Dr. Greg's Blog




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Don't Cry for me Tanzania!


The year for me did not start auspiciously.  My attempt to visit Africa in January did not go well.  The problem was the heat.  It activated my Myasthenia Gravis.  For every day I got to travel and visit I had to spend two or three in bed.  Once away from that climate, I did very well.  By choosing to be in a cooler location like Alaska I was even able to work as a doctor most of this year.  Thank God for Shannon!!  She has been back and forth many times this year to work directly with our children and to engage other projects.  She just returned from doing a clinic for encouraging girls to stay in school in Kenya.  This work fit well with her pursuit of new schools and evaluation of the current schools that we use.  You must keep close watch on schools in Africa since management can change and a good school can quickly be degraded in its education and treatment of the students.


This has been a year of many changes.  Our plans to move more of our work to Kenya has proven to be a good choice as the government of Tanzania continues to slide toward autocracy and despotism.   The large amounts of money gained by the federal government when the new rulers cracked down on corruption has not been turned towards helping the country's failing schools and health systems.  This money has been used to shore up the current administration's power base.  This might be the setting of the table for them to try to remain in power in perpetuity just like neighboring Burundi.  There the president ignored the law preventing unlimited terms and threw the county into a civil war.  Dissent is being suppressed everywhere and micro management of decisions at all levels appears to be the new national norm.   When government statistics came under press review for errors and misinformation last summer, the legislature simply passed a law making any analysis or criticism of government released statistics a crime punishable by 3 years in jail and a fine.    The head of Public Health was sacked for advocating birth control options for women.  It is hard to see where these changes will lead, but they are discouraging.  Elsie Eyakuze, a Tanzanian writer, captured the mood well in a recent article:


''President Magufuli thinks that schoolgirls who get pregnant should be cut off from their right to education and that a free press is a threat to "his" democracy. Under Magufuli we have witnessed a level of harassment of the opposition that is unprecedented, culminating in an assassination attempt on the vocal lawyer and constitutional rights defender Tundu Lissu that shook the nation right down to its bone marrow. The presence of state security organs in public has gone from comforting to menacing. There is a darkness creeping upon us.''


With all of the negative changes happening in Tanzania, its neighbor to the north, Kenya, has looked more inviting.  We have spent the past year working more in that country and moving as many of our children as possible to schools there.  We had plans to help build a school across the border in the Loitokitok area of Kenya in early 2018, but these plans have been slowed.  We have land and materials purchased, but ran into problems with the man who has been the driving force for our work in East Africa.  Daniel Sarijore got himself into financial difficulties this year and had to leave the work he had been doing with us.  It was a tremendous blow for our day to day operations and required major changes in how we paid our bills and supervised the kids' activities on the ground.  But we have adjusted and now manage by sending money directly to some of the schools for fees and by using services like Western Union, MoneyGram and more recently a service called WAVE that allows us to do frequent and small transfers with no fees.  And then of course there is Shannon who has spent many months going back and forth to Africa doing her version of ''shuttle diplomacy''.  To compensate for the loss of Daniel, Shannon spent much more time in direct supervision of school placement activities for the children.  We have also been able to tap resources that we have in place like Lucy and the older children (Agness, Mwanaidi, etc.).  They have been given more responsibilities in taking care of the younger children.  However, Mwanaidi just entered Law School and Agness has taken international work in Ghana again.  And Husein and Ezerida are off in colleges far from Moshi.  We are quite pleased for these kids' advancements, but it increased the time that Shannon had to be in Africa..    We hope the next round of older children like Frankie will  take on more of these responsibilities.  He has graduated from his carpentry school this year.


I worked more this summer than I had planned, and I am grateful that my health has been stable to take on the challenge.  When Daniel had his problems we had to have the money to cover bills that came in unexpectedly.  Shannon and I working as much as we could were able to cover everything needed so the kids had no disruption in their lives which is how we want it to be.  


This year we stopped most of our peripheral services like preschool support in Tanzania. We still support Daraja Preschool though since there is a sponsor committed to their mission.  This school is run by Penny Guo, a good friend from China, who has been living in the Moshi area for years.  Instead of preschools and outreach programs we have focused on the 60+ children under our care to insure that their continued academic lives both in and out of school remain on track.  Our primary goal has been to keep all of our kids in undisturbed circumstances so that they can individually focus on studying.  We realize that going to school is the best and most available chance that each of them has for a good future.   This year we maintained two houses in Moshi that could be used by the children between semesters.  We are giving up one house this month since we have been able to make other arrangements for many of the kids.


Many of the children are succeeding beyond all of our hopes and dreams.  We have top students in many classes (Rebecca, Maureen, Julius, Mwana and Mwantum).  Kids who had been failing consistently in public schools are now placing highly in national exams (Upendo, Glory, Richard, Rama).  Those who initially appeared to have little chance for advancing in school are now preparing to move to higher levels (the Kabila brothers, Neema, Gift, Happyness, Delphina, Jeni Japhet).   By opening the doors needed for them to keep studying and trying, they have all responded.  This has reinforced my original observation while living there that bright and clever children were losing their birth rights to be citizens of the world by a terrible education system.  Of course the day to day work to make this happen is not inherently glamorous.  I asked Shannon to give me some stories to relate and she sent me an interesting paragraph that I will call:  ''Shannon's Lament''.   It is in keeping with her favorite saying that:  ''We do boring things in interesting places.''  Hidden behind this quote are the endless hours of her traveling in dusty buses and late nights in the dark meeting and connecting individually with each child.


Shannon's Lament


There are stories of the the kids.  I will try to make them interesting.  This seems a bit strange as so much of our intent has been to make life gentle for them and to bring a sense of order and 'normalcy' to their lives.  The success of this results in an inherently boring story to tell doesn't it?  Does anyone really want to hear that Edward had been lazy during the term but rallied for his exams?  Or that Glory, after months of self doubt and struggle to study well, may have made division 1?  Do you think that Reggie's pride over having received his first debit card before his brother, Novati, received his may be headline worthy?  Would they like to hear about  the kids' chafing under the line between bullying and discipline by the staff at their school before breezing through their exams?  The quiet conversations and stories are now primarily about the angst of being teenagers or having scored a goal in football. These are such simple joys and triumphs that mean everything to the kids and to us. To outside ears, aren't they the type of conversation that must be graciously endured until it is another's turn to speak?


The real ''work of survival'' is generally not glamorous.  When these children entered my life nearly ten years ago I never imagined that here I would be looking at 2019 deeply engrossed and committed to helping each of them have a chance at a future that none of them could ever have dreamed of when they began their childhood journeys as unwanted and cast off children.  They still wonder why we do it.  They may someday realize that the ''gift of the giver'' will be returned ten-fold by their simply succeeding.  They have already given me so much more than I could ever give them.



Greg Higgins

Pictured (from upper left): Jeni, Rama, Regnald, Mwantum, Glory, Ester, Rebecca, Edward.