Thursday, December 30, 2010

Our latest Work in Suji, Tanzania

We show pictures and videos on this Blog of a lot of building work being carried out so we would just like to give you the background to this.   TANZANIAN VILLAGE  RENEWAL is a registered charity founded in 2007 by Michael and Maureen Mescall from Kilmihil, Co. Clare.  The couple had been visiting Tanzania for many years and have very good friends there.   One of those friends; Professor Gad Kilonzo asked if we would be in a position to build an extension to the secondary school in his native village Suji and also if we could scource teachers in Ireland for the school.  The school had 450 pupils and only 2 teachers.

We decided that it would be best to see the school and the proposed extension so a friend of ours, John Clancy from Corofin, Co. Clare and I went to Suji in November 2009.  We were struck by the beauty of Suji and the surrounding ParĂ© Mountains; by the quality of the natural food all grown locally; the welcome of the people and pupils and by the courtesy shown to us.  Suji is situated about 8000 ft. high in the mountains and the only access is a dirt track which is very steep and in wet weather is treacherous.   That apart the journey to the village has the most spectacular scenery.   The foundation for the new extension had commenced but was not complete so John suggested that the villagers should complete the foundation work and that we would then consider building.   The people living in the village have a wonderful quality of life in a clean, unpolluted environment but they are cash poor. All materials had to be hauled up that mountain by lorry and this was expensive so the charity Tanzanian Village Renewal sent some funds to cover the materials and labour for the foundation.   This was duly completed and photographic evidence sent to us .   So the villagers had upheld their end of the bargain now it was up to us to fulfill our end.

We had to find builders and teachers! 

Ah I thought it will be easy to find the teachers where I work, in NUI Galway but how to go about it.  Next step was to approach Professor Jim Ward , the Registrar in NUI Galway and Lorraine McIllrath from Community Knowledge Initiative in the university.  Both of these people were very supportive of the idea of  university involvement with the project.   We emailed all postgraduate students and received many replies but we finally found 5 people who were really interested.  Those students were:

Aisling Mitchell,         Manorhamilton, Co. Leitrim.
Belinda Crossan,       Letterkenny, Co. Donegal.
Aine Staunton,          Tourmakeady, Co. Mayo.
Aaron Cunningham,   Letterkenny, Co. Donegal.
James Lovett,            Newcastle, Galway.

The students agreed to fund their travelling and day to day expenses in the short term and the university and Tanzanian Village Renewal agreed to pay them a small salary during the year in Tanzania.  The students also decided that the would like to do a bit of building and therefore agreed to travel with the builders, get to know the lie of the land in Suji and at least settle in to a new lifestyle in the company of a few "from home".

Then to find the builders.  One would expect that in these recessionary times it would be easy to find builders but this proved to be a very difficult job and took a lot of time and effort to find the right people.  Even though there are thousands of builders, carpenters, electrician and plumbers out of work in Ireland as we all know, people were afraid to commit.  Everybody who would come would have to pay airfare, accommodation and for food so this was a scary commitment when one had no job.   We took to the airwaves and the printed media.  We carried out interviews on Clare FM, Mid West Radio and Weeshie Fogarty of Kerry Radio gave us an hour to talk about the work of the charity.   We eventually sourced enough people and set the date for travelling as October 31st. 2010 for a two week period.

Those travelling would be:

John Clancy,          Corofin, Co. Clare.
Maureen Mescall,  Kilmihil, Co. Clare.
Noel Murphy,        Ballymacward, Co. Galway.
Sean Murphy,        Bermingham,  U.K.
Niall Culkin,           Co. Sligo.
Enda Gilmartin,      Co. Sligo.
Ger Heverin,          Castlebar, Co. Mayo.
Tom Philbin,          Castlebar, Co. Mayo.
Darren Maguire,    Manorhamilton, Co. Leitrim.
Peadar Mitchell,     Manorhamilton, Co. Leitrim.
and the 5 teachers mentioned above.

We flew from Dublin to Kilimanjaro and were met by Professor Kilonzo and a mini bus to take us to Suji.   Then the fun began!  Aaron and Belinda had the kitchen sink in their bags as they were staying for a year!  The builders travelled with small bags which were rather heavy due to the hammers, saws, trowels and levels.
How to get all the people, the luggage and a few more people into the mini bus.  It took planning and ingenuity!   John in charge of course!  Even though everybody was tired, they were good humoured and of course the idea that all of us would be allowed to travel in such an overcrowded bus was very new to people from Ireland who are used to rules and regulations.   The trip on the dirt road to Suji caused some consternation as we thought the bus would not make each hill - but it did and the driver got a resounding cheer, more from relief at the arrival rather than his driving I think!

The schoolchildren were out on top of a hill waving and cheering and they then put on a marvellous concert for us.  The sang and danced with that wonderful sense of rhythm that the Africans have.  We were welcomed by the villagers and then fed very well.   The teachers stayed in one house, the 5 younger people in another house and the older more "set in their ways" people in another; all accommodation provided by the villagers.

