We are delighted to inform you that we have returned safely to Manchester having completed our mission in Tanzania this summer. We spent four weeks there volunteering at St. Ignatius Prep and Primary School in Dodoma. We feel truly blessed to have been given the opportunity to use our skills and talents to provide support in lessons and enhance the students’ learning.
We would like to express our sincere thanks to you all for your overwhelming support, especially the financial donations we received after Masses – we couldn’t have made it to Tanzania without you! As a token of our gratitude we want to share our story with you through this short report; it highlights the achievements and experiences from our visit to East Africa and outlines our plans for future missions at St. Ignatius Prep & Primary School, where we can continue to carry out God’s work within this beautiful community. We hope you enjoy it!
Life in Tanzania is so different to anything we could have imagined. None of us had ever visited East Africa before this trip and we were constantly blown away, day after day, by the spirit of the Tanzanian people and the overwhelming love we felt from everyone around us. We soon grew familiar with the Swahili phrase “Karibuni sana”, meaning: “you are most welcome”, because everyone we met greeted us in this way. Our faces ached from smiling for four weeks straight! Ladislav is certainly right: “The warmth of Tanzanians doesn’t come from the African heat, but the way they live and the way they treat you.” We truly felt close to God in Tanzania, especially when we were with the sisters and the students, but his presence was in everything, everyone. Being among some of the 800+ people in the congregation at 7:00am Mass on Sunday mornings was inspirational – the church was packed beyond anything we’ve ever seen. Listening to the Word of God in Swahili and the African songs sung by the choir was incredible.
At school each of us was truly inspired by the students at St. Ignatius; their constant smiles were contagious and the love they had for us from the moment we were introduced to them, was simply overwhelming. They have an innocence that can only come from knowing happiness through simplicity, and we were truly surprised by the deep desire of the children to learn as much as they can in lessons. In Rokas’ words “they are like little sponges, absorbing everything from their surroundings. Education is everything for these kids, it’s the key to their future and of course not every family here can afford to send their kids to primary school.” St. Ignatius Prep and Primary is growing year on year, receiving around 30 new pupils each year on top of the existing numbers. There are currently 532 students enrolled at the school, ranging from 2-3 year olds in pre-kindergarten classes, all the way up to 12-13 year olds in Class 7. It was a privilege to be able to get to know each and everyone one of them and contribute to their future.
Whilst we were with them Sr Euphrasia, Head Mistress of St. Ignatius, ran a summer boarding school for her Class 7 students during the holiday period, providing intensive learning and preparation for their upcoming national exams. Converting the library into a dormitory for the boys and the kindergarten classroom into a dorm for the girls, the children resided on the school site for a month. In between classes they took full responsibility for washing their own clothes every day and cleaning their dormitories and bathrooms thoroughly every week – on Saturdays the ‘dorms’ would be stripped bare and you would see their mattresses out in the school yard airing, whilst the students worked together to clean their rooms. Such skills don’t even cross the minds of many young adolescents here in the UK until they leave home for university or employment, but these children are just 12 and 13 years old. There are very few washing machines in Tanzania and constant hot water powered by a central heating system is rare too. Life is very basic. But the fact that they are taught life skills from such an early age made us realise how important education and a good start in life is for these children.
Education at St. Ignatius extends beyond the classroom. This is because Sr Euphrasia sees and loves each student as her own; she provides a parental role that focuses on learning, providing an environment for the children that educates and empowers them, but also teaches them responsibility and discipline. It is this discipline, alongside Faith, that are core values of the school. Through them the aim is to create a new generation that are able to build a better future for themselves. We may have been their teachers in school for a month, but the children of St. Ignatius have taught us so much more than could ever be learned in the classroom; it wasn’t so much what we gave to them through this mission but what they have given us. “Let all that you do be done in love” 1 Corinthians 16:14, is a truly a living reality in Tanzania.
