Thursday, February 17, 2011


Lukima School, our last school visit!

Yesterday we visited Lukima School.  We drove from Mbinga for about 2 hours uphill to the school.  It is located at over 6000 feet.  We were once again greeted by 400 smiling, singing students.  The school has recently been built and has form 1 and form 2 - similar to grades 9 and 10 in the US.  More grades will be added each year until the first class graduates.

We met with the students in a crowded assembly hall with a beautifully decorated blackboard welcoming us to the school.  After several speeches, I also gave a speech and greeted the kids with "Ham Jambo, wana funzi" which means "What's the news fine students?"  The kids loved it, but it was pretty much the extent of my Swahili.

We presented another soccer ball to the students, and the cheers were thundering!  A soccer ball in a remote area is a big deal, and especially one with the world cup logo.

I had a question from a young man in Boston yesterday, and it was a great question!  He wondered why Longa school already had water when they are not completed with their fundraising.  We are fortunate to have donors that have helped us create a revolving fund- they donate to projects in need.  In the case of these schools in the Ruvuma area, the skilled labor was available in the area, and the implementing group asked if we could provide funds early to take advantage of cheaper prices by doingo 4 projects.  Once Boston College raises it's funds, they will replenish the "borrowed" amount from the revolving fund.  It allows schools that are ready to go to not have to wait months before starting.  Thanks for the question!

Lukima School also utilized it's location (the mountains) and designed a gravity flow system.  The students once again gathered rock, sand and dug the trench for the pipe- 4 km long- and all up a steep grade! H2O for Life funds provided cement, pipes and the skilled labor where needed.  We were going to walk to the source, but a torrential rainfall put a stop to that.  We actually needed to stay an additional several hours at Lukima because the roads were impassable.  Fortunately, our driver, Emanuela was terrific, and able to slip slide our way out to better roads. 

We also met Sarah, a US volunteer who is teaching at the school.  She told us that she loves it!  She lives in very modest staff housing, has a shamba (a garden patch with many foods that she needs) and on occasion is able to email and charge her ipod-which she says is a the best!  She is teaching the students English.  Without English they have no chance to pass the National Exams, and the Tanzanian teachers are really not fluent enough to teach English the way it is tested.  Village Schools International has found that with the addition of English speaking teachers, students flock to the schools, and do well on the tests.  Any volunteers out there?  We have information if you are looking for a journey of a lifetime in Tanzania.

We had a long drive to Iringa, where Steve and I needed to catch a bus to Dar Es Salaam.  Due to the rain, we ended up overnight in Songaa around 8pm.  Once it is dark, the driving is dangerous and not advised.  We had another 8 hour day to Iringa the following day.  We said good-bye to our great new friends from Village Schools, and spent some time shopping in Iringa.

We met a young taxi driver named Ilomo.  He spoke English and was a lifesaver.  In Kenya, many people speak English, but it is not so in Tanzania. (I really need to learn Swahili)  Ilomo escorted us to shops and dinner, and delivered us to the dreaded bus this morning. I actually bought an additional seat so that we weren't smashed in like sardines.  Unfortunately, we were right under the "movie" speaker and it was loud.  Fortunately, I had several pairs of earplugs in my bag for just such an emergency.  It was a long 9 hour bus trip to Dar.  As we exited the bus, we saw one lady get off with a live chicken.  We couldn't imagine holding that chicken for 9 hours!

Thus ends our school visits.  We are reassured that the work that is being done is fantastic and is making a difference in the lives of the students.  Thank you all for your support to H2O for Life.  We hope you will continue to educate your students, your friends, your youth groups and anyone else that will take an interest in the water crisis.  It does have solutions and in the words of Sarah Douglas from Lukima:
                                                        "Haba na Haba hujaza kibaba"
                                                            little by little fills the bucket
We believe this is true!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Ruvuma- Secondary Schools in Small Villages

For the past 3 days, we have been on the road- and I do mean road- to visit several schools in the Ruvuma area of Tanzania.  We headed towards the borders of  Mozambique and Malawi.  If a downpour had not suddenly happened, we could have climbed to the top of the mountain located near Lukima school, and had a view of the two countries.

