We live in Mwanza, Tanzania, serving with Emmanuel International helping local churches in physical and spiritual ministry.

Saturday, 23 July 2016

Camp Time for Kids with Albinism

I love that life is never dull here! And this week was another occasion to prove it! It has all been rather crazy with various projects bubbling to the boil, and two girls arriving home from a fabulous, "best-time-of-my-life" 10 days in Kenya at Kids Camp, one ill with pneumonia and the other with a painfully sprained hand/thumb. As the girls arrived and an overnight guest departed, the daily 8am-6pm camp schedule began! In such situations, those basic things like sorting laundry and going to the market rather fall to the wayside. But thanks to a crazy influx of beans on all farming fronts, meals were sorted! And grab-piles in the living room work for clothes. But, I digress ...

Summer Camp 2016
This week was Summer Camp time with 171 kids with albinism! We joined in with the BMCC church here in Mwanza, Peter Ash with Under the Same Sun, and a super group of volunteers from Canada, the US and UK ... as well as the Upendo wa Mama Group! And what a fantastic week it has been! I cannot begin to cover it all here, but I want to highlight a little for you, especially about the Mamas! 
Peter Ash arrives to open the camp
Camp officially opened by the Regional Commissioner (centre)
along with Peter Ash (L) and Brad (R) with Pastor Mbuke (BMCC) in the background (L)
The camp was extremely well organized (led by Brad and Meg Sumner, friends from Langley, BC) with a day-care nursery and 6 stations for the age-groups of kids to rotate around throughout the week.

In drama, these kids, many of whom have faced a lifetime of rejection have been learning (without even being aware of it!) how to stand tall, project their voices and be confident in who they are. These kids who will struggle their whole life with impaired vision are learning memorization skills that will help them navigate their world. It was awesome to see the change in some of the kids in just a week!

In music they have gained confidence in performing while worshipping their heavenly father who has created them and loves them. We are talking enthusiastic and energetic singing here! 

In art they have been learning to express themselves, being bold with colour and ideas. These kids, who have suffered intensely, enjoyed art games, even without realising the activity was a powerful tool in trauma counselling.
A running-around art activity
The kids have gone to the Bible corner and learned the truth of God's word and experienced the power of prayer.

In sports, they used a large colourful ball they could actually see and discovered the fun they could have playing hockey, as well as many other team games!

And in science, as well as basic hygiene and sun protection, they learned about albinism; they learned the biology of their eyes explaining their visual impairment and heard (most for the first time) the true facts explaining their genetic condition. This is life-changing stuff for these kids!
Learning how to handwash. 20 second rule.
Through the camp as a whole, the children could together reject the lies about themselves (spread through witchcraft, rejection and abuse) and instead understand the truth about what it means to be a person with albinism (spiritually, scientifically/genetically, physically, emotionally, individually and socially). They have been loved and they have had fun!  

And a feast of rice, pilau, chicken or fish, beans, cabbage and fruits for lunch every day!

I was thrilled for all the women in the Upendo wa Mama group who volunteered to help! It was a huge thing for them, giving up their week away from their homes and any business they might miss and also whopping 100 000 Tsh of their money to cover transportation costs each day (which for many of them meant two separate buses as well as walking). But they wanted to serve Under the Same Sun who has done so much to help their kids! And there is something good that always happens when people join together to serve. It was such a growing and encouraging time for them.

The mamas were asked to share their stories in the science class. After learning about genetics, some of the older children had questions and fears about finding a mate and starting families. The women were asked to share with the children from their perspective as mothers of children with albinism or as mothers who have albinism. This was something they have never done, and they were naturally very apprehensive. These women didn't all know the genetic facts when they birthed their babies. Several of them were abandoned (even on the hospital bed), solely blamed for a condition that can only come from both man and woman. Accused of sleeping with Chinese or Europeans. Rejected by husbands and families. Several of them have had attacks attempted on them and their children. They have been discriminated against because of their children; children whom they love with a fiercely protective love. And yet they carry such hope. We had a lovely time as a group, just praying for them before they shared. They wanted the children to know how much they loved their children, no matter what. They wanted them to know that there was so much hope for these students to raise their own families in the future.
 
Mamas sharing in the class
There were tears from the mamas, myself and others listening as they shared from their hearts the heartache they have suffered, the love they have for their children, and the hope that they have. For the students, many of whom have never known a mother's love, to hear the "mothers' love" ("upendo wa mama") from these women was so precious; this lovely group of mamas truly lived out and lived up to their name. 

The Mamas' Group was delighted to run a stall at the camp, selling the fruit of all their recent labours! They sold bead necklaces, earrings, lip balms and body balms, candles, soaps and cards. It was a fantastic encouragement for them to persevere and work even harder! And another thing I found so wonderful was meeting with them at the end of the week with the final count of the proceeds (which more than covered their transportation costs!) and emphasizing the fact that this money was hard earned by them. They had done this with God's help, together. They are able. They are in business, they are serving others, they are reaching out to help others out of all they have been through themselves. And we thanked God!
Setting up shop
(Notice the amazing wooden necklace display which Louisa quickly made for us after the first day!)

