Fri 24 Feb – Time for reflection

Our final day in Tanzania. We spent the day discussing and reflecting on the amazing experiences we have had this past two weeks. The day also gave us the chance to start pulling together images and videos that we will use in creating learning resources for the diocese.

It has truly been a memorable fortnight. We have learned so much about life here and we have all been both moved and inspired by what we have seen. We are looking forward to returning to our schools and communities to share our experiences.

Thanks to everyone who has followed our blog.

Thurs 23rd Feb – Serengeti

Today we left Issenye School, our home for the last two nights, and drove through the Serengeti en route to our final accommodation.

The Serengeti National Park is the size of Northern Island and provides home to some of the most spectacular wildlife on our planet. We were fortunate to see a range of animals including lions, leopards, hippos and elephants. An amazing place!

Weds 22nd Feb – Mugumu Safe House

Today was an emotional day as we visited a safe house for women and children escaping abuse. Unfortunately the culture of some communities in Tanzania is tribal and far removed from those in the U.K.

The safe house was established in 2015 by an amazing lady called Rhobi. She told us how she had been abused as a child and that had inspired her to set up a safe haven for others. Her vision is to protect girls against abuse and provide spiritual education, skills and awareness so as to achieve their aspirations.

The safe house provides enough beds for 40 girls however there are currently 104 girls in residence so Rhobi is looking to expand the accommodation. The staff ensure the girls are able to continue their education at local schools and also train them in skills such as sewing, tailoring and ICT. This means that in future they will be able to find employment or set up their own businesses.

Girls welcomed us with songs and they told us some of their stories which moved us to tears.

Tues 21st Feb -Issenye

Today we bid farewell to Musoma and the Mara district and travelled east to Issenye in the Serengeti district. Before we left we had a surprise visit from Bishop George who thanked us for our stay and we prayed together for safe travels and for each other’s dioceses.

The morning also provided us with the opportunity to make a second visit to both Nyanza and Nyamisisi schools.

At Nyanza we presented 6 desks on behalf of St Mary’s, Gomersall. It was great to see the children get up off the floor and sit at proper desks. At Nyamisisi we presented a number of items including chairs for the teachers and stationary.

Our journey to Issenye was eventful. Having left in glorious sunshine we were soon hit by torrential rain and hail. The dirt tracks here in Tanzania soon get washed away and it was touch and go for a while!

After a long 3 hours we were delighted to arrive at Issenye Secondary School, our home for the next two nights. Accommodation here is very basic – a simple toilet block is across the yard and we will shower using rainwater from a tank. An elevated position providing a beautiful view across the plains of the Serengeti comfortably makes up for the lack of home comforts.

Tomorrow we will visit a safe house for girls fleeing Gender Based Violence.

Mon 20th Feb – Mungango and +Hilkiah

Finally, it was time to visit Mrs Thompson’s link school. After a short journey along the dusty, bumpy roads we saw the sign for Mungango Primary. As we turned off the main road, we all noticed the amazing setting of the school with views out into Lake Victoria and acres of farm land.

The children greeted us very politely, they shook our hands, girls curtsied and said ‘Shikamoo’ which is a sign of respect. We were then greeted by the teaching staff, members of the school committee and village elders. One teacher had even decorated the class chalkboards with two welcome displays which put huge smiles on all of the group’s faces.

After introductions, the staff had time to ask each other questions about both schools. Mungango Primary has 530 students with 8 classrooms and 11 teachers. The class sizes are smaller than we’ve seen before with 56 in one class, this is due to there being three primary schools quite close together. Mrs Thompson was keen to find out the structure of their school day, the children were expected at school for 7am ready for inspection and home time was 4pm. The staff openly talked about the challenges they face at Mungango, saying they are lacking in textbooks for the children and there are not enough classrooms. In addition to this, the children are fortunate enough to have two school meals a week provided by an NGO on a Tuesday and Thursdays but unless they live near by, they go without the other three days. The lack of rainfall has meant that the newly installed water tank is empty, forcing the school to rely on the water from nearby Lake Victoria.

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The children were all waiting patiently outside to perform for us. We took our seats to watch traditional singing and dancing and we were even invited to dance. To our embarrassment, the children had to come and show us how it was done. As well as the dancing, the children were eager to show us some of the games they play; sack races and a game very similar to ‘Piggy in the Middle’ with the winners receiving a bracelet made by children from Battyford Primary. A short but welcomed burst of rain put a stop to the proceedings and we made our way back inside. Mrs Thompson presented the Headteacher with a book about Windmill Primary, a letter from Mr Scargill and a Salvadorian cross. The staff were very thankful and sang with appreciation. Rev Gill presented gifts and work from Battyford Primary, a school who is also linking with Mungango. Two students appeared and presented Mrs Thompson with a hand painted picture that one of the students and his older brother painted. The school had a wonderful feel with supportive and compassionate staff who were enthusiastic and proud of their school and pupils.

