I am delighted to say that Frank Sakalani has just graduated from university having completed his studies in Engineering in Electronics and Telecommunications Engineering. It is a remarkable achievement for a young man from humble origins. It shows that with a lot of hard work and dedication, mixed with a healthy dose of good fortune, giant obstacles can be overcome.
I have recounted the tale of how I met Frank before, but I’ll recap. In 2012 I was in Buigiri and I would often receive notes on scraps of paper from people in the village. These would detail the various issues their families faced – requests were often for food, medication or occasionally for something completely outlandish. Frank wrote on behalf of his aunt who had a broken leg and she needed a splint and medication to help it heal. The letter was extremely eloquent and it was a surprise to hear it had been written by a young schoolboy. We met up and it became apparent that in spite of the lack of good quality education, Frank had spent his free time studying to try and better himself. After our conversation I decided to help him with his continuing education.
I supported Frank through his GCSEs and A-levels and he was offered a scholarship to university. This meant he did not have to pay tuition, but he was still liable for food, rent, school books, uniforms, a laptop etc which are prohibitively expensive for a young man with just pennies in his pocket. I shared his story with a number of friends back in Bristol and several have kindly provided the support over the four years he has spent at university.
Throughout the whole process, Frank has been a superb communicator, sharing his progress with me and keeping me informed of his successes and setbacks. He has also become involved in a locally run NGO called Builders of Future Africa which is concerned with supporting the youth and searching out those who have real potential at improving Tanzania if they are themselves given the opportunity. I am extremely proud of Frank and the success he has become.
I have just returned from a fantastic trip to Buigiri. £3010 was raised through the generosity of many friends and the children of Our Lady Queen of Heaven school and Ampleforth College. As a result, I managed to achieve an awful lot in a short space of time. Within 10 days, I carried out 60 different tasks. These ranged from small activities, such as providing exercise books to children, to distributing over a ton of maize to 50 families. Everybody likes a pie chart, so this is how the money was divided up:
Education was the main area which received funding, to the tune of £1219. Whilst education is technically free, unless you have the correct uniform and equipment, then you are excluded. I spent £465 on 70 uniforms for the poorest children.
Handing out uniforms at the adult blind centre
The village tailoress, Mamma Degera. She uses the profit to support her son at school and to cover her own medical issues. Its pleasing to see money working on more than one level as it trickles through the community.
The children of the community of blind beggars in Dodoma
Augustino is the boy in the blue scarf in the photo above and he was a revelation. Usually the children are very shy and I have to rely on my Swahili. This guy speaks superb English, which is no mean feat given his parents are blind and scratch a living begging at the side of the road. He approached me asking for exercise books and then he corralled his friends and they ran to the shop to buy 100 of them which were then shared out equally.
The largest part of the money spent on education is being used to support Frank who is at University in Dar es Salaam studying Electrical Engineering. He is in his second to last year and I have supported him since he was at secondary school. I can’t sing his praises highly enough – through hard work he is breaking out of the cycle of poverty and his future is bright. He also volunteers for a local charity whereby he visits rural schools and talks to young students about how they can follow a similar path. He has identified a young boy called Alfa who is about to start Secondary School. He is the only child amongst hundreds in the village to excel at his primary school exams. He has been granted a ‘free’ place at a government boarding school 10 hours from the village. Whilst the fees and food are free, he still needs money for transportation, uniforms, books and whatever else a child needs when away from home for an extended time. I have met most of these costs and he is now at the school. My strategy now is to focus on just a few bright students, rather than my previous plan of trying to assist as many people as possible.
Me with Frank & Alfa.
Christmas is as huge in Tanzania as it is in the UK. If a family can afford it, they will skip their maize porridge and have rice and beef/goat/chicken, washed down with soft drinks. For many families, this is not an option. I spent £425 providing money for 60 families which will enable them to buy 2kg of rice, 2kg of meat, vegetables and drinks. I accept this is not the most efficient use of money, but it is Christmas after all. When I later met some children, their faces lit up when they listed all they had eaten.
A short clip of me introducing myself in both Swahili and Kigogo, the local language.
Esta is the head of one of the 12 families who live in the blind centre.
For many, it is easier to take the items to them when the community leader calls their names out.
The Kikokos run the local Free Methodist church – a religion which sprung up in my home city of Bristol
The blind beggars after collecting money and rice.
More will follow in due course about these two projects. The main one was the purchase of a Keyboard for the choir at the blind school. This has been requested for many years now. Music is a fantastic way to bring a group together, and the blind school choir is excellent. They do not have the hardware they need to really shine. I have been reticent about providing the money for the keyboard until now because it is so expensive, however several members of Sing Out Bristol Choir kindly donated money and I decided to use this for the school choir. I also made a contribution to the office rental costs of the local branch of the Tanzanian League for the Blind. They are a volunteer organisation and are a great help with the work I do in Tanzania.
