Lauren’s last post from Ghana: fish have arrived!

The past week has been full of exciting events, but none are as exciting as the fact that THE FISH HAVE ARRIVED!  For those of you who may be new to our blog/website, United Hearts has started a sustainable fish pond project, in order to bring a source of income to our center.  We’ve spent the past two months preparing by digging the ponds, treating them, setting up fencing around them, and now, the fishies are finally here!

Transporting the fish

Their new home

The fish that they’ve been telling me are “mudfish”, are what we would call catfish!  They call them mudfish because they often  live in the bottom of muddy lakes and rivers, so they will be very happy in our ponds :)   For the first two weeks, they eat a special kind of food, and after that, they can eat a more generic brand of fish food.  They are fed 3 times a day, and are kids are having a lot of fun going down to the ponds and visiting their fishy friends.  The Tilapia will be arriving sometime in the next couple weeks, and then both of our ponds will be full of baby fish!

This has been such a great project to work on, it’s only thanks to all of the amazing people who support United Hearts that it is now a reality.  Without the fundraising of Georgia Goonewardene and my brother Wes, we would not have had enough funds to make this project happen.  When I think about all the people who have donated to this project, and what a difference it’s going to make in the lives of our children and staff, it reminds me of how connected we all are.  And it also reminds me of where we’ve been, and how far we’ve come.

Did you know United Hearts started with 5 children sleeping on a common mat?  Pastor Elisha sold pretty much all his possessions – including more than one car – to care for them and buy them food.  None of them went to school, and they had virtually nothing, with no prospects of sustainablility.  That was 5 years ago.

Now, 28 children,  new home, a school, and a sustainable fish pond later, I can’t even believe that that’s where our children started.  Not only do they have a giant new building for a home, but they have more advantages than most of the children in Bawjiase.  Because of all the people that know and love them, they have a future that will be so much brighter than their past.

Tomorrow is my last day in Bawjiase, and considering that I’ve spent 11 months of the past two years here, I’m incredibly sad to leave.  But through my constant traveling between the U.S. and Ghana, I’ve learned that the hardest part is worrying that I’ll forget everything I’ve learned.  When I’m here, I don’t have to worry about remembering what life is like for the people at United Hearts – I live it.  But when I go back to the land of excess, it’s all too easy to slip back into a life that doesn’t reflect what I now know from the time I’ve been here.  This tension – a pretty much constant feeling of “worrying about trying to remember”, is often how I feel once I’m back.  That tension is a huge part of my life, and I am constantly reminding myself of the moments that shape my life here.

Moments like this…

And faces like this…

Because those faces – and those moments – are what keep me going.  They are the reason I do what I do.  And they have completely changed my life.

A new home in the making

The children of the United Hearts Center giving a tour of their new home

We are on the last leg of our trip to Africa and we get to finish it at the United Hearts Children Center in Bawjiase, Ghana where we are building a new orphanage for the children that live here. For the last year, Mama Hope Global Advocates Lauren Wright and Katherine Theus have partnered with Mama Hope to fundraise and build a new orphanage for the children.  Together they have raised $57,000 and construction on the new orphanage is 70% percent complete. Currently United Heart’s, director Pastor Elisha is renting a house where he houses 27 children in two rooms of wall to wall bunk beds.  The lanlord will be evicting Pastor Elisha in December because the children have grown past the capacity of the house so the new orphanage could not have come at a better time.  The new orphanage will have 14 rooms and a separate wing for boys and girls.  It is surrounded by banana trees, coconut trees and corn fields.  It still is missing the tile flooring, plastering, electricity, and painting but still the children show us their future rooms with pride and can hardly wait to move in.
The new building is about a 10 minute walk away from the old orphanage. Last friday we got the grand tour from the children.  Our tour guides were Kweku, Kwasi, Kofi, Darco, Akia, Raelle, Barbara, Agogo and Joe.  They range from ages 3-7 and Pastor Elisha tells me they are all experts on the new building.

Story time at the United Hearts Children Center. I am reading to Barbara while Amy is reading to Irene.