Before leaving the school, we were lucky enough to visit a a family who lived nearby (the same family responsible for the beautiful painting). On arrival at their home, they welcomed us and introduced us to 3 generations of their family. They told us about their daily lives. The father is a fisherman but he cannot afford his own boat. To provide for his family, he walks down to the lake and swims out to a rock to catch fish which he then sells. Whilst he earns the much needed money to buy food for the family, the mother collects firewood from the forest nearby. The 12 family members lived in 3 separate houses surrounding a small communal area. The house were incredibly basic with no windows, flooring or doors. Sadly, they informed us that one of the children died from hunger a few years ago. It was a truly humbling experience and one which puts our own lives and priorities into perspective. Why do we still live in a world where people die from lack of food? The least we could do was leave the family a football as thanks for their hospitality.

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On our way back to the hotel, we called to visit Bishop Hilkiah Omindo and his wonderful wife, Martha. Unexpectedly, she had prepared food for us to eat and we relaxed into the sofas listening to the fascinating stories Bishop Hilkiah told. He has done so much good in his career and he is someone we all look up to and respect. He shared with us the story of ACT Mara and how in the beginning it was meant to be a training school for teachers, but they realised they could help the wider community by opening it as a primary school. Bishop Hilkiah recognised that this decision would help to bring good quality education to members of the local community, regardless of their religious stance. He also shared with us how he worked on the safe house project which we will visit later in the week.

The district of Bunda is the poorest area in the region and Bishop Hilkiah was very aware that the women of the region are disproportionately affected in comparison to the rest of the female population. With this in mind, Bishop Hilkiah had a vision to bring hope to the young women of Bunda and as a result Bunda Girls’ Secondary School was created. We visited this school on Monday to meet the two students sponsored by Trinity Academy Halifax and witnessed first hand the brilliant work that goes on there. From the very brief but amazing time we spent with him it was clear that he has touched the hearts and lives of many of the people living in Mara and beyond.

Hanging on his bookshelf was an Arsenal banner and a framed award from the Archbishop of Canterbury. Both tremendously important memories for him. Little did we know he had spent the day with Arsene Wenger at the stadium in London! The award put into words how much his work has impacted on the Diocese of Mara. Bishop Hilkaih has a warm and welcoming manner and is a man of much knowledge and experience. We enjoyed his company and he invited us all to return if we ever found ourselves in Mara again.

Tomorrow, we will be travelling to Issenye which is a rural secondary school. This will bring new challenges for the group and will possibly push some of us out of our comfort zones! Whilst there is some electricity provided for short periods of time via a generator, there will be no internet!

It won’t be possible for us to post a blog for the next couple of days, but we will update you with our experiences as soon as we can. Thank you for all your support and keep the comments coming!

Sun 19th Feb – Musoma cathedral

Sunday in Mara is undoubtedly God’s day. We were guests this morning for Sunday service at Musoma Cathedral – an 8am start! The Cathedral is a spectacular building, filled with colour, life and music and as ever here in Tanzania we were made to feel incredibly welcome.

People’s faith here is absolutely central to their lives, they live and breathe Christian values and because of this the communities are strong and purposeful. The service was a real contrast to many services in the U.K. Worship consisted of song and dance involving the old and the young. Three hours flew by and the vibrancy and passion of the large congregation filled the Cathedral with joy and faith. This year’s Church elders were blessed, communion took place and new Church members were celebrated. Rev Gill was invited to preach and she spoke passionately about the strength and impact of the link between the dioceses of Mara and Leeds. She was clearly among friends and familiar faces as people welcomed her words and embraced her messages. It was incredibly apparent that this link is very special to the people in Mara. It gives them hope through faith in action and the impact of it is particularly tangible in the Cathedral compound as the work made possible by the link touches the lives and hearts of many.

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Following the service the joy spilled outside as people greeted each other and shared stories and laughter. Life is lived at a slow pace here and nobody was dashing off to other commitments. In Mara the greatest commitment is faith.

Next we were invited to meet the Women’s Union and senior members of the Cathedral community. We shared experiences and food with them and felt inspired by their passion for improving the lives of others. The Women’s Union meet and worship every week, they provide games and Bible teaching for the most disadvantaged children in the area. The group also provide food and drink for the children at the Cathedral and some is sent home for their families at home. The generous monthly donations from Wakefield Cathedral helps to fund this project and the women send their thanks and prayers for all back in Wakefield. We accepted a handmade gift on behalf of Wakefield Cathedral.

