Monday, July 23, 2012

At long last...

At long last…

It’s been a while.. a long while since the last update.  But finally, you’re wait is over!

I apologize for the delay!  Things have been…chaotic, discouraging, inspiring, and basically just one big roller coaster ride.  When I read back over the last update and think of the “wall” I was referring to back then, I realize that that “wall” was really just a door and not even a big or strong door… just a plain, simple door but when we finally got it open.. there it was…
the REAL WALL ….
The massive nearly impenetrable WALL…
Let me explain…

I’ll start back where I left off in the last bulk.  We were told to stop working on the land by the village government. 
We stopped. 
Tabitha met with the Minister of Sport at the District Government office (a little Tanzanian political lesson- Village Government is ruled by District Government who is ruled by Provincial Government and so on).  So, the Minister of Sport is this amazing lady who was super supportive of our project.  She agreed to come out to the land and have a meeting with the Village Government.  The meeting happened on May 5th.  It was great.  30 village council members showed up.  They asked a lot of questions.  The Minister of Sport did an awesome job of running the meeting, making sure everyone was on the same page.  We cleared up some rumours that were floating around… mainly that we paid 50 MILLION SHILLINGS for our land (roughly 30,000$).  Obviously, we didn’t money since we don’t even have that kind of money to fork out for land.  The meeting ended really well.  We typed out the Title Deeds document.  Seven of the right people that needed to sign it, signed it.   The eighth person was out of town so all we needed was for him to get back.  However, we once again had permission to work on the land.  HORRAYYY!!  We started working on the land the next day.
That’s where things were at when I went then left for Rwanda.

So, I left for Rwanda on May 15th.  I was going to help with a Tag Rugby Tour organized by Friends of Rwandan Rugby (FORR), a rugby charity based in the UK started by two friends of mine I met in Rwanda back in 2007.  I had helped the tour in 2009 and was excited by the chance to help out again this year.  I met up with the 13 English rugby coaches who came over to teach tag rugby to the primary school students.  The tour was awesome!!!   Once again, a complete success!!!! Hundreds of kids got to learn how to play rugby and participate in a big tournament on the last day! It was great!!!  The coaches were a blast and I learn tons of about “British humour.”

While in Rwanda, I also got to spend time with Marceline at the St. Laurent Nursery School.  It was amazing to see her again.  It had been 3 years since I had been to the school which was way too long!! Marceline is doing incredibly well! The school saw a few changes this year and there are a few more in store.  For starters, in March, the second teacher, Francoise, got a paying job which unfortunately meant she was unable to continue volunteering at the nursery school.  Obviously, we were disappointed for us, but happy for that she was able to find a job.  Marceline is continuing on herself and still manages to teach 84 students every day.

At the start of this year, the Rwandan government implemented a new rule that made attending nursery school mandatory (not that it means that every kid magically ends up in a nursery school, but it does mean that the government is supporting and encouraging the idea of nursery school and that’s an important step).  As a result, there have been two new nursery schools going up in neighbouring villages and we are thrilled!  With the government encouraging nursery school, more families are seeing the value of an early education.  We definitely believe early education is the key to success so the more kids that get to attend nursery school, the better!!!!

The next change that’s happening at the school is an important one.  After 10 years of providing free education, Marceline has decided that, to really keep the school going, she needs to collect some small school fees from the parents.  This is something Marceline and I have talked about in great depth and I definitely agree with Marceline and have to admit, I am very excited to see it implemented.  Although the fact that Marceline has been able to provide free education for the last 10 years is wonderful, she simply cannot keep going without some small financial support from the parents.  The school fees Marceline is imposing is the equivalent of 50cents/month.  All the families can afford the cost, the problem is convincing them to pay for something that they are accustomed to getting for free.  The fees would allow Marceline to pay a second teacher a small salary and have some money left over for chalk and hopefully a little for herself as well, although paying herself is the last priority on Marceline’s list.  She’s had a few meeting with parents already and many are on board.  Starting in September, which is the start of third term, Marceline will be collecting school fees.  As a result, we’re prepared that some families may not continue and we’ll lose some students, but in the long run, having small school fees is what will allow the school to be fully sustainable.  I’ll keep you posted on how things go.  We believe over time, the rest of the families will come around and the little bit of income will allow the school to be that much better! We also have an exciting proposal in the works to get support from a group of university students from Edinburgh University in Scotland.  If they accept our proposal, they will fund and build a third classroom/library, design and build play equipment for the school (swings, see-saws, monkey bars, etc), and install a rain water catchment system.  We won’t know for a while if our proposal will be accepted, but here’s hoping!!!