We drove from Madesi School to a Catholic convent that rents rooms to get into position for a school visit.  12 hours on the road!  We were on dirt roads that were dusty and bumpy for about 4 of the hours.  UGH- the travel is tough.  It is always worth it to meet the kids and see the schools, but we are wearing out.

The convent was pristine, and comfortable with HOT water!  It was a  treat!  They also have a bakery on the grounds and we were able to have hot cookies out of the oven- and we bought cookies to take with us as well.

We were poised to leave the convent at 8-but after a stop to find a bolt for the car, photocopying of some documents and a stop at the Department of Ed office for another document, we got on the road about 9:30.  Mind you, we were in the car at 8-just not moving to our destination!

After an hour and a half drive, we arrived a Longa School.  The students were lined up to greet us, singing a welcome song.  There were around 400 students who stayed late to greet us.  We met in a large assembly hall that was packed.  After several speeches, I had the opportunity to talk a little about H2O for Life, and also taught the students part of our H2O for Life song.  If  you haven't heard it or looked at the music and words, it is available under our educational resources.  We'd love to have YOUR school sing it, record it, and send it to us.

We walked over 2Km uphill to see how the students at the school constructed a water project with the help of H2O for Life.  They designed a gravity flow water system from a mountain stream that provides a wonderful source of water to the school, and the teachers housing.  A reliable source of water leads to better gardens for the school, easier additions to the school as the water is essential in building, and of course water for the students!  We had fun on our walk.  I video-taped students leading us and singing all the way.  I learned a lot about the water source.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

                             Aids is rampant in the nearby villages of Igoda. 
                      HIV affects over 40% of the people in the village-
                         many of them are children.
                                Dr. Leina, joins VSI to make home visits to
                                       people too sick to travel
                                   This mother and her 6 week old baby
                                        are both HIV Positive

Igoda Village visit

For the past few days we have been in Igoda Village in Tanzania with Village Schools International.  The work that Steve Vinton, Susan Vinton and their international family, are doing is amazing.  The schools are being built to provide secondary education for the underserved in Tanzania- and believe me that is what they are doing!  The concept is beautiful.  VSI visits communities and lets them know that they can build a school for their community if they are willing to work!  VSI, with the help of partners such as H2O for Life, provides all the materials that cannot be provided by the local community.  The expectation is this- the community will construct all the bricks, provide the lumber, provide the sand and gravel and sweat equity labor, and VSI will help with the skilled labor and materials such as cement, nails, rebar etc.  The schools are built for a very inexpensive price, and the school is a sustainable facility for the community.  H2O for Life works to provide the materials that are needed to complete the water facilities, toilets and hand-washing facilities.  H2O for Life has partnered with 20 schools through VSI.

Yesterday we visited Madesi school.  The school provides the high school level education and although new, is ranked in the top 15 schools in the area.  The key?  VSI invites many English speaking teachers to volunteer for a semester or a year in the schools.  Teaching students to become more fluent in English by providing the role models and direct teaching has helped the testing scored rise dramatically.  The students enrolled are the kids that were not chosen after standard 8 to continue.  Giving these students the opportunity for further education will change the communities.

We were shocked to learn that this area of Tanzania is the area most infected with AIDS.  We went with Susan Vinton on her home visits yesterday, and had our eyes opened to the problem.  The AIDS rate is around 40%, with most households containing one or more people that are positive.  There are a large number of orphans- many who are HIV positive as well, and so many babies that are sick.  The Vinton's were not expecting to settle into a community that was so highly infected with HIV , but once established, they realized that people were dying daily- and the cause was AIDS. They needed to do something!

This area in Tanzania is known for it's tea fields, and along with the tea plantations came an influx of AIDS.
The tea companies brought in migrant workers, and truck drivers who rapidly spread AIDS among the unsuspecting communities.  In a short time, the effects have been devastating.  Susan and her VSI family, supported through donations, administers medicines to the community, and they have purchased 2 buses to transport people to local clinics to receive the free medications that is saving lives. (the closest clinic until the VSI clinic opens in a short time is an hour bus ride away- not easy for sick people) Educationally, VSI, also focuses on AIDS education and encourages all students to be tested.  Once students are tested for AIDS, the kids tend to encourage their parents to also visit the clinics.  Susan is hopefull that the problem is beginning to be controlled, but time will tell.  It was a depressing, heartbreaking day for us.  It is wonderful that there are people on the ground that see a problem, and dive in to create a solution.

