Dr. Greg's Blog

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Mountain Top - 04 February 2016


While high on Kilimanjaro in Barafu Camp last week I actually had a dream about the orphanage in Mabugini.  I felt a bit like Martin Luther  King when I awoke since Uhuru Peak, our destination, means Freedom in Kiswahili.  My dream involved the need for establishing a reliable water source for those 40 children to avoid the long and difficult bicycle ride to and from the local Bore Hole.  In my dream the children were getting ready to use the shower facility before getting ready for bed.  This is a most improbable event because I do not believe that any of these kids have ever actually had access to a real shower.  At the Kilimanjaro Orphanage Centre it took us many years to actually build a real shower facility.  The typical ''shower'' here involves a bucket of water and some enclosed private space so that you can clean yourself to the best of your ability under these circumstances.  Being able to stand under running water is a luxury that is taken for granted every day in most places in the world.  So one might ask:   ''Why can't such a thing be available to these children here?''  Well - it is complicated.


The first problem faced in Mabugini is the need for a Bore Hole so that water will be available in the quantity needed for daily needs.  The next thing of course would be an actual shower facility to allow the showers to take place.  This immediately brings us to another complication.  We have no electricity!!  Tanesco, the national electric provider, has promised the site to hook them into the grid.  They even came several weeks ago to begin the work..  Their visit was short lived.  The new buildings were not wired!!  In typical construction style here, the walls were constructed without taking into account that wiring should be done before you actually seal everything.  That means that all of the conduits and wiring must be created by breaking down some of the present wall structure and hooking it up to control circuits and fuse boxes.  This might sound  daunting, but this is how much construction is done here.  For example - rather than place drains and pipes for  plumbing, the usual style here is to pour concrete over rocks and then later sledge hammer out the areas needed for the pipes.  I really was shocked the first time I witness this.  And as I write this I can report that the wiring of the buildings got done last week while we were in Kenya.  The group who climbed Kilimanjaro as a fund raising event authorized their money to go to this project and it was done while we were away last week.


The next question to be faced at the orphanage is where to place the shower?  I have walked the grounds thinking about this and think that it should be located on the higher area of their sloping lot far from the toilets since that would allow the water to be collected to use for gardening.  Having it flow out and down would work better than having to pump the fluid somewhere.  I thought about placing it near the far left wall as you enter the grounds, but Pastor Simion likes the thought of it being more central.  But currently the center of the orphanage is occupied by the cooking and storage facility.  This means that the cooking site would have to be moved to another location which he had already selected.  This concept would work fine since the present building for cooking looks as though it could be modified and adapted to be a first rate shower area.  


So the summary of obstacles to my dream of allowing 40 children their first showers involves first getting a water source, establishing electricity on the grounds which required first wiring the buildings (Done!), moving the kitchen area to another place and then modifying that building to complete the dream.  When you  can break things down in this manner you can actually begin to see a light far in the future when all of this might be in the past.  We discussed this with the team climbing on the mountain and they enthusiastically gave their support to using some of the money raised on their climb to start this work.  That is how we were able to take the first steps in making this dream a reality.   And if we continue to plug along and accomplish the tasks in front of us it will not be so very long before we can say:  ''Clean at last.  Clean at last.  Thank Good Almighty we are clean at last!''


