Tales from Tanzania - O'Neil Family Blog

Though we have already been in Tanzania for one year, this is a journal of our time at Haven of Peace Academy in Dar es Salaam. Karibu sana.

July 01, 2008

What I Will Miss

There are many things I will miss about Tanzania, but these are the things that stick out in my mind:

I will miss the physical beauty - the palm trees, the banana trees, the jungliness of it all juxtaposed against the red soil ( I never thought I would say I would miss the African dirt!). The sky was generally always blue and you could count on knowing the weather every day - hot and humid. There is nothing quite as beautiful as the Indian Ocean. The white sand against the turquoise with the always present dhow boat fishing off shore, is a sight like no other. I can almost smell it still.

I will miss the African women. They, to me, sum up beauty. They are like queens and even the lowliest of African women seems to be able to walk like royalty. They hold their backs straight and heads held high and poised often balancing the most remarkable loads on their heads (I once saw a woman bend over to pick up laundry drying on the grass, fold it, and place it on the stack of already folded clothes on her head, and return for another piece). It never ceases to amaze me how carefully and beautifully they dress - even a cleaning lady will wear a matching skirt and top to work and change when she arrives. They walk gracefully through the dust and often mud in tiny high heels or dressy sandals. They spend hours on their hair and meticulously braid it into every imaginable pattern and design - works of art! In the West we seem to relish plain and even dull colors but the women in Africa wear only bright, beautiful colors with wild patterns and designs - I will greatly miss all this color! Tanzanian women are not thin or dainty, they are generally more large and strong looking, but they carry themselves with a grace and comfort that was infectious. I found myself more comfortable with my own looks (even though I really generally looked like a scraggly, sweaty mess) while around them. They will always be for me, the epitomy of beauty.

I will greatly miss HOPAC. I loved being at an international school - it was one of the greatest privileges of my life and my children’s life also. I loved that my children had teachers from Australia, Germany, and England. I loved that my kids friends had names like Aiden McFarlane, Gwamaka Mwamasika, and Mustafa along with the Davids, Micheals, and Matts. I loved watching the kids go into school in the morning. It was like a gathering of the nations and you could sit back in the parking lot and watch skin and hair of every imaginable color all joining together - arms flung around each other, holding hands, generally touching each other more often than we do here. It always brought tears to my eyes to see kids from all 32 nations dressed in their national dress on International Day - gathered under the roof of the gym. It was really a little like heaven. Mostly I will miss teaching these students from so many nations and cultures and even religions. It was an honor to know them, learn form them, and serve them. I will continue to pray and be in touch with these remarkable young men and women.

I will miss the Islamic call to prayer every morning. Although at first it is a little disconcerting to have a loudspeaker wake you up every morning with strange melodic tones in Arabic at 5:00am (for the first year we lived next to an Islamic boys school and they would let the boys do the call - believe me, it was anything but pretty. I would often hear my children out in the yard singing that call - they could imitate it perfectly!), but though I couldn’t understand what they were singing, I am missing that call each morning. It was a good reminder that God sustained us through the night. It was a reminder to thank God for the new morning and it reminded me how desperately we all need God and we need to pray - first thing in the day. I will miss that haunting melody and that loan voice calling out reminding me each morning of my great need for God’s sustenance.

In Tanzania we slept with every possible window open to get air circulation. It was similar to sleeping in a tent - where you could hear all movement and the sound of the breeze - and the dogs, and people, and insects, etc.. Our house was surrounded by puddles and they were full of frogs. These frogs would commence to serenading us at the top of their little croakers all night long - kind of like one of those white noise machines. These frogs were interesting little creatures. They were solid black with a bright orange stripe running down their sides. They looked and felt slimy and squishy. They could squish under the door jam and loved to come into our house during the night. They loved to get under my dishrag or in my sink (one lived in Anna’s bathroom sink in the overflow drain) and I would find them on the counter or in the kitchen sink early in the morning. They climbed with little suction cup feet and they didn’t hop but got up on all fours and walked. I am not too squeamish but I did watch where I was walking at night for fear of stepping on one and having it squish between my toes. And though I never thought I would say this, I am going to miss the sound of those frogs. They made for a serene way to sleep and wake up each morning - ok - so in reality the barking dogs usually woke me up in the morning but the background noise was still pleasant.