So, also in Rwanda, I got to reunite with a bunch of my students! It was pretty exciting! It was so neat to see how much they’ve changed in three years.  Lots of them have graduated high school! Lots have moved on to universities around Rwanda and are doing incredibly well!!! Some have started working, and some of the younger ones are now in their final year of secondary school.  It was great to see them again! I also visited APAGIE, the highschool I used to teach at. It’s had some amazing renovations and looks incredible! Two new classrooms, 9 rain water catchment tanks installed, a bio lab, a chem lab, a new computer room.  It looks amazing and is great for the students!! A package my parents sent me in March of 2007 even arrived! It was full of biology and chemistry posters and those are all up in the lab! Only 4 years late! :)

And I the last thing I have to say about Rwanda, is about the most inspiring 24 hours I have spent in a long time (and a little reminder just how destiny works!!)  It’s not really about GO!, so I decided to make it a separate email.. which you are free to read if you so choose.. but no pressure!! :) It’s a little bit of a warm fuzzy! :) click here for the link to the second update!

So, after a month in Rwanda, I returned to Kisesa.  While I was away, Tabitha and our GO! staff were CRAZY busy working on the fields!!! I can’t even believe how much they got done in a short time!!!
First they finished making bricks.  I forgot to mention, we started making bricks before I left.  We found 2 awesome brick makers from the village and they went to work on our cement bricks.  When I left, we have about 250 bricks.  By the end of May, they completed 4720 bricks!!!!! AMAZING!!! Plus, Tabitha got 20 people from the village to clear the land.  By the end of May, the entire land was cleared of brush and scrub!! And Tabitha finally got the Title Deeds document!!!  We got the last signature and we thought, that everything was done!!!!  Hahahahahaha :) “thought!!!” being the key word.

So, I got back on June 11th and on June 12th, we finally hit our WALL..
Our enormous, nearly impenetrable WALL!!
And this is reason I haven’t been writing… I apologize but I just didn’t know what to say or how to explain everything that we’ve been through in the last month…

On June 12th, Tabitha went to the District Gov office to deliver our Title Deeds to the Minister of Land and get him to come out and officially measure our piece of land.  Some people in the village had been complaining that we were on their land, so to clear everything up, we went to the District Gov to get an official measurement done.  The documents had already been passed through all levels of village government and the Minister of Sport had approved it all.  All that was left was for the Minister of Land at the District Office to send someone out to mark the land and then we carry on with our project.  Well, the Minister of Land turned out to be a horrible man who berated Tabitha and basically said, “You have no land.  Your title deeds mean nothing because the land you were given doesn’t belong to the Village Government, it belongs to the District Government and we’ve given it to someone else.”

Like I said,

Basically it meant, the last two and a half years of meetings and talks with village officials was for nothing because apparently the land wasn’t even theirs to give out.  Tabitha has started this process back in 2010 and had done all the necessary meetings with the village government.  Years ago, the federal government gave all the land to the village government since they would be the ones overseeing it.  However, apparently the piece of land we were given was exempt and for some UNKNOWN reason, still belonged to the district.  We started the process with the Village Government because as far as we knew and as far as they told us, the land belonged to them and was entirely theirs to give out as they saw fit.  Apparently, this was not the case.  It meant that all our meetings, including our meeting in February of this year and our last meeting in May and our Title Deeds, and all the money we had spent until now on the well, the bricks, the land.. was for NOTHING… 

Obviously, this information hit us hard…
Liking run smack on into a wall.
A massive wall..

Tabitha told me all this information at like 8pm, while sitting on the floor in our little kitchen …and it definitely felt like a train plowed through our kitchen and just knocked the wind right out of me…

But luckily, we discovered that we both have these amazing powers of denial!! 
We didn’t scream… too much…
I only cried a little bit…
and basically, we just made the decision to refuse to accept it.
We believe in what we’re doing.  We know there are thousands of people in the village who support our project.  If adults and their politics want to try to stop development from coming to the village, then it just means we need to work even harder, because in the end, we’re not doing this for adults, we’re doing this for kids.  For kids who are living on the street and have no one to care for them and love them.. and if these adults are actively preventing this project from happening, it means they are not at all concerned about what’s in the best interest for the kids, and therefore it means the kids need us even more than we thought!! 

So, that was our decision. 
We decided, while lying on our cement floor, that we were going to do everything in our power to make Hero Home happen. 

When Tabitha initially met with the Minister of Land, he did give her one tiny ray of hope. He rudely explained that District Gov had already given the land to some organization that wants to put in a wildlife college or something, but IF there is land left over, then we can apply for it and we’ll go from there.  But basically, it meant we would have to restart the ENTIRE process of asking for land and having the necessary meetings.. AND every meeting is just one more expense that we cannot afford.   

