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From the Executive Director: Tanzania Alumni Update

January 14, 2010

Between January 1 – 8, IRIS’s executive director Del Christensen traveled to Tanzania for meetings and to check in on YES alumni activities.

While he was there, he delivered five donated computers from Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa to the YES alumni. These computers will be used by alumni for tutoring and training programs for other youth in the country.

Christensen also met with parents of the YES students who are currently in the United States. The purpose of the meetings was to update them on their child’s progress in the program and answer any questions or concerns they might have.

Finally, he was able to observe and take part in two community service projects organized by and involving numerous YES alumni students and teachers. While the students are volunteering throughout the entire country, these two volunteer projects took place in Moshi and Zanzibar.

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Del helps plant fruit trees at Safe Haven Orphanage in Moshi

In addition to developing leadership skills in young people from Nigeria and Tanzania, the YES program instills a sense of community service and volunteerism in the student participants.

During their year in the U.S., the students are required to take part in volunteer activities in their Midwestern community and feel that sense of ownership that comes with giving to your community. It is IRIS’s hope that these students bring this volunteer spirit back to their own countries and communities and, in turn, give back to their country.

I recently had the opportunity to check in on our YES alumni students in Tanzania. They were delighted to not only show me some of the volunteer work they have been doing, but also to involve me in those efforts.

The alumni have been working on dozens of projects, both individually and as a group.  Here are just three projects I took part in during the brief few days I was in the country:

Supporting orphans in Moshi

In Moshi, a community situated at the foot of Mount Kilimanjaro, our YES alumni students and a teacher have been assisting with two different orphanages.

Kitaa Hope Home is a newer orphanage started by Ester Kadeghe, along with her son and daughter. To date, they have brought in 12 children, ages 2 to 15. They are currently renting a home to house all these young people, but hope to begin construction of a dormitory and classrooom for the children.

When the project is completed later this year, they will have the capacity to take in as many as 40 orphans from the area. Our alumni teacher, Mary Minja, has traveled to the orphanage numerous times to deliver supplies, teach the children in their make shift classroom area and simply spend some time with them to remind them that they are loved.

The second orphanage in Moshi is called Safe Haven Orphanage. It currently houses 45 orphans and has the capability to take in up to 80 orphans. We had a special alumni project at this site — we planted fruit trees in an open area of the compound where they had a vegetable garden.

While cases of scurvy in Tanzania are on the decline, it is still prevalent (especially amongst the orphan population). Establishing these Mango, Orange, Papaya and other trees alongside a vegetable garden will help to enrich the diet of these children. A total of 19 trees were planted during a warm afternoon, and 11 more trees are scheduled for planting within the next month.

The children were so excited to help with the planting and watering of the trees and their mouths were beginning to water just thinking about the sweet fruit they will taste from the trees in about two years time.

Learning from the elderly in Zanzibar

The next alumni activity I took part in was on Unguja Island of Zanzibar.

The alumni students there have been working as a group almost since the moment they returned from America. Their most recent project was a visit to the Seblini Old Peoples Home in Stone Town.

The home’s more than 100 residents receive housing and a minimal amount of assistance from the local Department of Social Welfare. Often, this assistance is not even enough to provide them with basic hygienic needs. The alumni group purchased soap and other cleaning and bathing products for all the residents. They were delighted to receive these supplies, but even more delighted that the YES alumni decided to spend the morning just talking to them and getting to know each of them.

I had the pleasure of sitting in on these discussions and hearing the cross-generational conversations. When asked what advice they had for these young people, one resident said:

“Work hard to provide for yourself and your family, not just for today, but for years to come.  At the same time, don’t forget about those around you who are not as lucky.  Find time to help your fellow man, regardless of their age.”

Wise advice from someone who has seen Zanzibar grow from a quiet fishing island to a booming tourist destination.

While the growth has helped many on the island prosper, there is still a great deal of suffering. The students had a hard time leaving the old people’s home. They wished everyone well and promised to be back soon. Knowing these YES students and their determination to make their country better, I have no doubt that they will.

We don’t try to tell the alumni students what volunteer projects to take on; We simply encourage them to seek their own path of service and support those efforts however we can.

As any proud parent will tell you, the best reward you can receive from the guidance of your children is to stay alive long enough to witness their positive growth into adulthood and the important ways they touch the world around them.

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