Soaps and Balms
The final day is today! I think everyone is exhausted! Mamas, volunteers, organizers, the kids, me ... But it's the best kind of tired. Fulfilling and satisfying. Knowing we serve a faithful, loving, incredibly big God who is at work bringing his transforming Life and Light into the darkness!

Now to find some clean clothes and cook something other than beans!

[You can find out more about the Upendo wa Mama Group on the blog page above]
 

Sunday, 17 July 2016

A Precious Remnant

I never dreamed that beekeeping could be such an emotionally involved roller coaster ride! Initially I thought it was fairly simple: Put up hive. Bees enter. Take out honey. Enjoy sales of jars and warm toast and honey. Eighteen months later, I now know better. Yes, I am still passionate about bees, still super excited about honey and making beeswax products with people. And definitely love our beekeeping groups and see huge potential. But after eighteen months of this beekeeping exploit, I realise more than anything I am learning patience and learning that we learn most from our mistakes, and there are rich nuggets to be salvaged from failure!

We lost another hive this week. This one in Malya and it's our third colony of bees to be chased out by little tiny ants. Apparently they grasp the little legs of the poor bees making it impossible for them to fly. Well, that's what we've heard. So given the bullying nature of these teeny tiny insects, I can't blame the bees for leaving, but so terribly sad to see them go.

It was a good lesson for the group who had been told several times to keep putting grease on the wires hanging the hive. They hadn't. The ants crawled up the tree and down the wire into the hive. So the first task on Wednesday was going around all twelve hives with a pot of grease.
Greasing the wires
The group heading out to check and grease the hives in the Church apiary
In the abandoned hive it was terribly sad to see all the hard work of those bees laying in a crumbled, honey-less heap. Combs left in ruin. We salvaged all the comb and melted it all down in boiling water. Then we were able to strain the water and melted wax into a pot and wait for the wax to settle on the top as it cooled. From a thriving hive of comb to a small tin of beeswax. But this precious remnant, saved from a ruin, now pure beeswax, can now be used to prepare another hive for a new colony of bees. Those combs had lost all their former glory, their sweetness, their worth. But they were rescued despite it all. They were put on the fire. But what was squeezed out, was something precious, something pure, something useful. And it becomes the start of something new ... the beginning of a whole new colony. So yes, in failure and fallen brokenness, it's worth knowing there is a precious remnant to be found.
All that beautiful comb destroyed
Salvaging the comb
Straining the water and wax

The silver lining. The precious remnant. Half a tin of wax.
 

Saturday, 16 July 2016

A Place to Be

There seems so much to blog at the moment, I feel I am falling far behind! But knocking chronology out of the way, I will just write the exciting news! ...
 
The Upendo wa Mama group has a place to meet! I feel I should type this in large bold font or capital letters or something! It is something we have waited and prayed a long time for! The mamas are thrilled they are going to be able to use rooms on the Mwanza premises of Standing Voice, an organization working to help people with albinism. Standing Voice does a fantastic work here in Mwanza for people with albinism - particularly with advocacy, and health (skin cancer prevention and vision). And they are surely helping these women and their children with albinism! We are so thankful!

Having a safe and permanent place to meet and work (and store things!) will be a huge step forward for the group. As well as having the opportunity to work much more, we are looking forward to purchasing an oven and sewing machine to increase work opportunities. Also with a space to meet, I am hoping there will be the possibility for more teaching and training, particularly in literacy. Today, I was so moved when one of the Mamas, who had previously not wanted a Bible, asked for one now. She said she wanted to learn how to read.
Busy sewing cards and making soap
The women have been really busy making all kinds of products to sell! The soaps made a couple of months ago are finally ready to use! So we have sampled some to test, and pleased with the results have packaged the rest to sell! It is so encouraging to see the fruit of all their labours!
Handmade soaps
Candles setting in their PVC pipe moulds
We have also just started a new little sewing project together. We are working on making washable, re-useable menstrual pads! At the moment we are just trialing some designs to see what works best, but hoping that we can produce more to sell. The women are really excited about these pads, and when I asked what they are called in Swahili, the answer with a giggle was "Always!" Also later, hopefully we can use these pads to help and educate young girls who are missing weeks of school due to their periods. It is a far bigger problem than you may imagine, and the solution is not straight-forward ... but more on this in another blog post!
Always!

Meanwhile the Mamas in Malya...

Tim and I went this week to Malya and while there, I met again with the women's group. Elizabeti, Rachel, Tabitha and Agnus were there (would you believe, there was another funeral that day and so two of these women were very late and the other three didn't make it at all.) They are lovely ladies and it feels like relationship is growing as we work together and pray for one another. I came home this time laden with bags of rice from each of them! How kind and generous they are! It is just difficult being so far away from them, and only getting there once a month, but slowly things are moving forward.

They are working towards getting their own bank account, but you would not believe how long and drawn out and complicated this is ... sucking their valuable earnings in transport alone as the bank is about 25km away. Patience and perseverance. And that they have. We have had our share of failures; they showed me rock hard lip balms that used about 100x too much wax when they just forgot to measure! And this week, in our attempt at milk and honey soap in the hot, unrefrigerated conditions of the village, we were taken aback at a bubbly explosion of hot honey which resulted in a rather volcanic looking caramelized ("burnt") honey soap!

