of information, or call 3 people to find out where your meeting is, or stop in five different offices to get one important document. It often takes so long to accomplish tasks here that after one day you feel like you have worked for a month.  You might be thinking that it sounds exhausting but for me this means everyday is a different challenge and you get to visit different places and talk to different people everyday.  Monotonony does not exist in this part of the world, at least not in our lives.  This also means I get to have spontaneous experiences every day.  I can see my friend on the street and get a coffee and no one questions my work ethic.  I can meet someone in the morning for a meeting and then decide to stop and visit a students home and it is completely normal.  I can plan an amazing autism conference with a group of people and trust that word of mouth will attract people to come without trying to fight people to listen to me through their blue tooths, cell phones, and busy schedules.  I have also come to learn how to survive it without getting frustrated and now I find I thoroughly enjoy the slow pace of life here.  

You have to scratch cards and enter number into your phone to make it work. Sometimes they only have 75 cent vochers and you can spend 15 minutes scratching them and entering them.
You order food and drinks but might wait an hour for someone to bring you a bill. Service is very slow here.
Everyday you have to go to the market to buy what you need that day for dinner. And if you need rice you have to go through it and get rid of the rocks and sticks before cooking it. It is much more difficult than Uncle Bens.
These are just a few of the things that I love about where I live but over the last month I have also been able to experience some of the amazing beauty and breathtaking environments that exist in Africa.  Traveling around Africa is not easy.  It requires lots of patience, many bus rides, lot of confusing situations and long hours waiting but once you reach different places you see things like you would never imagine.  The animals are incredible and things like the National Parks, Nile River or Lake Victoria are vast and are still great examples of natural untouched beauty.  You don’t see crazy high rise hotels or paved roads full of corporations trying to make a profit.  Instead you see a natural environment and the people around it not even aware of the rarity of the place they live.  I cannot put into words the amazing things I have seen so check out these pictures below and just imagine you are there.

Last but not least the most important reason I love living here is the people I have come to know.  In the US I often feel like I am not completely understood.  In my life I have travelled to 6 continents, 33 different countries, on over 20 different airlines.  I don’t know why I have done these things other than I love the adventure, meeting new people, going to new places, and feeling challenged.  I have seen the amazing ancient buildings and structures like Stonehedge, The Greek Parthenon, The Colosseum, The Pantheon, Ankor Wat, and Wat Pol.  I have seen wild animals such as lions, giraffes, whales, gorillas, seals, elephants and others in their natural habitat.  I have stood on huge rugged cliffs on the edges of Europe, America, New Zealand, and Thailand and stared into every major ocean. I have hiked through rainforests, trekked up mountains, ridden a bike down a volcano, and rafted through major rivers.  I have lived an awesome life and I am only 31.  I do not have a house or apartment in the US, anything I do own is in boxes at my parents house.  I am no longer married and everyday unsure of what the future may hold but I know I love my life.

When you have lived the way I have lived and seen the things I have seen it is sometimes really hard find people who understand you.  Here I have been able to meet people who have done similar things, people searching out adventure, people wanting to live non traditional lives and I don’t feel a need to have to explain myself.  

I will be leaving this amazing place and returning home to America in 2 months.  I know my family is very excited and I am very excited to see them but before I come home I did want wanted to answer my aunts question about why I stopped in East Africa.  I love living here because I love the amazing environments, the rewarding work I do, the new appreciation for the small things in life, the relaxing pace of life, the untouched beauty that exists and the wonderful people I have met.  

I hope everyone is well and you had a great Memorial Day weekend!  Talk to you soon!  More blog posts will be coming soon!

Well it has been two weeks now since my last blog post---sorry about that---a lot has been going on this last few weeks. 

On the EdPowerment front things are coming along.  Jillian, Mama Grace and I went to visit a primary school in Arusha called Uhuru Primary School.  It is has a large special needs unit that has been operational for many years and has an amazing director, Mwalimu Onesmo.  He was both informative and inspirational.  He offered us many interesting ideas for possible things we could do with our Autism Awareness Program-ACT.  He informed us that there are only some teachers in Tanzania that train to be special needs teachers.  Once they finish their training they are assigned to a school.  When they are assigned to a school they are often not given a classroom or any resources and it is very difficult because they are expected to start up a special needs program after only a little bit of training.  He informed us that many teachers often then feel overwhelmed with the amount of work that is required with starting up new special needs units and therefore they often try to get regular education jobs instead.  When given a regular education teaching post the teachers are given classrooms and supplies.  As a result of this many special needs units are understaffed of teachers and classrooms and often kids are not getting the help or services they need.  Those teachers in the classrooms often have very little professional development or workshops to learn new skills and after a few years give up on the profession.  Onesmo suggested that something that might benefit the special needs teachers in Arusha and Moshi would be to hold some professional development workshops.  He told us that the last professional development in the area was in 2007 and that it was helpful but the government used the 3 week training to then state that those who had completed it were now fully trained to work with special needs students.  Onesmo stated that many of those who attended that training were not fully trained and could use more development.  This was a challenge we felt would be one that ACT might be able to take on.  There are about 100 teachers in Arusha and about 70 in Moshi that would benefit from this teacher conference and we now have a vision for something we would like to accomplish with ACT within this next year.  We were very excited about the prospect of helping the teachers and working more closely with those that are committeed to helping kids with special needs.