Each afternoon Amy and I go to the orphanage and read the children stories or they read us stories.  Most of the stories are about a group of friends going on a walk that turns into an adventure.  And as we walk through the banana and cocunt tree jungle to get to the orphanage I feel a little like we are in our own children’s book.  We hopped over trails of ants and crossed bridges and climbed little hills.  We were passed by beautiful women with baskets of cocunuts on their heads.  Every few steps the kids would yell “my shoe, my shoe” as their flip flops would fall off.  And the whole time they were picking flowers and handing me them saying “for you” until my bag was full of little yellow and pink buds. The 10 minute walk turned into a 45 minute stroll where everyone would point out “Look, catterpillar, look a giant frog, look, lizard.”

Our stroll to see the new Orphanage

When we got in sight of the new home the kids were all chanting “New home time! New Home Time!”  The girls immediately ran to their rooms and Barbara blocked the would be doorway yelling “No boys allowed!”  A bunch of boys ran around her and started dancing and singing “we are in the girls rooms.” Then the same mayhem was repeated when we went to the boys wing.  The girls would sneak into a boys room and then be escorted out by two little boys on either side like bouncers at a club.  Even though the inside of the building is still just a skeleton of walls and doorways the children went into detail explaining each room, “This is our study where we will have desks and do all our homework.  Here is our dining room where we will have large tables to eat at and here is your room for when you come back to visit us again.”

Nathaniel and Daniel building a car from scrap metal

When we got back outside the children started playing on the construction sight like it was a giant playground.  They were digging in the mountain of sand and collecting found pieces of scrap metal and carefully putting them in their pockets to use later to make toy cars.  We finally headed back to their current home singing “the ants go marching one by one hurrah, hurrah…”  I was carrying Agogo, a 3 year old boy who was through with walking and holding the hand of Kwasi.  Everything was very serene and I had a moment where I realized that once this new home is finished, it will be providing a safe haven and a family to children who have not even been born yet.  And this beautiful home was made possible by the fundraising efforts of two 23year old girls. This is why this project is so special to Mama Hope and it makes us so proud to see its progress.  I took the moment to be amazed at how much people can accomplish once they care enough to do something outside of themselves and that made me smile and be thankful to have a job where I get to work with people who have the courage to make a lasting impact in the world.

Please help us complete the United Hearts Children's Home by Donating below

A big thank you to Katherine Theus, Lauren Wright and all of our donors who have made this building a reality! We are now in the home stretch of construction. We have $28,000 more to raise before December so that these children can move into their new home. Please help by making your very own impact on the lives of these children. Donate here! 