It was lovely to see children enjoying food and games in this caring environment. They were delighted to see us and some even greeted us by name following our school visits.

It was time to bid farewell and we left with yet more great memories of life here in Mara.

Sat 18th Feb – Lake Victoria and Musoma

After a very busy week, we finally had some down time to enjoy the natural beauties of Tanzania and the town of Musoma.

We had a short walk down to the shores of Lake Victoria which is the size of Wales and is bordered by Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania. We clambered onto the old, wooden, rickety boat and donned our fetching life jackets.

Throughout the journey, we saw a rich variety of wildlife such as kingfishers, fish eagles, egrets, a lonely pelican, baboons, cows, monitor lizards and even an elephant cloud. The boat did start to fill up with water at certain points and unfortunately Mrs Slaven’s camera fell victim to one of the puddles! She and the camera lived to tell the tale.

On the lake there are many small islands, and their inhabitants live a very simple life which is dependant on the lake. They fish on the shore and from the rocks using homemade fishing rods and bathe in the water. The lake is also used to transport the fish they catch to the mainland. There was even a cow taking a dip to cool down in the morning sun! The views were incredible and it was an amazingly peaceful couple of hours.

 

Once back on dry land we walked through the town to ACT Mara’s compound which contains Musoma Cathedral, the Diocese of Mara’s headquarters and a little oasis called Rehema Cafe & Craft Shop. Rehema is an income generation project aimed at helping disadvantaged women and children in Mara. They employ and train 35 women in crafts and catering. There are two shops selling beautiful handmade crafts such as bags, clothes, cards, jewellery and fabric animals. The craft elephants became an endangered species as 9 of the group emptied the shop of them! Luckily the shop was soon stocked up again. The cafe sells western style food; hamburgers, pizza, chips, tea in a teapot and even cake. People travel for miles to get a taste of home.

After a delicious meal, we headed to Musoma market. Down narrow alleyways we found stalls that sold everything from fresh fruit and vegetables, pulses and rice to school shoes and colourful fabrics. A few members of the group went to collect their traditional African outfits that they were measured up for on Wednesday. The market was full of brilliant trinkets and treats and many of the teachers couldn’t resist buying lots of souvenirs for their schools.

Today, we have developed our understanding of what life is like living in a busy town like Musoma and we have some great footage to share with you all.

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It’s an early night for all as the Cathedral service starts at 8am. We’re all looking forward to this new experience and being welcomed into the local Christian community.

Fri 17th Feb – Mmazami and hospitality with Arthur

We awoke this morning to our final school visit of the week. We have passed Mmazami Primary school on several occasions on the main road in and out of Musoma. Mrs Skinner and Mrs Partington were delighted to finally drive towards the school whilst all the children were cheering and running towards us. This is the link school for Horbury Bridge Academy and St Peters Primary in Horbury. The lively and vibrant ethos was evident from the moment we stepped out of the cars. We were greeted with singing from the nursery children – with 300 children in one nursery class! The numbers of children are so large here (over 1500) that children can only come to school in shifts. We continued the morning with singing, dancing and drumming which consisted of banging sticks against empty water containers.

We continued with lots of fun as we made our way to the field for some games. The children were keen to show us running races and the sack race and of course we were keen to join in.  Miss Dixon soon took the lead and Mrs Partington and Miss Gallagher quickly caught up. Mr Wood’s competitive spirit took over with blatant cheating as he decided to run without his sack to the finish line. The staff and children were overjoyed that we wanted to take part and cheered us along the way. Soon after, we had a tug of war with visitors against the teaching staff of Mmazami Primary school. We felt confident that we would lose but to our delight, we managed to pull the rope over the line! Yes we did dance and jump and cheer with our win and got many cheers and laughter in response. The headteacher was delighted with our participation and was very willing for his staff to join in with games that we’d organised. With gifts of parachutes from Horbury Bridge and St Peters, the fun began; the mushroom game had everyone erupt with laughter as staff and visitors were hysterical underneath the fabric. The Mmazami staff team gained revenge for their tug of war loss with a victory when we played the parachute volleyball game. We hope the staff will have just as much fun teaching the children these games.

After looking around the classrooms, it was wonderful to see a water tank being built which has been supported through fundraising at Horbury Bridge Academy and the Parish of St. Peters and St. Johns. This project is due for completion in the next week and will mean that children no longer need to carry containers of water to drink at school.