If you wish to support H2O for Life and our work in collaboration with Village Schools International, visit our website, or give us a call.  It is an amazing program!

VSI also brought us to many of the fantastic water projects that have been developed.  The students and community once again are challenged to provide the materials needed to bring water to the schools.  The methods are among the best we have witnessed while on our journey.  They are utilizing a "Ram" pump that pumps the water from a nearby stream to the school storage tanks.   It is cost effective and efficient.  We are thrilled to be part of their work.

We are currently on an 8 hour car trip to an area to visit more schools.  The roads are decent, and we hope to meet many more wonderful students and teachers tomorrow.


Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Visit to St. Margaret's School in Arusha area

Today I visited St. Margaret's School in the Arusha area.  It is a school that has roots embedded in Minnesota.  The Friends of Africa, a local group, have helped Mama Tesha get her school off the ground. Many of the students at the school are being sponsored by donors around the world, and other students pay to attend.  The quality of education is very good.  The school was number 7 in Tanzania last year of over 14,000 elementary schools competing in the testing.  The school recently received a large donation of food from Feed My Starving Children.  It was good to see a large pot of porridge being prepared for lunch for the children.  The school has also received books from Books for Africa to start organizing an library.  The school is well on it's way to become a first class Tanzanian school!

St. Margaret's currently receives a rationed amount of water from a nearby army camp, (3 hours a day) but are going to construct a rainwater catchment tank that will allow them to have consistent access to water.  The construction of the tank will begin soon.  They are very grateful to Diamond Path Elementary for their partnership with them this year that will help build the tank. The students loved the penpal letters, and promised to write letters back very soon.  They were fascinated with the photos of snow! They hope that someday, students from Diamond Path will be able to visit the school.  They will be most welcome!

I went with my new friend and driver, Alphan, to see if I could get my Kenyan phone working in Tanzania.  We waited at one AirTel shop for about a half an hour, only to be told that I needed my passport to complete the transaction.  Of course today was THE day that I left the passport in the hotel safe.  The ONLY day!!  SO..... we went back to the hotel, and headed out again to another AirTel shop.  After about another 45 minutes, the transaction was completed.  The good news? It works.  The bad news?  It wiped out all of my contact phone numbers.  I am now sitting at the computer trying to recreate phone numbers that I need for the rest of our visits.

Following the telephone debacle, we ventured into Arusha Town to the local market area.  Everything that you ever needed at your home for cooking, clothing, or food could be found in the booths.  The colors and smells were overwhelming, but the people were very gracious and again, welcomed us to Tanzania.  We love the colorful dresses and head scarves that are worn by the women.  It fascinates me to see all the different items that can be carried on their heads.  They carry food, clothing, wood, bananas, pineapples and everything else from soup to nuts.  The women also carry their babies and small children in Kanga cloth on their backs.  I don't think I would last a day!

We have enjoyed our very short time in Arusha, and will be heading to Dar es Salaam tomorrow by airplane.  After a brief overnight in Dar, we will head to a small village near Iringa.  The bus ride will be 8-10 hours.  We are a bit apprehensive about the trip!  It will definitely be an experience. Once in Iringa we will stay overnight at the Wihanzi Hotel.  It will cost us a whopping $15 for the night.

The weather in Kenya and Tanzania has been warm with blue skies- NO WATER!  Both countries definitely need rain.  They are hoping that in late March or early April the skies will open and they will be able to water their crops and fill their tanks.


Monday, February 7, 2011

Water, Water-hopefully everywhere!

Today we drove to the border at Namanga to enter Tanzania from Kenya.  Our good friend Christopher told us it was a "good road", but I guess it is all a matter of perspective.  We've decided that traveling in a vehicle trumps walking mile after mile even if the road is bumpy, dusty and by our standards long!  We laugh because no matter where we are going we hear the same comments from our drivers and friends.  How far is it to Namanga?  "Not so far". are the roads?  "Not so bad".