Sun up, Sun down Safari

At 7:00 am  Amy, Bryce, Joe, Raffy and myslef were sleepily waiting on the side of the Arusha Highway for the St. Timothy’s Students to pick us up in their buses.  Today all 134 students were going to the Tarangine National Park on a Safari. This is a field trip that Mama Hope funds annuallly as a way to celebrate the end of their school term.   At 7:30am the buses pulled up and kids all stuck their heads out the windows waving to us.  When I stepped onto the bus there was a sea of green and white uniforms because it was completely packed with students.  There were 4 children to every two seats, they were sitting on each other’s laps but none of the kids seemed uncomfortable.  They were all grinning and excited for their field trip so they just scooted around to make room for us and we were all on our way.
Almost immediately your typical “Field Trip Bus” hijinks began.  One student would start singing a song like “Bingo” and for a few minutes everyone would raucously join in until it trailed off about 10 minutes later.  A few students were playing a version of “I spy” counting everything they saw that was yellow and every time one of the students named Alvin saw a sign for Tarangine he would update me enthusiatically, “106 km and we arrive!”
When we reached Arusha, Esther tapped me on the shoulder excitedly pointing at something in the street, “Look, I’ve never seen one before.  And now there are two!”   I looked around trying to see what they all were so excited about and then Doreen told me “Look its a stop light.  We don’t have them in Moshi”.
A little later into the trip I heard some commotion and Acinta shouted “Meshak, you just farted!  Open the window!”  Meshak sat there looking embarassed as everyone laughed and the girls looked disgusted. Then he laughed and proudly said “I did!” and played it off like only a 9 year old boy can with the other boys giving him high fives for grossing out the girls.
After about 5 hours we finally arrived at the park and a tour guide got on our bus and said “if you want see the animals you have to be very quiet.”  The kids immediately got very serious.  It was safari time.
Tarangine’s landscape was absolutely breathtaking it was covered with herds of animals, wildebeests, warthogs, impalas, zebras, giraffes, elephants and hundreds of massive baobob trees.   At one point, we were looking at a group of zebra who seemed to be distracted by something and then we saw why.  Under a baobob tree about 50 feet away was a giant lioness eating a wildebeest. The kids all clammered to get a look and whispered “simba”.  I announced “that is my first time seeing a lion”  they all responded enthusiastically “me too!”
After seeing the lion it was time for lunch and we descended upon the picnic area.  When we were finsished and headed back to the bus out of the corner of my eye I saw a giant baboon sneaking up on a group of khakied dutch safari picnicers.  He broke into a run, hopped on their table, roared and grabbed one of the women’s lunch boxes and jumped over the fence and defiantly ate it all right in front of her.  Then if as on cue, 35 baboons emerged from the bushes hopping on tables, stealing lunches and chasing little girls.  We all watched from afar and as they reclaimed the picnic area.  When we all got back on our buses and left the baboons stood in the parking lot as if to say “And stay out!!!”
Two hours later, after seeing 5 more lions and hundreds more animals, it was 5:00pm and time to make our way back to Moshi.  A few hours into the ride Doreen was asleep in my lap, Sarafina and Jessica on either side using my shoulders as pillows and I was balancing Peace’s head in my hand as she slept.  The mosqitoe bites on my leg were itching like crazy but I didn’t want to move and wake the girls so I tried my best to doze off as well.  Just as I finally was starting to dream I was awakend by a huge “BAM!!!” and a loud clunking noise started coming from the buses engine.  It was about 9:00pm and it was pitch dark except for headlights of the passing cars.  I stepped out of the bus and stretched for the first time in 4 hours.  Soon all of students piled out of the bus excited by this new development in their field trip.  They were playing tag and Joe showed a few curious students how to use the southern cross constellation to find Saturn.  It was one of those moments I was sure could of never happened in the USA.  There was no fear about the dark just joy.  There was no complaining from the children or angry parents demanding a refund.  Instead while we waited for a new bus to pick us up we watched shooting stars appear above us everywhere.

The Second 2 Weeks: Kisumu

Joe Sabia and Raffy Marty visit the Mama Hope projects in Kenya and Tanzania. Here is the first hike of many with partner project OLPS Director Anastasia Juma.

Jane Kanango harvests tomatos at the Mama Rita Rose Garden in Kisumu, Kenya. The garden provides nutrition to over 800 people living in the community.

Anastasia and Paul give us a lesson in bow and arrow garden defense.

Joe makes a friend named Phien.

Raffy's impromptu travel log with Helen, a member of the Mama Hope sponsored Woman's Micro-finance Group.

Dorcas, another member of the Woman's Micro-Finance Group, shows us her sewing business in Kisumu, Kenya.

Wherever we go, children tend to follow. We're a little like the Pided Pipper.

Mullen, Program Director of OLPS, gives a tour of the Children's Rescue Center in Kisumu, Kenya. Mama Hope is currently raising funds to complete this community initiated project.

Raffy does his best to help out with the Children's Rescue Center bricks. He later admits he has no clue how the rock working crew manages it day in and out.

A Mama Hope induced stampede at Nyomonge Primary School (aka a game of Mr. Fox).

The longest congo line in the history of East Africa.

Joe teaches geography and American slang.

Raffy plays netball with the Mama Rita Rose Garden women. Netball is basically basketball without dribbling.

... and with a soccer ball.

Nyomonge community meeting. Their most pressing need: water.

Amy dancing with the women of Nyomonge (a continuing theme).

Bryce getting down at the Mama Hope house party with with OLPS and project beneficiaries on our last night in Kisumu, Kenya.

Joe and Nyla editing on the way to Moshi, Tanzania. Total bus time: 30 hours in 4 weeks.

I can now add corn shucking to my resume

The Mama Hope team is now in Kisumu, Kenya. Yesterday we went out to visit the 87 women who work in the Mama Hope garden. I think we surprised them by showing up, because upon arrival they saw us from across the field and thought we were just a bunch of tourists… as we came closer they recognized us and the greetings of smiles and handshakes began. An African handshake is very different from how we greet in the U.S, and the handshake varies depending on the tribe you are visiting. It reminds me of when I was little and had a secret handshake with all my friends in order to enter our secret clubhouse. The main tribe in Kisumu is Luo and their handshake consists of 2 hand twists and 3 different had positions. It takes a couple times to get it down.