Warm regards,






The Sharing Season - 22 December 2015


As Christmas approaches and we relax relax a bit we have begun to focus on how we will spend that special day. Our older children suggested that we share Christmas day with the orphans in Mabugini. That will mean the these children will face their first real Christmas with a sense of hope and anticipation have some chance of actually being fulfilled. They have never had a day planned for them like what is being organized by our older children. Agness and Shedrack have made summaries of each of the children there. There are 13 boys and 27 girls. All of them dream of new clothing - a thing that has always been only a dream on such occasions. And thanks to Agness's brilliant idea, we think we can make it all happen. She suggested that we concentrate on making Christmas day festive with a good meal and games and then shop for these children the following week when the prices of things become reasonable rather than ridiculously expensive as things are here in the time leading up to the actual holiday. Such an approach can make new clothing a reality and not just a dream. We could not see how we were going to be able to do it all, but her solution makes it possible. She and Shedrack have helped us create a budget so that we can then shop with the children after Christmas to give them an experience unlike any they have ever had before. They will have money to actually spend to buy things that they want. We are working now to find this money. This may sound like a small thing, but for these children it will be a total novelty. Frank and Shedrack have taken the responsibility for the boys and Agness will be assisted by Zainabu Seleiman to plan the outings for the girls. Since there are so many girls we will break them into two groups to go shopping. Our children have taken it a step further in planning. They realized that so many children make everything more costly since you have to multiply anything purchased by 13 or 27. So they are devising different budgets based on what could be spent if we had this much money or this much money. I am so proud of all of them. They seem to have learned not only thhe beauty of sharing, but also the economic reality of doing so in a responsible manner. If all of the children who have been under our care have learned such lessons, then it finally seems to me that our years of work here have meant something.


We had to decide who to invite for Christmas so we met and planned that portion too. Everybody agreed that we should invite Bibi Thomasi, the 90+ year old grandmother of Thomas who lives not terribly far from the Mabugini orphanage (photoed with Shannon below). Daniel, Shedrack and I paid her a visit on Saturday to ask her. She looked remarkably well although her vision is now much worse than before. She did not recognize me until I spoke and then she lit up like a bright lamp. The rains came while we were there so we all sat inside her little mud and stick house to talk while waiting for the weather to change. She said that she could not come because she is planning her own festive meal with her own small family. This includes Thomas and the man who helps protect her cow and goats. Thieves routinely make forays onto her property to try to steal them. That is just the way it is in Africa. Daniel and I met with Thomas in town last week to buy him clothing to replace the clothing stolen off his clothes line the week before. It was our Christmas gift to him. We added a bright flashlight to make it more difficult for the thieves to get so close at night without being seen. As a rule they are cowards and will run as soon as they are found out.


There is a story of how Bibi Thomas even has her own place to live. This was almost taken from her several years ago. She knew she was growing older and was worried that Thomas would not get to inherit the small piece of land that she owns. She called together some nephews and since she knew and trusted us, Daniel and me. We marked off the edges of her land and then we wrote down how she wanted it distributed. She wanted one third to go to Thomas, one third to go to the man who helps her and she wanted the last third sold so that she could build Thomas a house. We gave the plans to the older nephew to draw up into a document and then agreed to meet one week later. The document he brought listed all of her property to go to him and not one thing that Bibi had requested was on the form. Daniel and I fired this man and then drew up our own document and got a lawyer to approve it. Since that event, that nephew has not been seen!


We met with Pastor Simion in town earlier in the week to help finalize all of the plans we are making for Christmas. He is the man who has taken care of the children in Mabugini for the past three+ years. I finally got to hear first hand his story of how hecame to only work with children. He has only a 7th grade education, but wanted to better himself so he took a course through the Mennonite Church in Dodoma to become a pastor. He did well and eventually was assigned to a church in this area. He worked hard to build the church and to establish a strong group of people to help. The parent Mennonite church then decided that they were doing so well that they began an expensive program to purchase 30 acres of land to farm after a bore hole was completed. I think anyone who knows me will guess where this story is headed! Because large money entered the picture, a group from the church began a campaign to remove Pastor because he was ''only an uneducated man'' and why should he be allowed to manage such an undertaking. He was removed from his duties by a coalition of members of his parish. He was so discouraged and depressed that he made up his mind to give up on adults and to only work with children if that was possible. That is what led to him finding all of the ''lost children'' in Mabugini. By the way - the farming project from his original church totally failed. Greed is often its own reward!


This is shaping up to be a wonderful Christmas. Our older children are showing us the lessons of caring and sharing that we so hoped they all would learn. The fees for the children at the Kilimanjaro Orphanage Centre are about to be paid so their schooling can continue uninterrupted. Everyone is healthy with some minor exceptions. God is giving us much to be grateful for.


Merry Christmas to all!