As we look back on our 16 days in Kenya, we realize that we met many wonderful people, visited schools and met teachers and parents that are working hard to give students the skills needed to change their communities, and witnessed an attitude of hope and conviction that life in Africa WILL improve! 

 Through-out the miles that we have traveled, we must once again mention that we continually pass people carrying either empty containers on their way to find water, or full containers on the long journey home.  We have discovered that Tanzania is also experiencing dry conditions, and our H2O for Life shirts always solicit comments.  We receive words of thanks from people passing by, and questions about what H2O for Life is doing.  When we tell them that SCHOOLS and kids are raising the majority of funds to bring water to our partner schools around the world, they are amazed and impressed.  They also realize that our children and youth will be the leaders of the world and will "be the change".

Tomorrow, we visit St. Margaret's School in Arusha.  We'll deliver penpal letters from Diamond Path Elementary School, Eagen, MN and spend time meeting the teachers and students.  We'll take photos and check on the progress of the school water project.  It'll be a great day!

We have a great day coming up for you too! Join us on April 16th for an annual "Walk for Water" to raise awareness and funds for schools around the world.  You will find information on our website to  help you plan a "Walk for Water" event.  If you live in or around Minnesota, the "Walk for Water" will be held at Target Field, the home of the Minnesota Twins.  The Pentair Foundation is our presenting sponsor, and the event will be a day to remember. Come walk around the new field, visit school exhibits, and perhaps have a chance to run the bases!  Register for the event on our website. 

April 16th is also Global Youth Service Day.  Join the thousands of youth that are participating in events that make a difference in the world.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

A visit to a Masai Village and more

Today, following a morning game drive, and a visit to the local airstrip to pick up a friend, we visited a nearby Masai manyatta.  We were greeted with singing by the women and men of the community. They were dressed in their traditional red cloth clothing and many beads from head to toe.  The women make the beads, and sell them to tourists to help support the community.

 Julius, our Masai guide showed us many interesting customs and procedures used by the Masai.  He and several of the warriors showed us how to make fire using two sticks- hardwood of the acacia tree and soft wood of the cedar tree.  Three of the men made a fire in a few minutes. (I'm sure campers can do something similar, but I was impressed).  We saw a group playing a game of mancala using stones, and their hands were flying.  Sometimes the winners walk away with additional cows or goats- but not today.

 We visited a typical home made of mud and cow dung.  The homes are made by the women there and takes 6 weeks to build. The hut will last approximately 10 years.  Julius told us that many Masai continue to practice polygamy and many families share the same manyatta.  Each wife has her own mud hut.  Children in the enclave are welcome to sleep in any home in the manyatta. Masai girls, in recent years, must attend school which has made the marriage age later for most. In the recent past it was not unusual for girls as young as 13 and 14 to be married to much older men.

The children sang a song for us, recited the alphabet and solved several math problems using a stick as a pencil and the ground as the tablet. There are several government schools nearby, and some of the men and women had graduated from the schools and were well educated.  They continue to choose to live a traditional life that has few frills.  They normally eat grains, milk mixed with cows blood and goat or cow meat on special occasions.  They told us that their biggest challenge is water- something we hear from every community throughout Kenya.  They walk 10 Kilometers each way to the nearest bore hole. During this dry season, there is never enough!

We also had the opportunity to purchase hand made items from the women.  It was a hard sell, and we didn't walk away without buying several items. We enjoyed the visit and learned much about the lives of these interesting, colorful people.

Tomorrow we head for Arusha and a visit to St. Margaret's school.  St. Margaret's has many supporters in the Minnesosta area, and Diamond Path Elementary has sent many pen pal letters to be delivered.  We look forward to the vist.  Tanzania, here we come!
                                           Women's water project at Kathungu Village
                                          Kathungu students receive a new "futball"

Saturday, February 5, 2011

From Kathungu to the Bush

We have been out of computer contact for several days.  We were visiting Kathungu Village- the starting point for H2O for Life.  Five years ago, Christopher Mutuku asked for help for his community.  Highview Middle School answered by raising funds to construct a sand dam for the community.  Today, this sand dam has been enhanced and continues to provide water to Kathungu village.  Kenya has had several years of low rainfall, and times are hard.  It was wonderful to see that the efforts of students has helped this community tremendously.  The students that continued on to Irondale High
School also funded a rainwater catchment tank for Kathugu School.  A visit to the school confirmed that the tank is working and will provide enough water for the school for the year.  The teachers also told us that because of access to improved water, attendence has increased as illnesses have declined.