Now that we are back home in the UK our mission continues. Whilst many of the students are funded by their parents to attend the school, there are also a large number of pupils who do not have this privilege; some are AIDs orphans, some are HIV positive and live with parents that are too sick to work, and some are from poorer or single parent families that are simply struggling to make ends meet. Just because they do not have the financial means to attend they are not turned away – Sr Euphrasia sees the importance of offering education to those who are most in need, and does what she can to welcome them through the doors of St. Ignatius. It costs around £550 (1.5 million Tanzanian Shillings) per year for each child to attend St. Ignatius. Securing financial sponsorship for poorer children is difficult, especially as numbers are increasing. The alternative option for children in Dodoma is to attend government schools, some of which lack enough desks and chairs for the number of students. This means children sit on the floor; classrooms are overcrowded and teachers are paid but often don’t turn up. We want to enable more children to receive a better education at St. Ignatius. So we have agreed to fundraise for five new students to attend school for eight years – we will be sponsoring them from kindergarten right through to their final year in Class 7 to support them and their families and relieve the financial pressure from the St. Gemma Sisters.
One new student is three-year old Suzy, who is the daughter of a young woman who cooks and cleans in the sisters’ house. As a single mum she is not able to finance her daughter’s education herself. Whilst she receives a small income working six days a week for the sisters, it means that Suzy has to live with her Grandmother full-time. When we met this gorgeous little girl we all instantly fell in love with her. It was Steph, who lived with the sisters, who spent most time with her: “Suzy is a beautiful, bright little girl who deserves a bright future, and I found it extremely difficult to come to terms with the fact that she is not guaranteed a good education in a good school. It made me realise just what we take for granted growing up. I have been through school and university and am blessed with my role as Office Manager in the Chaplaincy – I work full time and am very fortunate to be where I am. I wanted to help Suzy and her mum, by giving her the best start in life. I will personally be sponsoring Suzy through St. Ignatius – she will start this year in the pre-kindergarten class and begin learning English and Swahili. It is a big commitment but you can’t put a price on education and I know God is behind me.”
We are fully committed as a team, to helping the remaining four candidates secure their places at St. Ignatius. We will be fundraising throughout the year ahead, holding events within the Chaplaincy and organising projects with our friends, families and fellow students, to begin raising the monies needed to sponsor them. As well as setting up our own fundraising campaigns and relying on the generosity of friends and family, we are appealing to the wider public for support within our own parishes and church ministries. We were overwhelmed by the generosity and support we received here alone just a few months ago to get us to Tanzania and complete this wonderful mission. It has really shown us that as a Christian community we share God’s love as brothers and sisters - a family that is united by Christ to help one another, especially those in need. It was your generosity that enabled us to fulfill what we believe to be the Lord’s work. That’s why we feel it is so important to share our experiences with you, because you were all truly there with us in spirit. Through us, you have helped your brothers and sisters in Tanzania, and continue to do so.
Our experiences this year have inspired a new generation of students to visit Tanzania next summer. As part of this year’s mission we wanted to create a legacy for the future, building links between our Chaplaincy and St. Ignatius, so that we can build upon the work we’ve started there. Over the next nine months Steph hopes to recruit a group of around eight students from the Manchester Universities Catholic Chaplaincy. She plans to lead them out to Dodoma in June 2017 for a six-week mission at the school. Steph will be working hard this year to organise the second trip, which will involve fundraising to get there; communicating with Sr Euphrasia to ensure the new group can provide the skills and materials they require, and preparing the students for their time in Tanzania. If you would like to have your car washed on a regular basis over the coming months Steph and her team will gladly be of service to you!
Returning to St. Ignatius next year will mean that the five children we are sponsoring, including Suzy, will be in the lessons we teach and they will be able to speak to us in English. We shall witness their development first-hand. We are so excited at the thought of being reunited with many of the students we met this year, as well as the new starters and those under our financial support. When you can see the fruits of your own and others acts of charity right in front of your eyes, it is the most incredible feeling. We encourage anyone who wants to be more charitable but is unsure of how to go about it or where their money is going, to take more time to learn about our ongoing mission.