I’m going to miss bargaining for my food. As nice as it is to go into a store, see the price, and buy it - in and out - I am going to miss the walking down the street to the mama sitting on the side of the road with a pile of tomatoes and a few onions and carrots. It was nice to know the name of the person I was buying from and know that my business meant something to their family. And although it is a tedious process to bargain for every little carrot and tomato, (the longer you can stand their arguing, the better price you get), I secretly enjoyed the challenge of bargaining. I’m going to miss is.

I will miss the Tanzanian character. I will miss their music and their culture - their beautiful smiles and their expressive faces. I will miss how when the music started up, they simply could not keep still. I often would see very old ladies who could barely walk, dance and move when the music started. They seemed to be able to choreograph on the spot, without practice. I loved watching them dance. I am going to miss the joy that Tanzanians carry with them wherever they go. Benjamin, when asked what he thought of Tanzanians, said, “They are always smiling - even when they have nothing - they always seem happy.” Now I don’t think this is always true. Many Tanzanians have very hard lives and they do not always smile about their situations. But they are more joyful than we are in the West and I will miss living under the umbrella of their joy. It is a gift from God. Despite their plight with poverty, they are a blessed people. I will greatly miss friends that were made and families that influenced me.

Lastly, I will miss the many missionaries that we met being at HOPAC. I will miss the missionaries that lived in the city - remarkable people - who were so devoted to praying for and ministering to Tanzania. I will miss the bush missionaries that we met - many living with their families without electricity or access to food or medical supplies - often in malaria prone areas. They often stayed with us when they needed to come to town for food or supplies, shots after being bit by rabid dogs, a bed after their house was attacked by safari ants, or just for a rest and a swim in a pool. I will miss these brothers and sisters in Christ, all fairly regular people when you get to know them with the same issues that we all have, but remarkable people simply willing to listen to God. I have been honored to know them and spend even three years with them and their children!
I could probably write an equally long list of the things I will not miss in Tanzania but these things will quickly fade from my memory. Whereas these memories listed above will forever impact and remain with me. It has been a great privilege and an honor to live and work in Tanzania for the last three year. I am sad to say goodbye and the people we know we always hold a special place in the hearts of our family.

May 21, 2008


I remember being back in the States and seeing news reports or advertisements showing the desperate situations in Africa. I remember feeling helpless way over on the opposite side of the ocean to do anything remotely significant to help Africa. I also remember thinking, if I were there, then I would be able to do something. I thought that I would instinctively know how to respond.

But my response is so slow - so inhibited from just doing something. I often times freeze up unable to even process what I see. Or else, I analyze the situation looking for the perfect solution while the problem passes me by while I am lost in the mumbo jumbo of a developmentally and culturally appropriate response. The other day I was driving down the road in the pouring rain. The traffic was bumper to bumper and one could only move if the car in front of you moved. We surged forward and as we drove past, I saw out of the side window of my car, a boy - a teenager - sitting in the pouring rain on a heap of garbage eating what he had picked out - rotten ugali (traditional staple food) - most likely. Tanzania is very poor but the cultural value of community and sharing basically keeps everyone poor but very few starving. I'm sure it happens but I had not seen anyone sitting and eating garbage since we've been here - and certainly not in the pouring rain. I basically froze, barely registering what I had seen, and kept driving. Why didn't I turn around? Why didn't I stop and do something - I don't know what - but something?

I noticed this lack of response again later when I was walking down the street. A young boy walked by me and I greeted him. As he passed - he was walking much faster than I was as I had Tommy in one hand and a big bag of bread in the other - I noticed that one of his arms hung limp and useless by his side. As he moved further in front of me I clearly saw (although I could hardly believe this to be true) a bone about two inches long jutting out from his skin half-way down his forearm. It was completely healed but the bone still stuck out from his arm. I believe now that he had severely broken his arm at some point but it had never been set. Instead, somehow, he must have survived infection and the skin healed around the broken bone leaving the bone outside of the skin and his arm rendered useless. Yet this all barely registered in my mind until the boy was gone beyond my sight. Again, this lack of response concerns me. Why didn't I stop him and ask what had happened? Why didn't I give him my bag of bread?