So, the first step was to attend a meeting with over 60 district gov officials.  Tabitha went with the Mayor of the Village where our land is.  He’s been an absolute gem in this whole process and actually appears to WANT development to come to his village! Strange concept, eh?  I, of course, couldn’t go to the meeting because my skin colour was not going to make the process any easier or any cheaper.  Tabitha explained our project and answered questions.  She then met with the District Commissioner (the top dog of the District Government) and he said the project sounded fine.  He ordered his guys to go measure the land and see if there was enough land for us and the college.  However, because all of this has come out of nowhere, they had no budget for anything.  It meant that if we wanted this to happen in a timely manner, we had to cover the cost of getting the people and a car out to the land.  So we began forking over the cash.  The guys went out two days later to measure the land.  They discovered that there were over 250 acres.  More than enough for the college, which wanted 100, and us who wanted 30.  One tiny crack in our WALL!!!! :)

Despite there being enough land, it didn’t guarantee on any level that we would get the land that we had already cleared.  It only meant that the potential was there. From there, we drafted a letter to official ask for land.  We also mentioned in the letter that we had already started on the land and had invested time and money in the process.  Tabitha delivered the letter and some more chaos ensued, but again.. another crack in our WALL!! 

In delivering the letter, we learned that the only way to get our projected accepted was to present it at a meeting with half of all the people in the 7 villages of the division of Ihushi (where our project is taking place).  That meant funding a meeting with approximately 3500 people!!!!!!! It meant a HUGE expense that of course we had not budgeted for.  We tried getting around it and finding any other path, but in the end, it is the official procedure for any project and that left us with two choices.

*One, we do the meeting, fork out the money (approximately 7000$) and we hopefully get our land and carrying out our vision of Hero Home.
*Two, we don’t do the meeting and that’s the end.  We cut our losses and run. 

Although the money was HUGE and neither of us could even fathom the idea of spending that much money, we knew that cutting our losses wasn’t an option.  There are so many people invested in this project and we have worked so hard for it and the kids need it…. so in the end, we knew that there was only one option.

We had a preliminary meeting with the District Gov officials and the Village Gov officials and then planned the main meeting.  The HUGE meeting took place on Friday, July 13, one long and stressful month after we were first told we didn’t have land.  The meeting took place at 3 different locations so that everyone could attend.  According to Tabitha, there was tons of chaos.  Basically, the villagers are fed up with the government, and rightfully so.  However, they chose our meeting as a venue to express their frustrations.   Basically, none of the problems related to US personally or our project or our vision.  The issues all surrounded the government… It was hugely frustrating that we had to get swept up in the politics, but it was encouraging to know that people didn’t have issues with our project.. just issues with the government.  After hours and hours of dialogue, every one at all three meetings voted in support of our project and over 3500 signatures later, our project was passed through!!

Take that impenetrable WALL!!!

So, it took over a month.. and more money than we could ever have imagined.. but we now have 30 acres of land in Bujashi, Tanzania.  I feel a little like a broken record.  It’s like I’ve said that a few imes before! :) An official letter has been drafted.  We’re waiting for it to be signed by the District Commissioner but as of today, we are back to work on the land.  I’ll hold off on the full celebration until I have a signed copy of the letter in my hand.. but as sure as you can be in Africa, we are sure that the land is now officially and hopefully, undeniably ours. 

Our next steps are building a storage shed for our supplies, clearly the rest of the land, making cement fence posts, making more bricks, designing our house and starting construction of our house, planting trees, and much more!! Hopefully we can move full steam ahead and hopefully all the government issues are well behind us.  On the upside, we’ve become extremely well known in the village and people are definitely supporting our cause.  It’s been quite a learning experience and one that I don’t want to live through again anytime soon!!!

Otherwise, we’re doing alright.  Tabitha is doing much much better! Thanks for the all the prayers, vibes, thoughts, and wishes! She’s amazing!! And was absolutely phenomenal in dealing with the government officials!! Here’s hoping I can be amazing in fundraising the rest of the money :)
And last update, we had our first volunteers!!! Tom Clarke and Claire Kassidy Kojima from England graced us with their presence!!!!! They’ve been amazing! Tom is spending a month with us (has 1 week left) and as a professional accountant, he’s been amazing at helping with the budgets and project plans! Claire spent 12 days with us and has just graduated from Med. School.  I’m working on convincing her to become Hero Home’s official doctor!! J Tabitha’s son Victor is also with us so the house has definitely been full of life!! It’s been fantastic!!!

I hope everyone is enjoying the summer!!! Take in the warm weather while it lasts!! I’m sure snow is right around the corner! :)

Thanks for reading and thanks for all the support!!