Before we finish, our sincere thanks go to our Lead Chaplain, Father Tim Byron SJ. He has blessed us with this opportunity, backing us all the way on our first mission. He provided us with the knowledge and resources which enabled us to share our faith in a practical way with this beautiful community in Dodoma. He has been a great mentor to us, supporting and guiding us through the process, but also allowing this to be a student-led project. He knows and understands that it is our desire to live by our faith that has been the driving force behind us. As well as being Steph’s boss, he also remains her mentor, and is working closely with her this year to develop her leadership skills as part of her professional development to lead a second. “My role at the Chaplaincy is so much more than just a job, I truly feel that I am on a mission from God to help all who I meet and also those who I haven’t found yet. I’m willing to do whatever it takes to show them the helping hand of the Lord and the love He has for us all.” So please keep us in your rayers as we continue this journey of faith, love and charity. We look forward to building our friendship with you as we go forward, for you are forever our brothers and sisters in Christ.
Every day when we cycle back and forth from the volunteer’s house to St Ignatius Prep & Primary School, we always go around a big rocky hill which resembles the pride rock in the Lion King. It is called Simba Hill and it is the landmark of Dodoma. It is also a mark we use to make sure we are going in the right direction. Whenever we go on a bike ride exploring the areas around, we know we will never lost as long as we are able to see Simba Hill. After a long day of teaching at the school, we are rewarded with the beautiful African sunset over the hill as a backdrop, with people smiling and greeting us along the way. Although there are no lions on the hill, the word “simba” actually means lion in Swahili.
Last Saturday some of the teachers of the school organised for us to climb the hill together with Sister Lucy and students from classes 5 and 6. As being teachers ourselves we see the opportunity to educate the students about the environment and not to litter. The climb up was pleasant and there were bits where it is a bit rocky making the journey slightly challenging. The children were so used to climbing the hill that they were in front of us leading the way. We were helping each other on the way up. Sister Lucy and Mr Mbonea helped to make sure that everyone is safe. After about an hour of climbing, we finally reached the peak of Simba Hill. The view was breath taking that it worth all the effort of the uphill climb. From the top we were able to see the full view of the city of Dodoma while we sit at the edge of the rock and chill. From the top the Airport Parish where we attend Mass every Sunday, the school where we are teaching and the downtown can all be seen. The landscape is mostly flat with a few hills at a distance and more like a dessert. That is one of the reason the temperature drops at night and the area is very dry.
On the way down the hill, all of a sudden the children started shouting about something is Swahili and the teacher became very alert and stayed with us as we are about to reach the foot of the hill. Apparently the students saw someone coming down from the hill with us and they were afraid that they might be robbers. From the look of their faces, children are really caring for us and the teachers helped us by giving us a helping hand throughout the climb. In fact, not only when climbing the hill, throughout my time here I felt so blessed that the community here really do care for us and their actions say it all. Every day our Mami – Sr Euphrasia will always ask and make sure we had enough food to eat just like a caring mum. Although I am the only mchina among the muzungu in the group, the people here really made me feel accepted and be included in part of their community. They have given so much more to us than what we can bring to them. We are all brothers and sisters in Christ and I really felt at home here with all the hospitality I have experienced.
We’ve been living in Tanzania for almost 3 weeks now. Every day, while cycling to the school or around town, I keep asking myself “why do people have to face all this hardship when we’re living so comfortably back home?” The more I pray about this, the harder it becomes to filter everything through my brain, because everything here is simply just so different from what we have in Europe. Peoples’ lives here are like building a road - you have to spend the whole day in the hot sun, working hard physically, trying to build another new path which will lead to God knows where. However, it’s all down to yourself, you can either give up and spend the rest of the days sitting by the side of the road which was already built by someone else, doing nothing, or you can work even harder expecting to reach a brighter tomorrow. And that brighter tomorrow is the main hope for children studying at St Ignatius – through education they build their own roads to a better future, a brighter tomorrow…
A couple a days ago me and Steph spent our morning chatting with Mr Mbonea – music teacher at the primary school. Mr Mbonea was telling us many sad stories about child labour, little girls suffering from FGM (Female Genital Mutilation) and general political issues in East Africa. I was truly shocked when we found out that girls are suffering FGM across many religions, including Christianty. According to Mr Mbonea, these terrible things mainly happen in small villages or rural areas, where people strongly believe in the past culture and traditions, even though these traditions don’t make sense in today’s world. For me personally it is truly hard to see women being the hard working bees in society and suffering at the hands of others. Somehow this weird stereotype was formed, stating that males have to be in the process of preparation for the war/battle for all the time and females have to watch over the household, domestic problems, working back home and doing all the hard work. For me, a woman is a symbol of life – bringing more lives into this wonderful world, being the shelter of the family, providing love and warmth for everyone without any exceptions. Seeing so many men spending their time by the side of the road appearing not be doing anything, while women are carrying heavy items on their heads makes me feel slightly angry. However, it’s not up to us to judge their culture, the only thing we can do is pray for everything that’s happening here. Mami (Sr Euphrasia) mentioned the other day, that wives always have to respect their husbands, even if they are not right about certain things. Being humble and respectful, these are the main values for every woman here.