But the person who never made a mistake, never made anything, and so we persevere!
"Caramalized Honey Soap"
Neem Cream
Malya mamas making balms and soaps
(See the beekeepers working on the hive in the background? They were pretty interested!
 

Sunday, 10 July 2016

Community Day for Anniversary Celebrations!

Last weekend, it was great to celebrate the first year of the new church building for Mwanza International Community Church! And how better to celebrate than to serve the local community! On Saturday, members of the church worked together in different practical ways. Men were busy clearing and improving the roads; this is no easy task on these dirt roads up the side of a steep hill, cut out of the bush and plagued with boulders! Others were involved in children's activities and teaching; and although for me it was pretty hot in the full sun running about, all the kids enjoyed wide games and a bouncy castle! A third group was running community healthcare. Dr Makori and other doctors from the church were welcoming members of the community to come for de-worming, family planning teaching, blood pressure and basic health checks as well as baby weigh-in and post-natal care. It was great to see the church reaching out in such practical ways to serve their community.
Louisa runs "homefree" in one of the wide games!

Bouncy Castle Fun!

Amisadai on mopping

Louisa on babysitting!
Sunday morning was a big Thanksgiving Service! This was followed by a huge Lunch and a Praise Concert. Women were hard at work in the hot sun on six or seven huge three-stone fires, cooking rice, pilau, beef, chicken, beans and cabbage for hundreds! My small contribution was to help with the biggest pot of beans I have ever cooked! Louisa ran back and forth with chopped vegetables and salt and the like. It was well worth all the hard work and everyone enjoyed the feast together! Thanksgiving all over again! A thanksgiving that bubbles over and touches everyone around.


Cooking the Sunday lunch

Eating Sunday lunch!
 

Friday, 8 July 2016

Farming Cha-Cha-Cha

Tim has been doing the cha-cha-cha on the Conservation Agricultural (CA) Project, focussing on getting new groups of farmers together for the next training which will start in September. As is often the way, it sometimes feels a little bit like doing the cha-cha-cha with “one-step-forward, two-steps back” (or is it two-steps-forward, one-step-back?)

Whatever the steps, Tim arrived in Kagee (a sub-village of Kayenze) last Monday for the village meeting being planned by the village chairman. He wasn’t happy to get all the way there to find that it had not actually been planned at all and so no one was there. They rescheduled for the following day, planning that Esther would go. But when Esther arrived on Tuesday, she was told there was a “msiba” (bereavement) thus everyone was off paying their condolences. After our third failure on Friday, we wondered if we would ever get another group together from Kayenze! Cha-cha-cha.  But then we had a forward step on Tuesday. A huge number of people turned up from Kagee, all interested in joining the new training group. We are only looking for thirty! The first approved thirty to forty farmers from both sub-villages of Lutale and Kagee to prepare their fields are in! That's the weeding and mulching quick-step for them. Cha-cha-cha.

We are also excited about the possibility of a new CA group starting up in a Nyamililo, a village in the Sengerema District, about 20km away on the other side of the Gulf of Mwanza. From talking to Pastor Tito Samwel there, it is a needy area agriculturally and by working through the church, the project has great potential to help the community. Training here will also start in September.

We are really pleased to be starting to work in the Sengerema District. Also in this area, we have connected with an American missionary (and an expert in soil science) doing similar work to us. Tim, Esther and Amon went last week to look at some of the farms and meet with farmers he is working with. He is currently working on pulling together CA trainers working in the Lake Zone to share ideas and experience.
Looking at the difference in the soils.
The handful on the right, from the CA field,  is rich in compost
material after being replenished through cover crops.
 The handful on the left is regular soil from an adjacent field.
Makuna in the demonstration plot
 
Maize growing with a cover crop of jackbeans
 
This is a shelter used to dry and store the harvested crops

Buzz on the Bees

On Tuesday, while Esther was in the Kagee village meeting, our family was also in Kayenze, with the beekeepers. We had our last beekeepers meeting before Julian, our bee expert, arrives from the UK to do the honey harvest training (theoretical and also we trust, practical!)  
Chai and maandazi with the beekeepers group
We have been doing the cha-cha-cha with the bee project too! We sadly lost two hives recently in Kayenze to the sisimizi (small ants). After the vandalism of a hive earlier, this was a gutting two steps backwards. But we keep looking and moving forward and after stressing the importance of greasing the wires holding the hives in the trees to keep the ants at bay, we went to see the hive at Amos's farm which is busy with bees.
We drove as far as we could up the rocky track. Then continued through the fields on foot, pleased to the see the progress with Amos' pigeon peas and jack beans (he is also in the agricultural group). He also has some great mango trees and the hive tool came in useful for peeling and cutting the mangos that Pastor Amon knocked out of the trees for Amisadai and Louisa to eat!
Out to the hives
Rachel and Amos check the hives
 
Back to the car