As we toured the school, we were greeted by smiling, happy children.  Thank you to all of you that contributed to the "soccer ball fund".  Every school that has received a soccer ball has been delighted!

We also visited the girls latrines. They were awful, and they need work!  We have asked the community and our friends at Kenya Rainwater Association to prepare a proposal outlining what is needed to improve the latrines for the school.  The latrines are almost full, smelly and very unappealing.  They also do not provide privacy.  The teachers pleaded with us to please consider helping Kathungu secure funds needed to rehabilitate the latrines.  Maybe you and your school are interested?  Let us know!

We attended a celebration and commissioning of a shallow well, pump and cattle trough placed near the original sand dam project. This project was proposed by a local women's group in the area. The women and communty provided the sand, the rocks and the digging that needed to be done for the project. The project is named "Hall's Well", and I am honored.  The pump allows the women and girls easier access to water and is more time efficient.  It also provides clean water!

Following the commissioning of the project, we shared an African meal prepared by the local women's group.  Sukuma-wiki, Ugali, and other dishes were enjoyed by all.

We spent our evenings talking with community members and playing UNO with the neighborhood children.  Life is very basic in the village, but also a welcome break from the hustle and bustle that we usually experience. 

We experienced many cultural differences while in the village.  We are used to everything running on time, and that does not happen. We were scheduled to leave Nairboi at 10am, and finally left the hotel around 2. The celebration at the river was to begin at 10 and began around 12:30!  Dinners that were planned for 7, sometimes happened at 9.  We often were waiting for something to happen, but we weren't quite sure what that would be.  It was an exercise in patience for us.  We have learned that there really is "African Time".  As my close friends read this, I know they are laughing as I am the most impatient of people. We have gradually learned to be a little more patient, and to not let the "time" interfere with the experience.

Today we are at Amboseli Reserve.  It is a dry area, however, the springs and marshes that are tucked away are home for large groups of elepants and other animals. We saw elephants enjoying a cool bath and playtime for the young ones at a small pond.  For us, it felt great to have a warm shower after a long day on dusty roads and days of bathing from a bucket!

One more day at Amboseli before heading to Tanzania.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Last day on the Mara

Yesterday we went on an all day game drive across the Masai Mara.  The animals are not as plentiful at this time of the year as most have migrated to Tanzania.  There are the faithful "residents" that reside on the Kenya side year round.  We had a great day driving across this great expanse of land.  We saw many elephants, lions, giraffe, zebras, gazelles of all types, and many different antelopes.  We also visited a hippo area of the river.  They are monstrous when up close, and from what the ranger told us, they are very dangerous.  They can run fast-who knew?- and they don't like to be disturbed. 

We walked the hippo trails (escorted by a ranger with a very big rifle) up and down along the riverside.  The hippos have very sensitive skin and avoid the heat and sun of the day, and the trails are used  to head to the grass in the evening to eat and are used by the wildebeest during the migration.  Steep hills, and treacherous footing.  No wonder so many wildebeest are injured on the trek down to the river, and then are snapped up by the crocodiles once in the river.  We did see several large crocs as well.

On the long road back to Nairobi, we saw many people carrying water, and water containers for sale at every store along the way.  Water is never far from anyone's mind, and always must be on the daily
 "to  do" list. I counted numerous water projects in progress as we drove along- which is good to see.  I do think that the government of Kenya is trying to increase the water coverage for the people.  There is still much to do.

Please consider organizing a walk for water for your school, youth group, church or community and join H2O for Life on April 16th to raise funds for schools around the world.  If you need help getting started, please contact us!  We are ready to give you ideas and resources that will help you plan a successful event. Bringing water to schools changes lives and opportunities for students.  YOU can help!

Kwaheri! (good-bye)