On our first night we visited my close friend Mr Omari who is the elected leader for all disabled people in Central Tanzania. He caught up on our differing hairstyles.
This is the Power of Jesus choir who I helped a few years ago with equipment, just visible on the right hand side. After church on Christmas Day, we were invited to listen to them perform. Although I took a video, I managed to butcher my Swahili in a phone shop and convinced them to completely wipe my iPhone and this video did not back up.
Anna lent us her Bible during the service. Inside the front cover, we found a photo of the three of us from 2015, so we recreated it.
Income Generating Projects
Over the years I have assisted with creating over 50 income generating projects. In many instances these do not succeed, but when they do, they can make a huge impact on a family. The truth of the matter is that when the only money you have is the capital which is vital to keep the business ticking along, and then somebody close to you falls sick, there is tremendous pressure to raid the business. I like to look on it positively though – even when a project fails, at least good will have come about, even if it is not how we intended it.
One project which has been a great success is a cafe set up by Ester. She previously sold tea and snacks alongside the road. With an injection of capital provided by a friend who was sponsored to quit beer for a year, she has moved into a small building which houses her kitchen, a table and several chairs, where she now sells main meals. We visited for a delicious breakfast
Outside Estar’s cafe. Dawei is still finishing his breakfast
This trip we helped with a further 9 small businesses. These included more food businesses, a soap making enterprise, and a plough rental service.
Two of the three new women at the Rehab Centre. They missed out on projects I started several years ago and so I have made good on a promise and helped them this time.
There is always demand for maize. The region has suffered drought for a number of years and many people are struggling. This particularly affects the elderly and disabled, so they are the focus of my efforts for maize distribution. We selected 50 families and each received 20kg of maize, which will keep their families fed for a couple of weeks.
This is what 500kg of Maize looks like
Dividing it up is hard and dirty work…. so I simply dived in for the photo opp!
30 individuals from the village receive their share
As you can imagine, access to medicine is vitally important. Whilst appointments are very cheap, getting to the hospital or paying for your drugs is the issue. Often huge collections take place where 50 people in the village give a few pennies, to enable someone to receive health care.
My main expenditure was for a good friend of mine. This trip, he has been struck down with a trio of nasty illnesses: Typhoid, Malaria and a UTI. This left him a shell of a man. He was sat at home, rocking back and forth, chanting deliriously. I helped with several hospital visits, including two courses of intravenous fluids. I’m not a medic, but without this intervention, I suspect he would have struggled to emerge out of it.
John came to visit me to show me his arm. He broke it years ago and during my last trip it was a festering compound fracture. He proudly demonstrated how the wound had healed – but then he wriggled his forearm up and down and it was clearly still detached. He seemed happy enough though.
I used almost £200 to provide items such as white canes, mobile phones and a mattress to people in the village. Phones are so important as distances are vast, and communication is essential if people are to receive help.
John’s phone came from the UK a number of years ago, and it is well used and rather battered. I provided him with a new Nokia and he proudly handed his old phone to his wife. He is one of the few English speakers in the village and it is important that I can contact him when needed.
Emmanuel tries to live as independent a life as possible, but he needs some help with his farm.
Daniel receives one of the talking watches I brought with me
The final main category I assisted with was helping people rebuild their homes. Most houses are constructed from bricks made of mud, which then have a roof comprised of wooden joists and corrugated iron sheets. They are not particularly sturdy and can face problems. I provided cement, wood and a door for three houses which I built in the past.
Mamma Happy always greets me with a huge smile. I helped with 10 sacks of cement which she will use to strengthen the walls of her house. She will use the remainder to form a solid floor, which will prevent dirt and possible disease finding its way inside.
The end of the trip and a miscellaneous photo dump
Imogen visiting the family of her namesake who was given her name a number of years ago. There is also another family with three children: Thomas, Imogen and Sara, which is the name of my mother.
I could feel the eyes boring in to me
A boy making the most of what is available
One of many visitors asking for help with a uniform and school shoes
I apologise for my horrendous rendition of the National Anthem
Some dancers from the church visited our house on Christmas Day, so we joined in
I feel like I have neglected this blog for far too long. Despite not posting, 2017 has been a busy year for projects in Tanzania and I’ll highlight some of them here. Thank you to all who have donated money – I have some very kind friends. Also, thank you to both Our Lady Queen of Heaven School in London and Ampleforth College in Yorkshire who have continued with their support.
As always, there is a pressing need for food. Tanzania has endured yet another drought and life is particularly hard for the villagers of Buigiri. I arranged for food to be distributed on a number of occasions. Here is a little video where one of the villagers gives thanks in Swahili, on behalf of his friends, for the assistance. The second video is a brief explanation in English about the first.
