Act Locally; Think Globally
By Jheri St. James
The Tanzania I
journal entry was written at the very beginning of the Common Ground 191 project,
by a college girlfriend of Gary Simpson’s daughter, Heather, who has long since
moved on in her writing and life story. This version, Tanzania II, is written
near the very end of the last collection needed to complete the first stage of
the project. There have been “adventures” in these six years: shipping boxes
rejected at destination, held up at the USDA, or sent to collectors who got ‘lost;’
volunteers whose interest waned; soil that had to be sent by diplomatic pouch from
U.S. Embassy collectors. Most of those kinds of incidents happened offshore, in
lands far, far away. We haven’t even figured out how to collect the soil from our
own U.S.A. yet—should it be state by state or is there a representative place that
speaks for the whole country?
This journal entry,
Tanzania II, began right in our hometown of Laguna Beach, California, with an article
in the local newspaper, to which Gary responded with a request for soil:
Signing On for a Family Vacation With an Africa Twist
By JENNIFER ERICKSON
See the (developing) world.
Help your fellow man. Indulge your sense of adventure. Get back to the basics.
Immerse yourself in an exotic culture.
All of this and more is p
romised for family vacationers who signed up for this summer's Africa work team,
organized through the Laguna Beach United Methodist Church, and heading to Tanzania on
June 22 to build a teachers' residence for a new school, among other things.
The Africa team, comprised
of 38 people - mostly Laguna residents, but including others from San Clemente, Dana Point
and even the Bay Area, is this year's "annual work team," organized by Laguna resident Kay Ostensen.
Ostensen, who is a
counselor at Thurston Middle School and also has a private practice, has been organizing
these charitable work teams for the past eight years. And while the trips come under
the auspices of the Methodist church, they are open to anyone interested in
participating, regardless of religious affiliation.
Each year a work
team is organized to carry out a charitable endeavor in the
developing world - ideally one that allows team members to
interact with the people they are helping, and to put in
some sweat equity as well as donating funds for a project.
Usually this means finding a project being run by a reputable
non-profit and offering to help them. Once the team is formed
they meet at least once a month to plan the trip and their fundraising efforts.
Selecting a destination and
a project is an organic process. Ostensen says she requires team members to be flexible.
As an example, planning for this summer's trip began last August, and their original focus
was an orphanage in Kenya.
Due to post election violence in Kenya, the team realized in January
it would be prudent to change their destination. "I had to abandon
all plans and research," explained Ostensen, who refocused on
Tanzania because of a contact provided by her son.
They settled on
Indigenous Education Foundation of Tanzania, which strives to increase
access to secondary schools. Fewer than fivepercent of indigenous children
attend school beyond sixth grade. IEFT is building Orkeeswa Secondary School
in the village of Lashaine, where 500 students are enrolled in three
government-run primary schools. There are no secondary schools nearby.
The Orkeeswa Secondary School will
eventually accommodate 400 seventh to 12th grade students, but the project is
incremental. Last year, they completed a pipeline and water tank to ensure
safe drinking water for children and staff. The first two classrooms were
completed and the school officially opened to the first 41 students on
April 14. As more money comes in, additional structures will be added.
team will work on building a housing structure for teachers, in addition to
donating about $4,000 towards the purchase of construction materials.
They are under no illusions
about their manual contribution. Ostensen says the token amount of work they
perform helps to show solidarity and get people motivated. The idea is for
the locals to benefit from getting paid work, but the participation of the
volunteers helps build up morale. "Something happens when you come to
a village," she said.
of the team will also be involved in two other projects while there. A nurse
will work a few days at a mobile HIV unit, providing testing and education.
Other members will plant trees nearby, participating in Dr. Jane Goodall's
Roots & Shoots project to plant trees that combat the mosquito population
and reduce the risk of malaria.
Team members are
responsible for their own travel and lodging, as well as a recreational safari
in Kenya. Even so, team members have organized fundraisers throughout the year
to raise money to support their mission. So far, they have raised $8,000,
designating half for the school, and the remainder divvied up between the
mobile HIV unit, Roots & Shoots, and the orphanage in Kenya that they had
originally planned to visit.