The Art of Sharing - 17 December 2015


For the past two weeks we have begun to do study groups with the children at the new orphanage in Mabugini,. Since it is a long way to reach there by bad roads, we have decided to take our teaching teams out late on afternoons to teach an evening session. Then they stay over night and do another session in the morning before braving the long bumpy roads home. Since there are forty new orphans out there and they are all thirsty for knowledge we had to instantly find teachers who could help Shannon since she cannot do the work alone. My job has been to keep things organized and to cover the cost of providing the lessons. Our timing could not have been better. The Form Four students from the Kilimanjaro Orphanage Centre who just finished their national exams have all left the orphanage to live with relatives. Since they have months to wait until they obtain their exam results, they were excited to join us and help teach because it gives them experience doing that and allows them to share all that they have learned over the years. The kids from KOC all have the advantage of having had tremendous English exposure since many visitors have come through the orphanage over the years. Passing the skills they have learned to children less fortunate than themselves has made all of them happy. They tell me that they really like the kids at this orphanage because they remind them of themselves when they were younger. They remember the days when there was no running water and no electricity as is the current state of this orphanage.


But the Mabugini orphanage is on the verge of fixing many of the things that currently set them back. They have a new building that meets code for housing orphans with the exception of needing ceilings that conceal the roof. There is a potential donor who might fix this problem. Their other needs are a good source of water and electricity. Both of these are on the horizon. TANESCO, the national electric company, has promised to get them hooked into the power grid. The materials for the power hook up have even been delivered to the area, but we are still waiting. Pastor Simion haunts the offices of TANESCO every week prodding and cajoling them to do their jobs. That is just the way things go here. And there is a proposal that has been submitted to drill a bore hole and we hope that decision will be positive. Presently there is a superficial well that provides brackish water usable for some things, but drinking water must be obtained from far away. Children take turns riding the one bicycle the mile to the water center where they pay their hundred shillings and haul back three buckets of water to add to the holding barrels. It is a job repeated many times each day. Later in the year when the local water dries up, they will have to ride over 3 miles to get not so good water from the river. So it is easy to see the importance of a good water source. Good planning has gone into this site as there are already good toilets and a septic system.


While our young scholar/teachers gain much needed experience, they are unaware that they have the benefit of many unseen supporters. We have friends in California who donated a large number of Therma-rest pads for use by children here in East Africa. The story of how the pads arrived here was remarkable in itself. A lady carried all of them in a huge duffle bag and walked through customs in Dar es Salaam with not a question asked. She then flew to Kilimanjaro International Airport on her way to Arusha. We went to the airport to meet her and did the transfer there. The lady was so happy to no longer have to carry that huge bundle of mats anymore! But we have found them ideal since they can be transported to the new orphanage easily and they make a great resting place for the night. The orphanage has only a limited number of beds so having the ability to make our own children ready for night is really a good thing. All of the kids say they are quite comfortable. The one thing they do complain about though is waking up to find themselves confronted by scorpions when they go to the bathroom. But eventually the power of illumination should solve that issue.


Our young teachers also benefitted from a lucky incident last summer. The forty children almost got to have no schooling this year. On our first visit there we were accompanied from Moshi by a new volunteer. While we were at the orphanage, children of all ages kept dribbling back to the grounds from school. Apparently they were sent home because they had not paid the necessary fees to obtain their free education. This volunteer went back to town, got on the internet and within 72 hours rallied her friends to get all of the money needed to get each child back in school. Daniel and I paid the fees and we did so slowly and carefully. We did not give the schools all of their money at once because we wanted to form a relationship with the teachers and make them understand that they had been unwittingly punishing orphans. By the time the last bill was paid we had earned their trust and respect. Some of them admitted that they never expected to see any money from these poor children and the experience of getting paid taught them lessons of faith and trust. On our first visit there many were a bit sullen and impolite. Now they smile and greet us warmly. Faith and trust are good lessons to learn at any age! I will defend these teachers though because some of them work long hours and their pay checks from the government are always a chancy event. Sometimes these teachers must wait three or more months to get their pay checks.