Some other EdPowerment things this week….Our water project is still underway and we are setting up some visits to homes of villagers to see how things are progressing.  We also plan to meet with the village leaders to make sure all families in need have access to water.  Also, our Kilimahewa afterschool group is going very well.  We meet every Wed. and Thursday after school.  Each day the kids beg us not to leave and to stay longer than our 1 ½ hour planned time.  It has been a lot of fun to work with the kids and get to know them.  There will be another blog post on this later.  We also have a group going this week to take the QT1 qualifying exam from Kilimahewa.  This is our first larger group to do this and if they pass it will be equivilant to them earning the first two years of their secondary school qualifications.  (Similar to a partial GED test)  They take this test on Tuesday and this will be the first real test of how Kilimahewa if functioning as a second chance center.  We will have their results officially in December and the students have been studying very hard for this exam.

For personal stuff and the reason for why this blog is late…..Well, we were evicted from our house 2 weeks ago and had only two weeks to find a new place to live. 

It sounds a lot worse than it really is but this is Africa so everything is so much more confusing, and more difficult to not only understand what is happening but also why it is happening.  So the explanation….Our friend Mussa, who we live with, rented the house we were living in last Oct. for one year.  He was told it would not be a problem to renew the contract for another year so we had planned to stay there for our stay in Tanzania.  We were renting our house from  St. Joseph Secondary Boarding School.  The house was usually used for students but they did not have enough students to fill it and rented it to us.  Two weeks ago St. Joseph decided that they wanted their house back and although they said we could renew our contract they now wanted the house back in two weeks time. 

This left us with only a few days to find a new house.  As anyone who has ever been here will tell you that this situation is explained through 3 letters- TIA (This is Africa).  This is the explaination for everything that seems crazy and this was crazy so TIA. 

To solve our dilemma Mussa talked to some friends and next thing we knew we were looking at houses.  Luckily with two days to our deadline we found a house that was close to where we were living that was nice and had almost everything we needed.  It has three bedrooms, two nice bathrooms with hot showers, and a kitchen.  The best part was it also had a porch in the front and the back to sit on and a nice garden area.  The only thing missing was furniture. (:  After some discussions, negotiations and a roommate meeting over coffee we decided to rent it.  Mussa had some furniture and we would need to find/buy/or borrow some but we would make it work.  That left us with two days to take out a years rent from the bank, exchange it to shillings, review the renters agreement, sign the lease, clean the house, try to move all our stuff out of the other house, find a truck and collect the furniture Mussa had distributed throughout his friends in Moshi.  Since everything in Africa takes three times longer than normal this was a lot to accomplish in two days, especially since all of us were also trying to get work done and had little time for moving.  Luckily in our house we also have to young guys who help out with the house.  Tony helps us with the cooking and Swaleh helps us with the cleaning.  In return we make sure they have a place to live and food to eat and they get a monthly salary.  These guys had been living with Mussa before we moved here and have been so important to our ability to function here and to not starve.  We would not have been able to do this move without them. 

So, this past Wed. we spend the day packing up our house and Thursday we came to our new house to clean and wash it.  Jillian and I started in the bathroom wiping down the walls and using bleach to clean the floor.  Tony came to check on us and informed in us in broken English that we were doing the cleaning all wrong.  He then showed us that you take a bucket full of really soapy water and throw it all around the room so it soaks everything.  After everything is coated you throw buckets of rinse water all over the place to rinse the soapy water.  You do this on the walls, windows, and floors.  Then you use a mop and squeegee to push all the water outside.  This Car Wash version of house washing was much more fun than what we were used to at home.  And after 3-4 hours of it the house looked great.  We then spent the evening moving our stuff in and running around collecting some furniture Mussa had and assembling it.  Our house has a bunk bed for the boys, a big bed for Jill and I to share until we get another one, and some dishes and pots and pans.  We are still lacking anything to sit on in our huge living room but are thinking of getting a bunch of big pillows to throw on the ground with some mats/carpets.  We thought living Middle Eastern style would be cheaper than finding big furniture pieces.  Especially because if you want furniture here you have to pay to have it made from a carpenter.  There are no furniture stores to buy things from.  We will keep you posted on how things go but so far we love the house and the area we live is beautiful.  So all in all the craziness of getting evicted in Tanzania worked out and the house is even better than the last one with the exception of the hard cement floors we have to sit on. (: 

I hope everyone is doing well.  Please send me some emails about how things are going at home.  I miss hearing from everyone.