On Sunday I was stopped from helping to ‘build the roads’ because I had to go to hospital. It wasn’t anything too serious, just had to check and make sure that it was not Malaria or Typhoid. I ended up recovering from bad diahorrea and dehydration for two days and now I’m back at school again, finally recording the children singing all these wonderful songs that we’ve been rehearsing for a whole week before. With every new day, our team is becoming closer and closer, even after small arguments we are united as a family. But who said that family life is always good or without any storms amongst the calm? I remind myself all the time, that if something goes wrong, you always have to look at yourself first, and think that it is you who might be guilty of doing something wrong. Only then can you think of others and their mistakes. I keep reading Hymn for Love from the first book of Corinthians, chapter 13. Every time I read it I try to understand again and again all these different kinds of love and I realise that I was blind to so many small things surrounding me. At the end of the day, all these children are like walking love, with every word they say, with every step they make, they change me dramatically, remembering – stay simple kaka (brother).
The days are flying by and we are finally getting a proper grasp of living here. Starting each of my days at 7:00 AM puts me and the guys into a nice routine. When I wake up, I know the weather is going to be nice. I don’t have to worry about rain, about packing in some water proof clothing. We have had few cloudy mornings, but there was no single day without sun! Back in England, we often have nice weather, but so often it’s just pouring for days. This makes me appreciate sunshine and I don’t feel like ever getting tired of it. Yes, sometimes it burns, it blinds, but I still love it, I need it, YOU need it! What also brightens up my days are the happy, smiling people we meet while cycling to the school each morning.
Each day we pass by guys on motorbikes who work as a taxi service and they always greet us Mambo or reply Poa. You can also find bike repair shops in a form of few old bike tires hanging down from a tree; a bike pump, a few grungy tools and an old man. If you are hungry on the way, you can always find fruit and veg shacks selling bananas, oranges, avocados, papaya, tomatoes and often lots more. You never see empty streets, day or night there is always someone, many in fact, selling or waiting or travelling. Women walking with huge bags balanced on top of their heads and sometimes with a baby on their back; children walking to school; men pushing trolleys full of wood or charcoal; shepherds with cattle crossing roads in front of moving vehicles. These are the people you see in Dodoma. Greeting them and them greeting you back with a smile, thumbs up or just a wave always feeds the soul. I miss that in Europe - a lot. Acknowledging the stranger, our neighbour, as a human being with such a little gesture as saying Hi or just a smile! These people don’t know us and they still greet us! Sometimes we go to socials with the Jesuits or the Sisters and meeting people there we are overwhelmed by their generosity and endless handshakes and greetings. The warmth of Tanzanians doesn’t come from the African heat, but the way they live and the way they treat you. In many cases I‘ve been treated as a brother, as a son. I feel God’s presence around the people I meet, especially the Sisters and the children, but in different ways.
Apart from the people, it is the nature around us which keeps me fascinated every time I cycle to the school here in Dodoma. Exciting views of Simba Hill, surrounded by couple of giant baobabs (an indigenous tree), savannah vegetation, as well as coconut and banana trees around the town form my ‘’African dream’’. I am very grateful for this opportunity and to see all this unseen beauty, but we should appreciate the nature around us and look for God wherever we are.
Whilst the guys are living down at the Volunteers’ House next to the parish, as the only female in the group I have been welcomed into the home of the St. Gemma Galgani Sisters, who reside in a property within the school grounds. Sister Euphrasia is the school headmistress and she is accompanied by Sister Lucy, Sister Carolina, Sister Maggie and their superior Sister Augusta. Together these five wonderful women have opened up their hearts to all of us and shown us a love that is simply overwhelming. Every morning, lunch time and evening we are presented with the most wonderful spread of home cooked food; everything is freshly prepared and cooked by the sisters and is beyond anything we could have imagined, let alone cook ourselves! Have you ever heard the phrase ‘food that feeds the soul’? We receive it day after day here.
