Blog from George Geike
We continued our cultural immersion in the highlands of Southern Tanzania through a two-part program in Igoda province organized by Foxes NGO, a non-profit dedicated to child welfare and regional healthcare.
The first half of our program was a four-night homestay with farmer families of the Hehe tribe. Here, our Kiswahili and “kulima” (cultivation) skills gained over the past two weeks at Lutheran Junior Seminary and Ohana Amani were put to the test. Jack and I stayed with Mr. and Mrs. Omary Mgovano and had a great time with them and their four boys. Kevin and J.T. lived in the next house up with Baba and Mama Stephano Mgovano, Omary’s brother. At their house, you could find Swahili-dubbed Chinese soap dramas playing 24/7. Across the street from us lived Nanci and Moreh with Baba and Mama Yohab Mgovano, another brother (there are between eight and fifteen brothers depending on who you ask). In this close-knit community we were able to visit each other’s homes frequently and get to know everyone’s “kakas na dadas” (brothers and sisters). With the Mgovanos, it really takes a village to raise a child.
James and Riley, and Nina lived further away (one can only assume their families weren’t Mgovanos). Through the cornstalk, we heard James and Riley had a blast with they family of “ngi” (many), sharing music and cooking skills (including a pasta Alfredo by sous chef Landriau). Nina bravely volunteered to live on her own, and seemed to have replaced our company with that of the local school kids. Us adopted Mgovanos spent our time weeding the cornfields, tossing the frisbee at the Igoda primary school, playing matador with a baby bull cow named Luka, and learning about how our host families lived and worked.
In addition to “kazi shamba” (farm work), the other pillar in the lives of our host families was the church. The Hehes in this corner of Iringa province are all Seven Day Adventists who hold the Sabbath and take Friday as a day of rest and preparation. We “wazungu” (foreigners) were warmly welcomed to Saturday church. Many family members sang or gave sermon during the nearly four hours of communal service.
Having been settled into the area, we moved onto the second-half of our program: five nights at the nearby Igoda Children’s Village, Foxes NGO headquarters. The village was created in 2006 after Mr. Fox, the British owner of the encompassing tree and tea farm, kept getting children looking for work to support themselves or their families. Many of their parents had died from AIDs/HIV. In the province, the infection rate stands at 34%, with 46% of women aged 18-44 infected. Together with westerners Geoff and Jenny, Mr. Fox built the first child housing in 2007. 10 years later, under the stewardship of Geoff and Jenny, the NGO has greatly expanded in scope and size. They currently house 84 kids and support many more through an education system that runs from nursery all the way up to vocational training in sewing and carpentry at the junior college level. They also support the neighboring Mtabula hospital, which focuses in anti-retroviral (ARV) HIV & AIDs treatment.
Foxes has a staff of 60, divided into three departments: vulnerable childcare, healthcare, and education. During our brief stay there we were able to experience the work of each department. Riley, Jack, and I spent our first day sanding and painting two shipping containers that would form the walls of a nursery. Nina, J.T., and Nanci helped out in the kindergarten (a semi-comparable Swahili level), while Moreh, Kevin, James, and Kelsi trekked to the hospital and visited households that rely on ARV treatment. The groups switched tasks everyday, and by the end, we had finished the nursery walls, learned about Tanzanian Montessori education, and found new perspectives in empathy.
We spent our afternoons at the six children houses tutoring, playing football, and on occasion, changing diapers–there was a house with just babies under nine months. All of the children came from abusive or challenging backgrounds of some form, and it was incredibly rewarding to get to share some happy moments with them.
Our last night there ended with a bang as we celebrated St. Patties Day with the staff and kids of the NGO and with our homestay parents. There was live music, a mixed-cuisine buffet, and a 180-degree panorama of far off thunderstorms (in lieu of fireworks). A Foxes staff band, the “Mufindi Misfits”, performed acoustic covers of American/Irish classics, while the freshly formed Kifaru dancers performed “Don’t Stop Believing” by Journey (to resounding applause). Moreh even made cinnamon rolls! The party rounded out a special week of service and lasting memories. I only wish we were in Mufindi for longer, but our time there certainly opened the door to a path some embark on in the future.
Next week, Ruaha National Park; ROARRRRRR!