Mary is a mother of HOPAC students. She has nine children and has lived in Tanzania for many, many years running orphanages. Her children attend HOPAC and I teach one of them. Mary does not have a slow response time. She sees something and begins doing something about it. Mary was travelling in southern Tanzania when she came across a tragedy. A village in Kyela had been struck by so much rain during the rainy season that they were barely surviving. Their homes are made out of mud and with so much rain, most had basically been washed away. The immense rains had damaged their corn crop which was about to be harvested so food was short. Their bridge was underwater and they needed to walk across the hand rails over crocodile infested waters to get to school and the center of the village. They were basically in trouble. Mary saw all this and immediately returned to Dar es Salaam and began a plea for help. She turned to HOPAC and the student council took over with a quick response and addressed the student body. They came up with a plan to all chip in oil, flour, sugar, beans and have it all shipped to Kyela . This is precisely what the students of HOPAC did. They gathered 1.3 tons of food, had it loaded into a truck, and delivered it to this remote part of Tanzania. There, it was distributed quickly and to grateful recipients. This all happened within the time span of about one week - a quick response. It most likely did nothing to solve the long term problem or even their lost crops, but it did do something for their next days and weeks.

I learned from Mary and the students of HOPAC. Thank God that He has put people on earth who see an injustice and respond with their hearts quickly and easily. I need to observe them more often and let their uninhibited love show me a better way. There is no joy in a lack of response - only haunting memories of the tragedies we see. I pray that I would learn to have a quick response to what happens around me - not slow, and thoughtful to the point of uselessness, but heartfelt and uninhibited and fast. But there is blessing in a quick response - there is not only joy and satisfaction in knowing that something is being done, but there is joy and satisfaction from the recipients of our responses - even if there is no lasting solution.

March 20, 2008


On a Monday morning while reading emails, I learned that Timmy’s grandfather had died over the weekend. Timmy and his extended family are expatriates from Kenya and the UK. Timmy is one of our 3rd grade students, and his grandparents live here in Dar es Salaam. I know Timmy better than some as I coached his basketball team this past season.

Later in the week, I attended an afternoon memorial service remembering the life of Timmy’s grandfather. While there, I was deeply moved as I observed HOPAC’s reach into the memorial service. More particularly, I observed the influence of a HOPAC 3rd grade teacher on the lives of her students and the ripple effect on parents and those who attended the service. Let me explain.

At the core of HOPAC’s mission is to see students understand and “live out” a biblical worldview. After all, we believe that Scripture is God’s word for today, so it makes perfect sense that we would want our students to know what God has to say and to apply it in their lives. Our 3rd grade students memorize and learn to understand Psalm 139. And guess what? Psalm 139 was the scripture reading for the memorial service. And guess who influenced that decision? Timmy did!

I also heard about the sympathy cards that Timmy received from his 3rd grade classmates and learned that Psalm 139 flowed through many of the words of encouragement and sympathy. So I asked Timmy if I could read the cards. Here are a few of my favorites:

· Timmy, I know it’s hard, but God has a plan. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.
· I will be praying for you.
· God will be with you. He has a plan, Timmy.
· Timmy, here is a verse that might cheer you up-“Praise be to the God and Father; the father of compassion and the God of all comfort who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.”-2 Corinthians 1:3,4

Moments like these remind us why we’ve invested in Christian education half way around the world. Through a 3rd grade teacher, God’s word was implanted into the students’ hearts. And those 3rd grade students not only internalized Scripture, they “lived it out” in the complexities and challenges of life.

January 25, 2008

Saying Good-Bye

Mama Rebeka has been my Tanzanian friend perhaps the longest of anyone here. She is the wife of our night gaurd, Molel. She used to come and visit me when I could speak no Swahili and we would just stand there smiling at each other. I have no idea what would bring her back time after time - except maybe a free soda. But she kept coming every so often and my Swahili got a little better over time and soon we were able to talk during her visits.

She is perhaps by best Tanzanian friend. We have been out to visit her home in the bush - she only comes to the city on occasion. We have met her mother and her four children. She has made many beaded gifts for us and we have invested a little bit in her business. We have seen her children sick and prayed for them as they battled fevers or the flu. We greet each other everyday via her husband. We have invested the way Tanzanians invest in friendships.

She told me she was going back to the bush recently and it finally hit that I probably would not ever see her or her children again on this earth - I do plan on seeing her later in heaven! I, of course, began to think of what I could give her as a gift - a going away present. As we were talking somehow it came up that she had never seen the ocean before. I was at first shocked that someone who has travelled all the way from the savanah bush to Dar es Salaam and stayed here for six months had yet to actually see the ocean but when money is tight why would someone spend it on transportatin to get down to the ocean - there is no practical need. So there it was - my going away present would be to take Mama Rebeka and her kids and who ever else might be around to the beach.