Moving indoors, we had the opportunity for an open discussion to compare education systems in England and Tanzania. We recognise the challenges of large classes and the staff were keen to know about our positive behaviour systems we have in place. Just before our departure, the vicar said a prayer for our schools and our link. Mrs Partington and Mrs Skinner were then given gifts of friendship. Mmazami school is a special place with a staff team who are truly full of spirit.

Following a quick turnaround back at the hotel we were then treated to an afternoon of Tanzanian hospitality at its finest. Arthur and his wife welcomed us into their home with the task of cooking a meal the African way. We were split into different teams including those who were required to catch and kill a chicken; this had everyone hysterical as the team chased the chicken continuously around the garden. After a desperate attempt to catch the elusive bird Amon, Arthur’s son, dived at the chicken and caught it easily. It was handed to Arthur, who then informed us that the chicken we were going to eat was actually already prepared and in the fridge! The relief and laughter at his amazing deception!

The groups took charge of cooking vegetables, peeling potatoes, cooking rice and building a fire. While the food was cooking, we took a walk to Eagle’s Rock, a nearby landmark, from where you could see the whole of Musoma. The climb up the rocks was difficult but the incredible view at the top made it worthwhile.

On returning to the house, we sat around and ate our fabulous meal together. We all agreed that it was the best meal we had been served since being in Tanzania, and it was all the better as it was prepared by the group and was served with such love. A sudden fall of rain drove us under the veranda but we continued to talk and laugh until darkness fell. As the air filled with the sounds of crickets, Arthur thanked us for coming and blessed us so much with his kind words of love and welcome, we felt very much at home.

It was a fantastic evening and we all felt so blessed and grateful to be in the company of such a wonderful family.

 

Thurs 16th Feb – water pump, Rwamkoma and BRAC

Our itinerary today took us on a long drive through the dusty tracks into the village of Rwamkoma. This is a village which already has a well established and successful link with St. John’s Church in Clifton in Brighouse. We had a wonderful opportunity to pause on our journey to see a new water pump in a village nearby. This was a very busy place, as lots of local people were gathered there, surrounded by plastic containers. How far they had walked in order to collect the water could only be guessed at, but they would also have to bear the weight of the full containers on their return journey. We all took advantage of the situation to have a go at the pump ourselves, much to the amusement of some of the locals!  We continued on our way, our jeeps sending up clouds of choking orange dust, until the primary school came in sight.

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Although the parish of Rwamkoma is linked with Clifton, the school had no link. Additionally, we learnt that the school had never received any visitors and so this was a very special day for us and for them. It was particularly important to Mr Bedford as a new link would be created with his school – St. John’s Primary Academy, Clifton.

As with all of our school visits, we were made extremely welcome. Desks were brought out and we sat together beneath the trees. The heat was intense, but we were so delighted to be there to see this brand new link form. The environment was stunning; trees stretched out across the landscape and the view of the hills and mountains was amazing. Arthur and Melina translated as the staff at the school introduced themselves in turn. Representatives of the church were also present and they all extended their friendship and love towards us; their delight at us being there was evident. It was then our turn to introduce ourselves.
Arthur explained the new link and that it would be based on communication and prayerful support between the two schools. Mr Bedford spoke to the group, thanking them for their welcome and offering greetings, friendship and love from St. John’s Primary Academy, also assuring them of the prayer support they would receive from his school. He also spoke of his joy at the formation of the link and that he wanted to see a strong and long lasting friendship develop. He went on to say that both schools had much to learn from each other and that all the children at both Rwamkoma and St. John’s Primary Academy would benefit from this new friendship. He then presented some gifts to the headteacher, which consisted of a specially made book of photographs from St. John’s, containing a letter from their principal, Mrs Lever. There were also exercise books, pens, pencils and balloons. The staff were delighted to receive them.

There followed an interesting discussion about the differences in education and discipline in the two countries. Perhaps the most memorable question was from a teacher at Rwamkoma, who asked if any of us would like to teach in Tanzania. When we asked if any of them would like to teach in England, most of the teachers raised their hands! This was a wonderful time, with people who enjoyed working in Rwamkoma.

It was time for us to meet the children. We separated and made our way through the classrooms. The children were overjoyed to see us and greeted us warmly. We learnt that the school had 1252 pupils and 9 teachers, who had all been placed here by the government. Shortly afterwards, the children poured from their classrooms and into the yard as we prepared to leave. Mr Bedford was surrounded by hundreds of pupils as he filmed them all waving. Clearly, this is going to be a very important link.

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Following this, we journeyed on to the church to see the results of the support given by St. John’s Church. We saw the church and the new vicarage, with the new roof and floor tiles. We left, wishing we could have stayed longer at the wonderful school at Rwamkoma.