In the afternoon a group of students from Class 4 came up to me and asked if I could teach them science because their teacher was absent. It was hard to say no to them as I was touched by their eagerness to learn. Although I did not have any teaching materials prepared, I just went into the classroom and improvised on my teaching skills. I split the class into three groups and each group decided on a name to represent their team. I then created science quizzes based on the textbooks and each group had to select a representative to answer the question. I am amazed by the knowledge of the students at just 9 and 10 years old, and truly inspired by their attitude of being so motivated to learn. Whilst our mission here is to teach the students of St. Ignatius core subjects and vocational skills, it is safe to say that they are teaching us so much more than can be learned in the classroom.
Today we have received the warmest welcoming from the children, I’ve personally never ever experienced anything like this before. As we were entering the school, the children greeted us with confetti, drumming and waving with flowers, singing: ‘You are most welcome to Dodoma because the Love of God is in you’. We were surrounded by a powerful wave of great joy and love. So many smiley faces, clapping, cheering and dancing… I was fighting back tears, it was simply overwhelming.
I was truly surprised by a deep desire of the children to learn as much as they can. They all are like little sponges, absorbing everything from their surroundings. Lessons are being taught from 8.00AM till 4.00PM, so a typical day of St. Ignatius School is quite long. Moreover, every Saturday weekly tests must be taken. When I remember myself back in primary school, being a naughty boy, trying to skip lessons or pretend to be ill, it makes me feel guilty now. Education is everything for these kids, it’s the key to their future and of course not every family here can even afford to send their kids to primary school. St Ignatius is a private school, hosted by the Sisters of St. Gemma Galgani. The school was started in 2003 with its motto: ‘Education for Life’. Faith, discipline and nationalism (singing the Tanzanian anthem every morning) are core values of the school, which prepares the children of St Ignatius to be a new generation which can lead Tanzania in a better way in the future.
Comunitas at dispersionm – in Latin this means the work of brothers in separate places. This is exactly how we live now, still as a team, as a band of brothers but in different fields, different subjects and classes. Yesterday we started praying together as a team at the end of the day when we finish the lessons. There’s plenty of temptations when you’re on a volunteering mission, therefore praying together is the most important thing which keeps the mission going. Steph, Kevin and Lad have been feeling poorly recently, suffering different illnesses, thank God that the symptoms don’t show any sign of malaria. I’m the only one standing with a clean bill of health so far, which is not very easy. However, I really hope that we all will finish our mission here being well and giving our best to the kids. Keep us in your prayers.
We passed the Kenyan-Tanzanian borders after the sunset, so I didn’t manage to spot Kilimanjaro’s peak, but finally, after 28 hours of continuous traveling we finally arrived to Arusha. We ‘ve been warmly welcomed by a Jesuit priest Fr. James, who drove us to the Jesuit Novitiate on the edge of the town.
They were expecting us and welcomed us with a lovely dinner, which consisted of ugalee, fried fish, roasted veg and rice. There was nothing more one could ask after a such journey. While we were enjoying our meals, the novices started to come in and greet us. Each one of them was very friendly and welcoming.
After the dinner we were shown our rooms and we went to our beds straight away. We were allowed to rest for the next day, so no alarms were set. Despite our allowance, the novices start their day at about 5am with a morning prayer and a Mass, and their alarm is someone ringing a bell, walking around the corridors for several minutes!
Despite this, we all managed to get a decent rest and start our day with a nice breakfast, followed by a reflection on the past two days. We also talked about the Massai people, what we have seen on our journey, differences in transportation – the hypermobile society of the country. We then continued in private prayer time and reflection. We are all realising that the dream coming true is an ongoing process. I doubt that the upcoming 3 weeks will be enough for absorbing all of this diversity.
It was the first time I have seen banana trees all over the place and the first time I ‘ve eaten home-grown bananas; just one of many eye-opening experiences of God’s wonderful creation. This place is like a paradise.