The women shucking away

When we got to the garden, half of the 3 acre field of corn had been chopped down and was in piles on the ground. We quickly learned that today was harvesting day. They do not have big machines to harvest crops as we do in the U.S. so everything is done by hand. The men were in the back of the field chopping down the corn stocks with machetes and stacking the stocks into 6ft tall piles. The women were gathered around the piles removing the corn cobs from the stock. The women were certainly excited that they were going to have two more helpers… because in Africa, when you are accepted as part of the group, there was no sitting on the sidelines and watching. They quickly put us to work shucking the corn. Now this in theory sounds easy… you take the corn stock, find the corn, break it off and then you’re done right?… Wrong. Here is how it’s really done. You grab for a stalk on the very top of the pile so it’s not buried and easier to remove. The stalk is bigger than you in height so it is pretty awkward to pull it out of the pile and stand it up without hitting the person next to you. I learned this lesson fast when I hit Pauline, one of the Mama’s next to me, in the head with my stalk. Thankfully she did not have a baby on her back. Then you find the corn cob which is covered in husk. To un-husk the corn you take a nail and cut the top of the husk, this is because the husk is a lot thicker than it looks and it would take forever to split it with just your fingernails. Once you cut a hole in the top of the husk, you begin to peel back the layers like an onion and tear them off one by one. Once you have done this comes the hardest part, getting the corn off the stock. The Mama’s made this look easy, but for me I would twist and pull as hard as I could and eventually it would come off. The Mama’s all got a kick out of this. They were probably thinking to themselves “Little American… why are you so weak?” Apparently doing office work at home in front of a computer has not prepared my arm strength for corn husking. After that day I questioned the renewal of my gym membership, thinking to myself “some good my working out has done.”

The men and their machete's

Corn husking in 90+ degree weather with no shade is not easy. I have to give it to the women for being the hardest workers I have ever seen. They started husking at 7am and by the time we arrived at 11am they were half way done with the field. By 2:00pm the entire 3 acre field (the size of 2 and 1/2 football fields) was harvested and being loaded into a truck to take to the mill. Once at the mill they pick off all the individual kernels of corn with their hands and then put the loose kernels into a machine that mills it into a finely ground flour which they call maize flour. The women use the maize flour to make numerous Kenyan dishes to feed their families and then sell the surplus at market to generate income. There is actually a shortage of maize in Kenya right now, so cost’s are a lot higher then normal which makes it an even more profitable crop. Corn is a staple of a Kenyans diet. The profit made from the garden allows the 87 women who work in the garden to support an average of 6 children, which includes paying school fees so they are able to get an education, an opportunity these women didn’t have when they were young. It is very interesting to hang out with the families because most all the women are uneducated and do not speak English but their children are fluent. So we often ask the children to be our translators. It is wonderful to see this new generation of youth living up to their potential.

The meal we ate for lunch with the women. The brown dish is Ugali which is made from the corn flour and eaten with almost every meal.

The First 2 weeks

The First 2 Weeks: Bryce Yukio Adolphson

People wonder what we’re up to when we’re out with our project communities.   Here’s a taste…

Travel from Nairobi to Maai Mahiu: 2 hours.

Tuesday, June 28, 3:37pm: Visiting the chaos of Ngeya Primary School's 1700 student recess. It's crazy to think that the garden we fund here feeds them all daily.

Tuesday, June 28, 4:28pm: Attending the Ngeya Primary School Environmental Club meeting

Tuesday, June 28, 5:30pm: Plotting future projects with CTC youth and CTC Founder Zane Wilemon

Travel from Maai Mahiu to Isiolo: 7 hours

Friday, July 1, 3:08pm: Cell phone math with the New Jordan Women's Group in Isiolo, Kenya.

Friday, July 1, 5:48pm: Greg Mortenson got it wrong. It's 3 Cups of Fanta.

Saturday, July 2, 2:49pm: Flash mob dance off with our Kambi Garba water project community.

Travel from Isiolo to Arimet and back: 2 hours

Sunday, July 3, 3:19pm: Camel chasing with the Arimet water project.

Monday, July 4, 8:36am: Purchasing lumber at Mums Timber Sales to begin construction on the poultry project in Kambi Garba.