Our afternoon saw a return visit to BRAC (Buhemba Rural Agricultural Community). Cath and Gill had both visited previously, but it was a new experience for everyone else. As has happened everywhere, we were made hugely welcome and we shared a meal of rice, cabbage and beef.

We were told about the effect of the goat herd project for local farmers and we met the herd. Also, we heard about the project at BRAC. Bee hives (stinging bees!), production of sunflower oil, seed improvement and cattle farming are all component parts of BRAC. Sadly, the project supporting children who had been forced to work in the gold mines has closed due to lack of funding. However, the success story of BRAC is the development of a training system for farmers. This offers formal qualification which can ultimately lead to full blown university degrees. Those who get this far are snapped up to work for the government or NGOs (Non Government Organisations).

Locals farmers are supported by BRAC have learnt animal and land management resulting in vast increases in yields e.g. Goat milk production rising from 3-5 ltrs per day to 15-18 ltrs per day. Crop yields is also greatly increased. All this means that children can have books and uniforms and houses are being built. BRAC is truly changing lives and, at the same time, serving conservation issues in the locality. Beyond the Mara region, it is helping to create graduates with such specialised knowledge it is also serving areas across Tanzania.

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Once back in Musoma some of our group got measured up and ordered traditional clothes in readiness for our cathedral service on Sunday. We then enjoyed a lovely meal together discussing another busy but enriching day in Tanzania.

Wed 15th Feb – Kinyariri, Buhemba and Tarani primary schools

Today began with an unexpected but welcome visit to Kinyariri Primary School. Kinyariri had heard that we were in the area and asked us to call in. They wanted to send gifts and express their gratitude to their link schools of St. Helen’s Hemsworth and Southdale Junior CE School. As we drew near the school we were greeted by drumming, dancing and singing; which turned into a true African procession of welcome. Introductions were made and then we were shown the classrooms that Kinyariri is seeking to improve. Currently there are bare brick walls, mud floor and no desks. Gifts from Southdale will plaster and decorate the walls and put in concrete floors. Gifts from St. Helen’s had offered links and friendship with the prospect of new experiences for both schools. Just before we were leaving Mr Wood asked if they had a football at the school. The answer was “no”, and Mr Woods magic bag produced the goods. We left to the sight of hundreds of very happy pupils in pursuit of a new, shiny, green football. Thank you to Kinyariri for a wonderful start to our day.

Then it was onto our second school of the day. We arrived at Buhemba primary which is the link school of Normanton All Saints and Darrington. The children raced across the field singing and dancing while running along side the jeep. As soon as we stepped off the jeep, the staff welcomed us with friendly smiles. Miss Dixon and Miss Gallagher instantly felt like they had arrived home as they walked into a classroom which had their hands of friendship on the wall and the books that Normanton and Darrington had previously made; we also saw beautiful decorative table pieces that they had made for Normanton and Darrington. They had hanging on the wall a book that Normanton All Saints had sent last year and we were able to spot Miss Gallagher and pictures of all the teachers from Normanton which made the friendship between us feel incredibly strong.

Miss Dixon and Miss Gallagher were then presented with some hands of friendship that the children of Buhemba had made, which consisted of a picture of the child, their name, their job aspirations, their favourite colour, what they like to eat and their favourite subject. This was clearly very emotive for Miss Dixon and Miss Gallagher as it showed the amazing friendship that these schools had made. After some long introductions and reminiscing of the previous visit, gifts were presented to all schools and the PE teacher was particularly delighted as he received a wealth of sports equipment. We were then ushered outside with more photographs but the biggest treat was yet to come. We all made our way to the field and were quickly seated. Moments later, the children appeared in African dress dancing and singing. They were amazing! It was a wonderful show which hopefully we will post when we’re back in the uk. Sadly it was time to leave onwards to our next school.

Our final  stop of the day was at Tarani primary school which is linked with St. John’s and St. Paul’s primary schools in Wakefield.  We were welcomed by not only by the children and staff but also vicar of the local church which is also linked with St. John’s church in Wakefield.  After introductions and conversation with the staff, Mrs Slaven and Mrs Fox presented the letters and gifts sent from our schools to Tarani school.  The link here is very new and the children were a little shy to ask questions.  However they were not shy to show us their traditional dancing and singing.  Rev Gill and Mrs Skinner even had a go at the drumming. We were then invited to visit the  church which was at  the end of the school drive. What an impressive place! The vicar explained that the money from St. John’s church had paid for windows, plastering the walls and providing some flooring which they hope to complete in the future.  It was humbling to be invited into the vicarage where we joined together in prayer.  After a long day we climbed aboard our land rovers for the rickety and dusty journey home.