© 2015 Kilimanjaro Children's Fund. All rights reserved.
SHANNON'S EASTER AND 2018
It is late in the evening yet the kids keep filing into Shannon's room and then find reasons not to return to their own rooms and go to bed. None of them want to give up the glow from a wonderful day spent with their many ''brothers and sisters'' whom they only get to see on special occasions like this. Shannon's bed often has ''maximum occupancy'' and those who do not fit on it find other spaces nearby. This will be an Easter that they will remember and cherish for the rest of their lives. Shannon made arrangements to bring from Tanzania as many of the children as possible to join their ''siblings'' during this school break. Thirteen of them piled into a daladala (converted Toyota vans) along with other passengers to make the journey over Mt Kilimanjaro's eastside shoulder. Once on the north side they cross over the border into Kenya and enter the largest collection of Masai people in this part of Africa. Waiting for them in the small town of Kimana are 22 of their ''siblings'' who are attending boarding schools nearby. All are former residents of the Kilimanjaro Orphanage Centre that we once worked at in Moshi, Tanzania. We have found the Kenyan schools to be very good and we hope to move more of ''our kids'' there this and next year. Shannon and Daniel have prepared well to greet everyone and provide housing so that they can be together. Attached to the primary school (Reto) we are using is a nice motel run by the school's headmaster. Essentially we have taken it over for the Easter holiday. We have the added benefit of the place having a nice restaurant and a good cook so she is able to keep these hungry kids housed and fed all in one place.
Earlier in the day the older children had organized a soccer game on the school grounds that involved many other children still at school since they have no relatives to return to for the break. They are getting their first taste of what Shannon and I call ''instant family''. We have always encouraged our children to include others and to treat everyone as another brother or sister. It makes us incredibly happy to see how well they have learned this simple life lesson and no one goes uninvited when our kids organize an event. They play soccer for hours. In the gathering after the game two of our ''ring leaders'', Ema and Husein, take over the entertainment by doing their own unique versions of stand up comedy bouncing jokes and quips off others and one another to the delight of all of the younger children. This felt closeness of ''family'' is what kept me in Africa for those many years while the orphanage was still in place. I miss it for sure, but I am gratified that Shannon gets to continue this tradition and that the kids have all learned its value and are able to create it on their own. My attempt in January to see if I might live in Africa again did not succeed so I am resigning myself to living such events vicariously in the future. In my heart of hearts I still hope to be able to sneak over now and then and get to experience life among these kids who so clearly love and care for one another.
We have made the hard decision to move away from Tanzania after these many years of living and working there. Things are not getting better in Tanzania and we have watched while the basic services such as schools and hospitals continue to deteriorate. Obstacles are still routinely thrown into the path of students and education is generally discouraged. And a good education is no longer a guarantee for a chance at a better life since jobs are not available even for the top graduates. Meanwhile across the border, Kenya seems to be moving forward more progressively. The government has its problems, but they have certainly taken a more proactive role in trying to advance the status of their people. We have been welcomed readily by the local government near Kimana/Loitokitok as we explore helping build a high school in that area. That will be the task we will be working on later this year and into the next.
The decision did not come easily to make this move to Kenya. I lived in Tanzania for over six years and became close to the children under our care while they were residents at the Kilimanjaro Orphanage Centre. It was very disheartening to watch the site deteriorate and to watch the management turn the children into ''fund raising devices'' for personal gain. After we had left the site and the government stepped in to close it, we actually thought that things would improve. We had already established close contacts with many relatives of those children since the stated intent of the Department of Social Welfare was to return these children to their relatives. It was our assumption that the government would fulfill this mandate and then we would work directly with the relatives to keep these children in good schools. How naïve we were! None of this happened!! Once declaring the orphanage ''closed'' nothing was done to enforce the closure. In a bizarre twisting of logic rather than investigating the orphanage management that refused to comply with the closure, we became the ones harassed and investigated by government officials from several offices. Many relatives who tried to remove their children from the KOC site were bullied and threatened with law suits if they persisted in their efforts. To this date fifteen of the KOC children have not been released despite many of them having relatives willing to take them. And it remains hard for me to believe that the government of Tanzania truly wants volunteers in their country since they continue to charge visitors 500 dollars each for the ''privilege'' of volunteering for three months. By simply crossing the imaginary line that the border into Kenya represents, all of these problems and issues go away.
The biggest loser with our leaving Tanzania will be the preschools we support. One preschool will not be affected, but three of them will need to find new sponsors by 2019. We plan to help with that transition. The preschool teachers have a daunting task. It seems a thankless job to prepare children for an educational system that has no intention to either support or encourage students to perform well in their years in school. In my years living in Moshi I experienced more than one embarrassing visit to a local public grade school to visit ''graduates'' from our preschools. We would find that more than a year after leaving one of the schools that we supported, that those students would be studying a curriculum that was well below what they had been learning in preschool.
So this year we will focus on our next venture which will be the establishing of a good high school in the Kimana/Loitokitok Region of Kenya, just across the border from Tanzania. The area needs one desperately and we have much local support for the project. And there secondary benefits as well. Presently we work to support a number of high school girls from the Masai tribe who escape to boarding schools to avoid female circumcision, a practice still done often in secret to under aged girls by that tribe. Once this school is operational, we will have a local destination for them. Furthermore our kids from Tanzania will then have an assured destination for their coming high school years. And even better, we will be able to be closely associated with the school as we presently are at Reto Grade School. This will allow Shannon and me as well as volunteers who join us to have a place where we will be welcomed and included rather than exploited economically. We will be partnering with several organizations to create this school.