The novices in the community grow most of their fruit and veg allowing them to live this experience on a daily basis. They learn, they work, they pray. They are a lovely bunch of guys who you can have long and meaningful conversations with. They really enjoyed our individual presentations about us and our countries. They really like us and they are keen to play football, volleyball and basketball on our way back to Arusha.
In the last few days we have travelled through four countries, taken two planes, driven 15 hours on two buses AND crossed a border in order to reach our home for a month here in the city of Dodoma, Tanzania. It is therefore safe to say that Mission Tanzania is now officially a reality!
Our journey began on Monday 13th June when we left Manchester behind in torrential rain and as a city completely gridlocked from the closure of the Mancunian Way; that afternoon as a group of four we made a mad dash to the airport and boarded our first flight of the journey to Doha, Qatar. After a quick changeover in the airport there we boarded our second plane heading to Nairobi, Kenya, where Fr Tim awaited our arrival.
At 8.00am the following morning we were greeted by Fr Tim's familiar smiling face at Nairobi Airport; to kill some time before we all headed on to our next destination of Arusha in Tanzania, we were driven into the city to experience the hustle and bustle of the largest city in East Africa which is rapidly becoming a central hub for mobile communications and technology in this region. Absolutely nothing could have prepared us for the taxi ride into Nairobi, to say that driving there is like the cartoon 'Wacky Races' is an understatement, the traffic jams are simply unimaginable if you've never visited the city before. To put it into perspective, I will never again complain about sitting in traffic in Manchester that's for sure!
Finally we did make it into the centre of Nairobi where we dined with locals in an authentic restaurant offering traditional dishes and a well deserved cold drink. This was followed by a short bit of sight-seeing led by Fr Tim (and of course this involved a lot of dodging cars, motorbikes and buses every time we crossed a road!) Having stocked up on essentials for our next leg of the trip to keep us hydrated and happy, we made our way back to the restaurant where our bus was waiting for us to take us over the border to Arusha where we would stay for two nights at the Jesuit Novitiate, courtesy of Fr James and Fr Simon.
The bus ride taking us from Nairobi over the border into Tanzania was an unforgettable experience that will stay with each of us forever. Imagine a mini bus with seats at either side and an aisle down the middle; then imagine that the aisle has individual seats running all the way down it. Now imagine that every seat on the bus has a body in it. That was our bus! We spent almost 7 hours on that bus as human sardines; we faced a lot of discomfort due to a severe lack space (especially leg room for us taller folk) along with the African heat and sheer length of the journey, but despite this it was an incredibly special experience that we will all treasure forever. We were the only "wazungo" (white people) on board, alongside a quiet Canadian couple. Our first few hours in Africa opened us up to a sense of community and compassion that we just don't see in the UK.
Not one of the Africans on board complained or even seemed phased about the lack of space. Instead, those sitting next to us embraced the lack of personal space by making friendly conversation with us; they shared our laughter and stories even though we were complete strangers and it was so genuine. So why is it that back home on a stagecoach bus in Manchester, or quite frankly any form of public transport in the UK, is it that people are so guarded, so distant from each other? Why is it that some of us go the extreme of sitting in the aisle seat so that it is difficult and awkward for people to sit next to them ? Why is it that even when we are sitting next to someone that we don't know that we rarely even acknowledge them, let alone strike up a conversation? Aren't we supposed to love thy neighbour?
Having been genuinely accepted and part of a temporary small community of complete strangers on this little bus we have come to learn the importance of love and compassion for people we come into contact with. It doesn't matter if we don't know them. When you couple this with the fact that as westerners we are hyper-mobile, able to travel from country to country via various methods of transports within a few hours, at the click of a button or swipe of a credit card, it really puts things into perspective. The reality is at that moment in time we had traveled further in 36 hours than some of the people who were sat with us will travel in their lifetime and the fact is simply this, we were a community of strangers on a bus who willingly cared to engage with one another and accept each other without question. As a result, the physical discomfort that initially dominated our thoughts to create a negative mindset was quickly forgotten.
There was something beautiful about being on this hot and crowded little bus a world away from home. As we drove mile up on mile hour after hour towards the border, taking in spectacular scenery and watching the Masai Tribes at the sides of the road, life became more simple; as we crossed over in to Tanzania after night fall, we felt content.