This was the first time in Africa for most people so the "Asian Toilet" caused a bit of shock initially!   Once the site was inspected, John set out the work schedule.   We would get up at 6a.m., breakfast at 6.30a.m., on site at 7 a.m., lunch at noon, finish at 5.30 p.m. shower, and dinner at 7p.m.,

Rahema would cook for us.  She started each day at around 5a.m., got the fire going ( mostly scraps of timber and bits of trees), and did not finish until nearly 8.30p.m each night.  She was a treasure, good humoured, good cook and practised her English with us each day.  If we wanted something Rahema knew who to contact, she produced potatoes for breakfast, lunch and dinner - The Irish need their spuds!!!!   Not that many Rahema!

Not to go into too many details of the building but we built, roofed and plastered the building in 12 days!   Everybody worked to the best of their ability every day.   The 3 girl teachers, laid bricks, plastered, carried, fetched and were given a genuine "clap on the back" by the builders.   10 local men helped and we trained them in building, plastering and roofing and the Irish left them all their tools before they departed.  The building was 100 m X 30 m so it was a great achievement to finish it in the short period of time.   Multiple **** to everybody!!

The population of Suji are mostly 7 Day Adventist so Saturday is their holy day so no work.   They get ready for the holy day early Friday evening and Saturday is then spent at church.  We were invited to their services and this was a wonderful experience.   Imagine hearing the echo of choirs rebounding from the hills all around as you walked to one of the churches.  If one heard any of these choirs in the National Concert Hall in Dublin one would say they were brilliant.   All ages had that wonderful musical quality which seems to be in every part of their beings.  We loved their services and looked forward to each Saturday.   We also walked the hills and just spent time enjoying the peace and tranquility and appreciate many things that we had experienced in our youth but had forgotten during the mad Celtic Tiger days in Ireland.

After dinner we had the entertainment.   Peadar, gave a dissertation on Marx, Ger's topic was religion, John did the magic tricks, Noel and Sean supervised the quizzes, Enda updated us on the soccer, Jim recited poetry, Niall and Darren interjected with appropriate quips when people were waffling, Tom exuded calmness at all times even during the hottest part of the day when the sun was beating doen on his blonde curls, the girls provided the glamour, Aaron provide all technical knowledge in regard to mobile phone and Internet connections.  Me, I provided the water and a limited supply of beer!    This was a highly intellectual building site!    The teachers, gave classes in between laying bricks.   English, history, geography, maths, economics and biology.   The pupils were hungry to learn.  They helped us on the site and they tried to teach us Swahili and we tried to help with their English.   This was education with fun, style and dust in about 25 c.

Of course the villagers  had  party to send us on our way home.  In the new building of course!   A great time was had by all.

We decided that being in Tanzania the home of Safari we should at least see some animals before we took the plane.  The mini bus was engaged once again to take us to the game park and then to the airport.  Not as much luggage this time as the teachers and Peadar were staying on in Suji.  So did we see the Big 5 - most definitely no but we saw the Big 5 holes that the mini bus got stuck in!   "All out",  "Rock from side to side", "push"   "Get out the shovel" " You are standing on my hand"  "How will I get on the plane with this muck" could be heard resounding all over the game park.   Then slight panic - we wont make the flight!   Get this driver to get a move on -  driver no word of English - Irish no word of Swahili!   Sign language very useful here but not much good as the bus had no third gear and groaned on every hill.

Sean and Jim in the front seat urging the driver on who looked at them with mild disdain.  Some people falling asleep but the real sign of panic was when cool John began to get slightly panicky!   We made it.  No time for good bye just race through security.   The teachers and Peadar had to face the return journey and up that mountain road again while the builders sat in the comfort of KLM.  

Peadar is an award winning film maker and is making a film about the building, the teachers and the village.  It's a slow job editing all the footage and he has promised that the launch will be in Manorhamilton and we will all be invited!   We look forward to that!   He is staying in Suji until Christmas and is currently teaching English to the adults in the village.   Tanzanians with Leitrim accents - I cant wait to hear it.!    His sister Aisling is teaching English to small children.  Aaron is teaching and coaching the soccer team in the school.  His team were narrowly defeated by the locals recently but I am sure they will improve under Aaron's guidance.  Let us know what's happening Aaron and put up a picture of your team.   Belinda and Aine are teaching and are on  rat extermination detail as well as planning the Christmas trip to Zanzibar.   Aine loves Tuna and Mayonnaise which is not available in Suji so if the reader is so disposed you can send to Aine in care of the Post Office Suji!!!!   Jim, well Jim has taught the pupils and the builders one word in Irish, English and Swahili!!  Or is it a universal language?  Jim is currently touring around Southern Africa and will return to Suji when the school term starts in January.

That's it for now - drop a comment in the box as we would love to hear from you.


  1. Just stumbled upon the blog. I've enjoyed reading the posts and am amazed at how much work you've all been doing. Heard the stories but hadn't seen the photos. Can't wait for the film!

  2. We have seen your fantastic work in Suji (with our "naked" eyes). We were also in holiday in our home-country, Tanzania, two months ago!