I picked her up where they stay and after some initial screaming by her youngest, Rebeka, who was frightened to death of a vehicle, we were off. They oooed and awed when they first saw the ocean. I think they had no idea of how big something could be. We all just stood for a while on the beach, gaping at the size and smell. They asked about a boat in the distance and although they knew about fisherman (Masaai hate fish) but had no idea what a fishing boat looked like. After awhile I drew her down into the water and we all tasted it and put our feet in. The kids, of course, screamed and retreated to playing in the sand.

My pictures of this event are wonderful, I think, because they express Mama Rebeka. The ocean was new to her, vast, big, something she knew nothing about. I imagine having grown up in the savanah bush that she had rarely even seen a body of water besides the watering holes for cattle. I know she had never had a body of water large enough to have completely immersed herself in. But with a smile on her face, and giggles of delight, she ripped off her robe and dove in relishing in it all.

I wish I could be more like Mama Rebeka, ripping off my old robes and giggling with glee while I dive into something new and unknown - even something as big as the ocean - very little fear but just joy and relishing in the glory of it all. We went home and though Mama Rebeka doesn't know I will be leaving Tanzania yet, I felt good about giving her this one little thing even if it has no practical value and even though it is only a memory. I also walk away with a gift, a lesson learned from Mama Rebeka.

It turned out Mama Rebeka has not left yet and there have been many more days of coming to say goodbye to me and I have given many more good-bye gifts. The trip home for her has been cancelled many times but I am ok with that - am still learning it is just the Tanzanian way.

December 04, 2007

A Double Blessing

International Day at HOPAC is an annual November tradition. It’s an opportunity to celebrate all of the nationalities (this year 30) represented in our student body. This year one-third of our students are Tanzanian. What attracted us to HOPAC three years ago and continues to motivate us is our deep desire for HOPAC to invest in the lives of Tanzanian students who come from highly influential families. We know that these students will play a role one day in shaping their nation. We pray that during these formative years, a HOPAC education will prepare them to impact Tanzania for Jesus Christ.

We often say that much of this impact will be seen 20 or 30 years from today when these students are in their prime adult years. But even though we may not be able to see the total fruit of our work at HOPAC, we firmly believe that Tanzania will be different because of the biblical worldview our students receive. Our mission states that we want our students to understand and live out a biblical worldview in all areas of life to the glory of God. So how does this relate to International Day?

We invited Imani Kaduma, a recent HOPAC graduate to give the keynote address. Imani’s faither, Ibrahim, also serves on our Board of Governors. Imani is a recent graduate of a Tanzanian university where he studied law. He’s now preparing for law school. Before the ceremony, I had the opportunity to talk with Imani. I asked him about HOPAC’s impact on him. Without hesitation, Imani gave me an answer that made my jaw drop and made the last 2 ½ years worth everything. Imani said something like this, “Mr. O’Neil, HOPAC prepared me to understand the world from a biblical perspective. While I studied at university, I was able to bring my Christian faith to bear on law. In fact, I now plan to teach law rather than practice law, as I want to integrate the Christian worldview to the legal profession to address the problems with the practice of law in Tanzania today.”

A few minutes later, Imani went on to give the opening speech. Although he never used his notes during his arousing speech, he let me see a copy of what he prepared. This is the opening:

“My name is Imani Kaduma, son of Ibrahim and Happiness Kaduma, a Christian, believer in Father, Son and Holy Ghost, son of HOPAC and son of Tanzania. By God’s grace I was among the first HOPAC students when Haven of Peace Academy opened its doors in 1994. I say God’s grace because ever since I left HOPAC in 2002, what I learned here at HOPAC has remained in my heart and I have never gone wrong. The strongest memory and mark that HOPAC has given me is the integration of faith and learning. Knowing and believing that God is with you in whatever you do or say, gives you strength, courage and hope…”

So International Day was a double blessing. It was a reminder of God’s creativity and diversity with nations, cultures, and languages. But most importantly, it was a reminder and an encouragement to see a product of HOPAC who is making a difference, even today, for Christ and His Kingdom.