The number of children at the Blind School is growing. I have been involved with a program whereby a teacher visits rural communities to look for children with eye problems. The parents are then informed of the blind school and I take care of the various costs associated with getting the child to the school and established as a student. As a consequence of this, as well as other factors, there is a shortage of beds and children often have to share. I have provided a couple of bunk beds and a number of mattresses for the dormitories . I have also supplied a large number of school uniforms throughout the year for the pupils at the blind school as well as at other local schools.
The blind children play a game called goalball. The attacking team throws the ball along the ground and the defending team has to prevent it from slipping past them and hitting the wall. Much like in blind football, where visually impaired athletes wear eye masks to ensure they have zero vision, the children wear the same masks to keep things fair. They compete against other Tanzanian blind schools but they have been held back by a lack of kit. A couple of years ago I repaired the potholes in the goalball pitch and this year I have supplied them with the kit they need, including the specialist balls, face masks and sports kit.
I have set up a number of small pig rearing projects. I’ve supplied 13 families with two piglets each. The hope is that when they are fully grown they can be sold for meat and make a healthy profit which can then be reinvested. This kind of project can be very risky though. When the only resource your family has is the pig in the garden, then when somebody falls ill the temptation is there to cash in on the livestock. Hopefully a handful of the projects work in the long term.
I have continued to support a student called Frank at university. I have sung his praises in previous posts, but he is a remarkable man from the village who has managed to excel academically in spite of his living conditions and the poor standard of local secondary education. He is now studying for an engineering degree in Dar es Salaam. He has a little over a year until graduation and then he will be in a great position to find a well-paid job and he can then support others from his community. Even as a student, he is involved in initiatives to improve the living standards in rural areas.
One other area I have tried to focus on over the years is helping mothers start small businesses. I think it is important to empower the women in the community. They often carry out much of the hard work, yet they do not always control the family finances. On many occasions I have seen hungry families at home whilst the fathers are sat under a tree drinking homebrew. This year I have helped several women start businesses, such as opening small cafes (such as Esther in the photo below) or preparing snacks to sell in the market.
There have also been a number of much smaller projects such as repairing houses, paying medical expenses, setting up an after-school English Club and supporting students at Primary school. One such student is Gaston, who has recently graduated and hopes to attend Secondary school in 2018.
It’s been a year since I returned from my last trip to Tanzania. Due to events in real life (aka now having a mortgage) I won’t be heading out in 2016. I am still in regular contact with many of the guys in the village though –Facebook and WhatsApp simplifies this hugely. Life is still tough for pretty much everyone. None more so than the elderly and disabled.
Thanks to donations from friends and from Our Lady Queen of Heaven School in London, I have been able to help out in a few areas around the village. Here are a few of the main things we’ve achieved.
With some of the funds raised by a sponsored walk at OLQH, we provided desks and chairs for a classroom at the blind school.
A couple of friends are supporting Jose and Gaston through their education. I’ve also been able to provide a number of other children with school uniforms. There is an infinite demand for more, as many of the children wear little more than rags to class.
Frank looks like being the first real education success story. He received help to finish his schooling – no mean feat when fewer than 1 in 10 pass the equivalent of GCSEs, let alone A-levels. This photo is from his A-level graduation ceremony. He went on to win a very scarce scholarship to a Technical College where he is currently in his first year. Whilst he has no fees to pay, it is up to him to cover his accommodation, food, university books, transport, exam fees and 20 other impediments to learning. Frank is exceptionally bright, friendly, humble and hard-working. Some money is in place for his second year, but I really need to focus on finding the rest of it.
Last summer I put a request on Facebook to see if any friends might be able to help supply the final items needed to finish building this house for a family in the village. A number of people got in touch and we provided the roof, cement to finish the walls, and the door and window frames. The leftover money found its way to other much needed projects.
At Christmas time, I selected 30 families who face particular hardships, to each receive the equivalent of £7. This is enough money to buy a meat, rice, vegetables and sodas so they can all have a proper Christmas feast. In these photos, the leader of the blind in the region, Mr Omari, is handing money to two of the recipients: John, who has a club foot, and Mariam, who is blind.
OLQH also supplied the funds to provide all 12 families who live at the Blind Centre with hosepipes, shovels and seeds. They have been requesting these for years. There are a couple of standpipes available, and in the past they would fill 20 litre buckets with water and then navigate their way to their plot of land. Backbreaking work and a task made much harder when you have no vision. The hosepipes will enable them to irrigate their gardens so they can feed their families and sell surplus in the market.
Thank you to everyone who has contributed money, read my witterings, or shown interest (both genuine or feigned) in what is happening in Buigiri Village. There are always little projects taking place and I’ll post another update before my next trip. Finally, good luck to Stuart who has given up beer for the entire year to raise money for a project next year – you are a stronger man than me!