I am thrilled to see the way the older children who are functioning as teachers have stepped into this role with pride and enthusiasm. I have always loved the way people can rally to one another in Africa and this has been an outstanding example for me. Imagine being excited to plan your whole week around getting to ride on terrible roads to sleep on mats on the ground in a place with no electricity or running water! I am humbled by such altruism!


Best wishes,


Greg Higgins





The ''Gangsta Rapper'' and the Children - 10 December 2015


Moses never planned a life that would involve hordes of children following him everywhere and trying to imitate him. He wanted to be a Rapper who leaned towards gangster themes. How his life took its own path is an interesting story. We first met Moses on the streets of Moshi where he did work known as ''flycatching''. He would try to peddle paintings and trinkets to tourists to eke out a meager living. But his real love was music and he long hoped to use his talent to become a rap artist and eventually even did produce his own CD. He is now 28 years old and comes from Mwanza. His origins are humble. His father died when he was 12 years old and his mother makes her living selling small fish. He staggered through school finishing Form Four and by his own admission "I did not study. I did not know how important it was." He came to Moshi originally to work in the Serengeti Beer Factory and then paid his dues on Kilimanjaro by working on the mountain for five years. Realizing that the difficult life of surviving on mountain wages had little future, he turned to selling in the streets which is where we met him. Recognizing the value of English he has polished these skills over the years.


In his neighborhood in Pasua live too many small children to count. Moses has a natural way with children and they are drawn to him as a father figure, something that is lacking in much of Africa. The idea to begin a preschool was not exactly altruistic. He found that such a connection would enhance his abilities to sell his wares on the street. But like many ideas in life that we have in passing, the ideas gain lives of their own. Soon he found himself at the center of the universe of 30 children who had no other planet to orbit. And his natural liking of children turned into something of a consuming passion. I got to witness his initial efforts and they were comical as much as they were saddening. He found a building that looked as though it had just been shelled in some war conflict and began giving the children formal lessons in English, Math and Kiswahili that would enable them to at least have a chance to go to school. Here in Tanzania you must have some basic skill or you are not even allowed into first grade. The children would sit on the floor and do rote lessons since teaching materials were non existent. A make shift blackboard was used to illustrate points of knowledge. That was how we found his school when we first visited shortly after its establishment in 2013.

His structure has grown as have those who assist him. Presently he has a man who functions as the head teacher and two assistants, one a lovely young albino woman whom I just met recently. Around 10 AM a volunteer cook feeds the children their uji (a nutritious porridge like material that all children here eat). All of these people are involved because of their love for and commitment to the children. Moses and his helpers realized that more was needed to fix the many ills in their neighborhood. They began making regular visits to the homes of the children they serve trying to understand better the needs of their community. His activities have not gone unnoticed and neighbors have asked him to help with some needed community projects such as bringing water to their neighborhood. We have jokingly begun to call him the ''mayor' of his area.


Recognizing that schooling alone was not enough to fill the void of time of the masses of children who spend much of their days on the streets, Moses began to organize sports events. For the boys this means soccer and for the girls net ball. Daniel and I attended one of these events last Sunday. The area of play is an abandoned maize field with makeshift boundaries and actual poles that mark the goals. We are used to stones for goals where we usually play! The girls' area was less illustrious as they lacked a net to really play net ball. The soccer competition was fierce, but gentlemanly. It was amazing to watch the clear discipline that these boys have learned by associating with Moses and his assistants. They played as hard as they could, but there was no fighting or bickering. Daniel functioned as the referee while I was relegated to water boy since I have a strained groin muscle. At the end of play everybody came together to talk about what was good and what could be improved. We ended the session with a universal prayer acceptable to all of the Islamic and Christian children present. We found the day exhilarating.


Moses still has his dreams of being a rap star with his gansta music, but I have some suspicion that his life might go in other directions. We are honored to have made his acquaintance and to have a chance to help him do some of the neighborhood work that has become his cross and his passion at the same time. I believe there is a life lesson for all of us in his story.


Greg Higgins