Monday, July 4, 11am: Tie-Dye madness with the NJWG micro-finance group.

Monday, July 4, 1:48pm: Haight Street, Kenya.

Monday, July 4, 4:45pm: Poultry project is well under way in Kambi Garba.

Monday, July 4, 5:53pm: Kambi Garba partner Sarafina Lokoel pumps iron at the USAID gym in honor of the 4th of July.

Travel from Isiolo to Kisumu: 12 hours

Thursday, July 7, 2:52pm: Corn shucking with the women of the Rita Rose Garden in Kisumu, Kenya.

Total time in Matatu buses: 23 hours in 2 weeks.

The Environmental Club and MJ

The kid’s in Africa are obsessed with Michael Jackson. We took a trip to Maai Mahiu to meet up with our partner organization Comfort The Children International (CTC) and see the progress of their environmental projects. Mama Hope has funded two projects in Maai Mahiu on a plot of land at the Ngeya Primary School. It was so amazing to see how the projects have grown due to the hard work of energetic youngsters in the club.

The Environmental Club

One project is a drip irrigation vegetable garden that grows over 10 different types of vegetables. I have been told that this garden provides daily lunches to Ngeya Primary’s 1,700 students.  I ramble off that fact often but when I saw them all out playing at recess  it really put it into perspective how many children that is. I have never seen so many kids at one time. After recess we met with the 80 students, aged 6-12, in the schools environmental club who plants and manages the garden. They learned how to build drip watering systems, how to plant seedlings, and maintain and harvest this garden. They were so excited to show us their plot! The outgoing students pointed out the particular plans they worked on, telling us about the different types of vegetables and their favorite part of gardening. It was very cute to see how into it they were.
This drip irrigation technique is not only fun for the kids but a very important life skill to learn because in Maai Mahiu, much like most of sub-Saharan Africa, there is very little water and many Kenyans struggle to grow enough food to feed their families due to long periods of drought.  Drip irrigation maximizes limited water supply and allows people to farm all year round, so they no longer need to wait on rainwater. Many of the students have taken these learned techniques home to their families, who now have drip gardens in their own homes. Wohoo!
Mama Hope and the environmental club’s second project is a youth led tree nursery. Another reason it hard to grow crops in Maai Mahiu, besides lack of water, is because of climate change. The director of the Environmental Club is a man named Rocky who is the most soft spoken and innovative Kenyan environmentalist I have ever met. He told us that when he was a boy Maai Mahiu used to be covered with trees and was very lush and fertile. Unfortunately, since then people have cut down around 70% of the trees to use  for firewood and charcoal production. This lack of indigenous trees has affected the climate so much that now over 80% of vegetables have to bought from the neighboring villages. The environmental club’s goal for this tree nursery is to repopulate Maai Mahiu with trees so that when they grow up there will be good climate conditions for themselves and their families to grow food. It was so wonderful to see these young kids taking action to make a better future for their entire community. So far the children have planted over 500 trees in the school compound, and have 3,000 tree seedlings that they will use to repopulate the town with. Their goal is to have planted over 30,000 trees  in the  community within the next couple years. It was so fantastic to hear the childrens’ ambitious goals and how they had such pride about the project.

The kids and their trees!

After the Environmental Club meeting had adjourned… the real fun started! Some of the kids stayed after school to hang out with us. They swarmed around me like a school of fish, and began shouting out different questions for me to answer “Have you acted in movies?” “Do you like Michael Jackson?” “Are you friends with Michelle Obama?”… and the list goes on.
One little boy asked me to sing him a song. As most of my friends will tell you… I am not the best singer, but after asking me 4 more times and giving me the sweetest puppy dog face ever, I caved. In that moment with 20+ kids looking up to me wide eyed in excitement, my mind went blank. I could not think of a single song to sing… and the ones I did think of I blanked on their lyrics. So after many seconds of hesitation I started to sing the first thing that came to mind, “Beat It” by Michael Jackson. In my first week of being in Africa, I was asked if I liked MJ by at least 10 different groups of kids. So I sang, and accompanied it with  my best MJ dance impression. The kids went crazy when I started snapping, popping my knee and spinning around. It was quite a sight to see… but how can you not go all out when singing Beat It.
We finished up the day with some more dancing and playing games. As always, hanging out with the kids is a huge highlight of the trip.

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