Nations represented at HOPAC

New Zealand
South Africa
United Kingdom
United States of America

November 03, 2007

My Chemistry Class

I think I should introduce you to my chemistry class this year. We have grown from last year and I have seven students in A-Level Chemistry. They are from a variety of backgrounds - two are Malagasi (from Madacascar) missionary kids. They are new to the school and their father is working as a dentist in Dodoma - the capital of Tanzania. I also have two Muslem students who are both Tanzanian. One has been at HOPAC for many years and the other is new. I have one international students from Korea. And lastly I have two new Tanzanian students who are both on scholarships. HOPAC began a new scholarship program offering two full ride scholarships for two eleventh grade students based on need and merit. I happen to have both of them in my class. So, in all, two of my students have been at HOPAC and five are new to the school. This has brought many challenges but also many joys. Most of the new students have had very little if any experience in the laboratory even though this is an advanced chemistry course. We've had a lot of catching up to do. But what is the biggest joy, is that they are all so excited and eager to learn - even taking extra articles home to read beyond what is required. There are no rolling eyes or moans or bored looks from these kids. I think they are utterly aware of the priviledge that is theirs for being able to be taught like this! We should all be so completely aware of the great honor we have of being educated. It is such a joy to be able to teach these students from their variety of home countries and religions. I get up every morning and just can't wait to serve them by teaching them! It is an honor and priviledge for me also!

PS - These are great students, desperate for a chemistry teacher for next year. They cannot enter university in the UK without this advanced chemistry class (it is a two year course and they will have finished year one this year). They are great students, hard workers with great attitudes, the curriculum is challenging, the laboratory is brand new. Would any of you who are qualified consider coming for a year or two to teach? Please pass the word on to anyone you know who God might be prodding!

September 08, 2007

HOPAC Newsletter

Thought you might be interested in reading Steve's beginning of school year letter to the parent community...

Welcome back to a new school year, and for many of you, a new school year to Haven of Peace Academy. We’ve had an excellent start, and there’s much to celebrate. I’m particularly thankful that we are able to offer our excellent education to a greater number of students. During this, our 14th school year, we now enrol 288 students and extend from Kindergarten all the way up to Grade 12. We’ve also added 53 new students to the roll.

Over the long holiday, there were several noteworthy things that took place. We received news in late June that HOPAC was granted membership into the Council of International Schools which will help us in the areas of staff development, higher education consulting, and staff recruitment. The computer lab was updated and equipped with 25 new state of the art computers. And finally, we received news in early August about the excellent IGCSE and AS Level examinations results. The IGCSE marks, in particular, exceeded all previous HOPAC results and are internationally recognizable.

Our strategic plan, VISION 2010, continues to provide a framework for our focus and growth. Let me draw your attention to a few outcomes. There have been several positive changes recently to the overall curriculum and program. HOPAC now offers the Cambridge International Programme from Kindergarten through Grade 12 with the Primary Programme (CIPP), IGCSE, and AS/A Levels. The new focus at the primary level will strengthen the curriculum and instruction at each grade level, and the new AS/A Level curriculum and examinations will provide an excellent preparation and opportunities for university admission. Additionally, I’m pleased that for this new school year, art and Kiswahili have expanded into the secondary school and that French is now being offered for the first time. Finally, the service emphasis week at the end of last school year was very successful and will happen again this school year. This is one way, from many that we provide, in which our students can live out HOPAC’s motto emblazoned on the new school uniforms-“Leadership, Service, Stewardship”.

The need to expand our campus infrastructure to address all of this growth continues to be a matter of high priority. We opened the secondary science building in September 2006. Very soon, the swimming pool will be opened. Plans at the Board of Governors and management level are now being discussed for the next construction project which will be an administration building at the front of campus. The building will not only provide necessary offices for staff and for a new health services/infirmary, but it will provide greater security and customer service with a location at the front entry way near the car park. Also, moving from the present administration building will free up necessary instructional space for the upper secondary grades.

The curriculum, programs, and buildings are certainly important, but even more important are the staff. I’m excited to have 15 new staff members join us. These are individuals who are dedicated Christians, high quality educators, and passionate about educating your students. That’s the real recipe for success at an excellent Christ-centred school!

Please make a point to hear more about the great things happening at HOPAC by marking your calendars for the Open Houses taking place on 13 September (Primary) and 20 September (Secondary). These are great evenings for you to connect with other parents, see your student’s teachers, and learn more about what’s happening at HOPAC.

We look forward to serving your children this school year as we count this both a real privilege and blessing.

Warm regards,

Steve O’Neil