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.

March 27, 2007

Step Out: Service, Leadership, Stewardship

At the beginning of the school year, a new school logo and annual theme were launched. STEP OUT is the theme with focus on Service, Leadership, and Stewardship. During last year’s strategic planning process, those involved identified “outwardly focused HOPAC students” as a top priority for the strategic plan. Service, Leadership, and Stewardship were identified as character traits that the HOPAC community desires to see developed in its students. To that end, this year has been filled with activities to realize that vision. In the area of service-learning, our Service-Learning Coordinator recently shared an update.

Primary school students recently read books to raise money for Heifer International's "Read to Feed" Program. This Program enables students to raise money for livestock through reading books. Livestock were then selected by the students depending on the amount of money raised in each grade and the money sent to Heifer's US office. The total amount raised was $4800.

5th Grade is taking leadership with campus waste reduction, reuse and recycling. They recently taught the whole primary school through an assembly about waste management. They are preparing composting areas, labeling bins and will begin making paper from our paper waste.

Middle school students are brimming with information about global trade and what makes trade fair. They've been visited by a fair trade group here in Tanzania called Mama Maasai who makes household items from beads, leather and mats. In addition they traveled to the Wonder Welders workshop to see the benefits of ethical trading for physically disabled welders, carpenters and craftsmen, and women. We are about to launch our own fair trade company at school. Some middle school students are learning about TB, malaria or HIV and they will be able to tell you all about these diseases. They've designed posters for a local hospital and raised awareness of health issues through a school competition. Other middle school students are involved in a literacy program either at Jangwani Primary School to a class of around 80 children or reading with other children at Cornerstone Christian Academy.

Taking the United Nation's advice, 9th Grade students are "Thinking Globally, Acting Locally" to address the problem of soil erosion. The students have assessed the school campus for evidence of soil erosion, selected one problem area each and written a management proposal to reduce and/or solve the problem. School administration selected the best management plan which the students will then put into action later in the term.

Water and Sanitation have been the focus for 10th Grade students. They are knowledgeable about water borne diseases, sanitation, pit latrine and well construction to mention a few. This knowledge is currently being put into practice at Sala Sala Primary School where our students are teaching the basics of the importance of clean water. This will be followed by the construction and installation of water filters at the school for the benefit of the staff and students.

Finally, 11th Grade students have been working on a major sports event for some students from Jangwani Primary School. This will take place at HOPAC over the next couple of weeks. They've planned everything from the equipment to the invitations, the transport to the games.

Please pray that God would be at work in our students’ hearts through the activities of the service-learning program. Pray that hearts would be changed to be “outwardly focused” and that our students would truly “love their neighbors as themselves”.

March 04, 2007

A Visit to the Masai

Tanzania is such a rich and diverse country that I cannot but help to fill you in on some of the diversity here. Though we say Tanzania is a country, its borders were almost randomly drawn by early colonial powers. Tanzania is actually made up of over 120 different tribes– each with its own separate language and culture (We think America is a melting pot!). I want to draw your attention to one people group – the Masai. They don’t traditionally live in the Dar es Salaam region as they are from the northern plains of Tanzania and Kenya, but they are around the city for jobs. They are a fascinating people group. Some characteristics that stand out to me:
They are nomadic cattle herders and their life revolves around cattle.
They believe God ordained them as owners of all cattle on the face of the earth – this has resulted in many misunderstandings when they are accused of stealing when in their eyes, they are only taking what is rightfully theirs.
They can be seen all over Northern Tanzania, one or two lone Masai with huge herds of cattle moving slowly to find grazing.
They are very tall and very thin and very proud – the young, male warriors wear long hair that they braid into elaborate designs, the women shave their heads completely.
They dress completely in red, purple, and glittering silver and white beads. They are rarely seen without a red plaid robe – several wrapped around their waists and one or two wrapped over their shoulders. Women wear red and blue/purple. They love all that glitters and beadwork. They wear shoes made of old tires strapped to their feet.
One of their highest values is bravery and they are never seen without a long stick, a panga (thick sword), and a rungu (short stick with a knob on the end for walloping lions over the head with).
One of their other highest values is loyalty and they are highly social – always seen in groups with others of their age. They, if they can afford it, will often have a cell phone tucked somewhere in the folds of their robes. These are used primarily for socializing – not doing business.
Probably the most amazing characteristic about the Masai is their complete resiliency to modern life. Though the rest of Africa has dropped in outward appearance, at least, traditional dress and would strive for Western housing and lifestyle, the Masai seem completely untouched by choice. Though the rest of Tanzania looks down on them for their traditional ways, the Masai seem to spurn modernism almost saying, “Why would I want to adopt your inferior mode of dress?” This attitude can almost be seen in their walk and in their eyes.

Their culture is far more complex and interesting than my short-sighted observations but it is just to give you a small glimpse. When we first moved here, we met a Masai man named Molel (around 40 years old). He often came to visit us and would sit outside our door waiting patiently for a visit – at the time we knew very little Swahili so conversations were incredibly limited. I now wonder how he could wait so long for a few words of greeting. As our relationship progressed, we met his wife and youngest baby girl. They live far out in the bush but came down for a visit. When we moved into our present home, we asked him to work for us as a guard and we now see him and chat on a nightly basis.

This past summer we went to visit Molel’s family. It was a long drive through the plains on a road – Benjamin is skeptical that it was a road because the Masai boys that saw our car would dive behind bushes like they had never seen one before! We drove for hours and hours into bush which all looked the same until Molel suddenly said, “Here!” We turned off the road and suddenly people appeared and cut a way through the bush for our car to get through. We spent the night and next day with Molel and his extended family. We were treated to a feast of goat, a tour of the neighborhood, many smiles (most rural Masai don’t speak Swahili but only their traditional language), and of course, the formal picture taking that occurs whenever a camera is revealed. Upon leaving, we were presented with a live goat. Not wanting to offend, we strapped it to the roof of our car and were off. Within the next half hour, we had picked up several Masai walking to the road and the goat was moved from the roof to the inside of the car. For the next four hours, our car was made up of our five family members, three Masai and a goat. My children have never been so silent for four hours in their life (who is going to whine next to a man with a rungu)! It was an experience to remember.

We are still in contact with Molel’s extended family by cell phone. I think we have loyalty with his family and we are definitely honored to know them and have a chance to learn about Masai and continue our relationship with them. It is amazing to think that this is only one example of the many different people groups in just this one little section of Africa. They are all so rich in culture and music and language and ritual. I know God is waiting patiently for a church to be established in each of these groups. You will get to meet Molel and his family in heaven. He can tell you there all about his lion scars, cattle, and life in the plains of Tanzania. No need for cell phones then!