Wow. The past few weeks have been full and beyond my ability to describe (yet). Sometimes I find my scrivening here requires significant reflection and, for now, I’m so fully present, I’m not yet able to take a step back to fully grasp all that I’m experiencing here. That said, I am happy – and our trip, to date, has been incredibly successful. We have:
We’ve also attended a Parents Council meeting, performed some technology training with Mama Lucy & her son William, conducted a number of video interviews, created both written and video messages for our donors and supporters, gone on safari with the children and spent as much time as possible with Mama Lucy and the teachers at the school exchanging stories and ideas.
Amanda May, a volunteer who’s focused on product development, had this to share about her experience since arriving just a week ago:
Since first getting involved with Epic Change, I have heard countless stories from Stacey and Sanjay about the culture, school and the kids here in Arusha . . . It left me with very few surprises upon arriving.
As expected, every single child has touched my heart and soul in a profound way. And I won’t lie by telling you that I wouldn’t love to take them all home with me either. The new school is a refreshing testament as to what hard work and inspiring dedication can achieve. And after spending time with Mama Lucy, I can assure you that if there were even just one more like her, the world would be a more beautiful place.
Here is what I have encountered over the last 10 days that I would like to share with you:
- “Wazungu”: two or more foreigners. It is a funny word that took a while for me to use. While in a local market last week with Mama Lucy’s son, William, Tim and I were some of the only white people there. There was a common look we were greeted with that made me slightly uncomfortable . . . an uncomfortable I have never really known before. So I asked William flat out “What do they (locals) think of us wazungu?” His answer was along the lines that they know we are rich. Rich is a very subjective term – but they are right. This leads me into my next lesson . . . (by the way, I am not rich).
- Money does not fix everything. If you are reading this blog, you have likely given money to Epic Change (if not, donations are welcome 24 hours a day, 7 days a week) . . . and I can tell you that your money has made a HUGE difference. Your donations have made at least three times as much impact as the same amount of money collected in the States and spent here on other projects (including other schools). From what I have seen, I am pretty sure this is why: Epic Change stayed out of the way. Unlike many other Western aid approaches, Stacey and Sanjay let Mama Lucy run the show. And why shouldn’t she? She is the reason there was a school to begin with. She knows what her students need to receive an excellent education. I have seen the horrible impact that Westerners have had on this community by “trying to help”. They often choose to work against what the community leaders feels is important and make decisions that they are unqualified to make. In turn the outcome has resulted in inflated production cost, substandard quality, inaccessible location and services, among many others. There is no reason for this.
- Smart people live in mud huts. I can tell you the people here live in very different environments and situations then most of us, and it is hard to see past that. But guess what? Smart people live here, lots in fact. And the kids at Shepherds Junior are brilliant. Imagine your kids in primary school not learning math, science and geography in English, but in French. That is what is going on here. It is a wonderful advantage for these kids, as the high schools here are English-medium while government primary schools are taught entirely in Swahili, leaving many students radically underprepared for public secondary schools and further education. It was amazing to me to see the fourth grade class learning Algebra in English . . . call me crazy, but that is pretty unbelievable.
This trip as taught me a lot. But if there is one thing I wish everyone could learn from me it is this: we can all help a local women make a priceless impact on hundreds of lives. I have looked into the eyes of these future success stories, and I promise you all that your efforts, donations and support will not be wasted. And the sooner we can help to provide the support Mama Lucy need in expanding to meet the needs of her people, the sooner more children will receive a top-notch education.
PS: The one thing that I did find surprisingly disturbing here is western volunteerism & aid and its impact on the local culture and people. I will admit, even as a youngster I wanted to save the world one penny at a time. Whether it was an acre of rainforest, a manatee in Florida or a starving child in a third world country . . . I would have saved them all. The word “save” is going to be the lesson of the trip for me. One thing I have learned over the short 10 days of being here is that you can’t save people . . . not by making them more like us.
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