Members of the
congregation and the community have also been collecting clothing, school and
medical supplies to donate to the school children. Laguna Beach resident Gary
Jenkins, a pediatrician, offered his pro bono services for pre-trip physicals
The summer work
groups are family oriented. Part of the mission's goal is to
expose young people to living conditions elsewhere and to
learn the benefit of service to those in need.
introductions start even before the plane departs. Some members started
corresponding as pen pals with the Orkeeswa school's first students.
"I think the
mission is going to be incredibly eye-opening, and I am so excited to meet my
pen pals Langoi and Isdori," admitted Lauren Thomas, a graduating Laguna Beach
High School senior, who, with the rest of her family, will be joining the
summer work team for the first time.
Kristin and Scott, have long wanted to join the group, especially
for the experience it would give their children. Their other daughter,
Shannon, a LBHS sophomore, expects the experience will be life changing.
"It will be cool to meet other teenagers my age and see what their lives
are like," she said.
and son Nathan, a seventh-grader at Thurston, kicked in another element of
philanthropy into the mix. When they learned the kids in Lashaine are soccer
fans, they called on AYSO contacts to donate jerseys. The response was huge.
Their bags will bulge with enough for nearly five teams. "I'm really looking
forward to playing football [soccer] and net ball with the kids there," said Nathan.
"It's always a
huge growth experience for everyone on the trip," said Ostensen's daughter,
Joy, who, along with her brother Justin, has accompanied her parents on almost
every trip. Joy is now a social worker and largely credits her experience on
the work teams for her choice of a service career.
Rev. Ginny Wheeler
and her husband Jim Jones are on the team, and will be accompanied by their sons Jake
and Bill Wheeler for the fourth time. "It's a great way for a family to bond," said Jones.
Something rubbed off.
Jake taught school in Ethiopia last summer in rather difficult conditions and
Bill worked as a journalist in Beirut.
in Tanzania will stay on cots in a guesthouse, one or two to a room, with a
cold shower and shared bathroom at the end of the hall. Some will camp and a
couple will stay at a recently opened bed and breakfast. A "bucket shower"
with warm water will be a one day luxury at the end of their stay. Four-wheel
drive "dala dalas" will speed them to the work site each day.
Ostensen says every
trip is "transforming for those of us who are fortunate enough to go. We are
welcomed into the villages and huts (or 'bures') of people who have far less
than we do, yet give far more of themselves… Something miraculous happens
on every trip, from a seemingly dead end moment to something beautiful unfolding."
Past work-team trips have trekked to Costa Rica, Zimbabwe, Fiji (twice),
Mexico, Cuba, and Guatemala.
Last Sunday, May 11, two visiting IEFT founders, managing director
Peter Luis and Tanzania operations director Grosper Mollel joined
members for breakfast. Later, they gave a presentation to the
Methodist church congregation and a Sunday school class. Mollel
wore his native Masai clothing in honor of the occasion.
"When you hear of all that is needed in our destination country,
it really puts our abundant lives in perspective," said Kristin Thomas,
who added that "Meeting the two school founders last weekend really
made us realize 'it's happening!'
(Reprinted from The Laguna Beach Independent, May 16, 2008, with thanks.)
Candace Marshall wrote: “Twenty two widows in the small village of
Usa River, Tanzania, are trying to start business enterprises to support
themselves. The Siafu House is one of their first projects. It is a
bed and breakfast and several of us stayed there with an armed guard
outside and a trickle of cold water for a shower.”
We wish to extend our sincere thanks to all the fine local people
who brought back some soil as a memento of their good works in
Tanzania, to share with us as we memorialize the one thing all
humans have in common: life on earth.
By acting locally, these fine folks make global changes.
If every person in every small town in the world adopted
this course of action, soon there would be no global problems
remaining. Here is a little album of pictures of local Laguna
Beach natives with local Tanzania natives.
Top | Back