Thursday, December 9, 2010

Day 4 Tanzania- "Chickens & Elvis" (Tanzania)

Today I met Elvis in Africa! Yes, Elvis is his real name. Before I arrived at the Niibili Village, I read through my notes briefing me on who we were expecting to meet. I immediately chuckled when I saw that "Elvis" was the name of the youngest son. We all immediately started singing Elvis songs as we bumped along the dirt roads in this remote area of Tanzania.
When we arrived at the Massawe home, it was actually Elvis who was the first to greet me! This little 12-year-old boy walked up to me with a big smile and in clear English said, "Welcome!" He was the only one in his family to speak English so I used Elvis to help me interpret our intial greetings. But from that first moment on, Elvis and I were definitely new friends.

I had a pack of crayons in my backpack so I sat down with Elvis to talk about Christmas. I drew a traditional Christmas tree and colored in the ornaments. Then I asked him how his family celebrates Christmas in Tanzania. He drew me a picture of a chicken and said his family enjoys a chicken meal together on Christmas Day.

Ironic because today I was on a mission to do a story about chickens. Several years ago, World Vision gave the Massawe family several chickens to help provide food for their family. Yet, the Massawes say they've used the chickens to not only keep their kids from starving but to actually send them all to school. In fact, by selling any surplus eggs or additional chickens they breed, they've been able to afford to send their youngest, Elvis, to a 'good' school where he learned to speak English.

Today, Elvis not only has big dreams for himself (he wants to be a football player...or soccer for us in the U.S.) but his parents say they think he'll be able to get a better job when he grows up. He's also transforming his community by teaching his neighbors and relatives English.

There were several extremely touching moments for me today...on Day 4 of our Spirit of Christmas tour. 1st- Elvis' makeshift soccerball that he'd made of plastic bags and string. 2nd- his parents expressions as they explained to me in Swahili how proud they were to be able to send Elvis to a 'good' school. 3rd- Elvis' and I sat down read the story of Jesus' birth and Christmas. In flawless English, he read from Luke 2.

But at the end of the day, one of my favorite moments was when Elvis came up to me and said "This is for you!" He handed me a rectangular piece of cardboard with a colorful flowery tree and the words Merry Christmas at the bottom. I don't think I'll ever be able to celebrate Christmas now without thinking about my new friend Elvis.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Tanzania Day 3- "Cows" (Tanzania)

"I will never look a cow the same way again! Before today, I never really thought of cows as anything special. Yes, I'm grateful they provide milk so I can put cream in my coffee or have milk for my cereal. But actually, my only exposure to cows themsleves is smelling them along the highways in Oklahoma, Texas and New Mexico....or in my old tv reporting days, doing stories about dairy farmers. Occasionally, I have seen them at the fair and once, I even tried to milk one on live television.

But after today's experience, I have a whole new appreciation for cows!!!!

I spent the day with Jasintha Mollel, a 41-year-old woman with 6 children, who lives in a remote area of Tanzania. Six years ago, World Vision gave her a simple gift....a brand new dairy cow. A cow?! I know, to most of us that's not the coolest gift. It's not an Ipad. It's not a new jazzy electronic for Christmas. What would we as Americans do with a cow?

Yet, before you chalk this up to just a blog about need to hear Jasintha's story. Before she got her cow from World Vision, she said her children were extremely weak from starvation. She stayed up late at night praying to God to help her and her family. It was heart wrenching to hear her talk about horrible she felt about to not be able to provide for her kids. As an aunt, I can't imagine telling my niece or nephews they'd have to go without food a few days.

Jasintha says now she not only has a goat that provides more than enough milk for her entire family, but she actually uses....(get this)...the manure to get food! The manure serves as fertilizer to grow vegetables in her backyard. Today, she walked me through an area the size of a baseball field that is lush with fresh growing cabbage, spinach, papayas, bananas, etc.

She's also using the excess milk from her World Vision cow to sell it and pay for school fees and books so her kids can get an education. In fact, she's even started her own small business down the street and is running a makeshift convenience store.

She was so proud to tell me that she's even been able to give away baby calves to help her neighbors! What a great success story.

Who knew that a single cow could be so valuable!? or so productive!? All I know is that I''ll never look at cows the same way twice. And who knows, I may consider giving a cow for Christmas this year!"

Tanzania Day 2- "Microloans & Fish" (Tanzania)

"Today's journey to Manyire, Tanzania to visit the Shirima family has me questioning what makes a GOOD Christmas gift? Is it a new IPad, snazzy new shoes, or a gift certificate to your favorite store? Or Is it how much money someone spends or how excited the recipient is when they open the wrapping paper on Christmas morning? What if I told you that I would give you $50 for Christmas...but you'd have to repay it in a few years??? You'd probably look at me like I was crazy! Getting money ....but then having to pay it back?! That's not a real gift.

Yet you'd have a tough time convincing the Shirimas that a loan isn't a good Christmas gift. In fact, that's one of the top things on their Christmas list this year. That's because a few years ago, they received a loan from World Vision. Keep in mind, at that point they barely had enough money to feed their entire family of 6. In fact, some days they went hungry. But when they got the loan, they used it to construct a fish pond in their backyard. It's not one of those fishponds that some Americans put in iryard to be a pretty landscaping addition with a bubbling fountain and oversized gold fish. This is a giant fishpond the size of several swimming pools that they now use to help feed their family. In fact, today they've become a focal point in their African community and neighbors come from all over Manyire to reap the benefits of the many fish they now cultivate.

Today I asked the Shirima's if a microloan, like the ones featured in this year's World Vision Christmas Catalog, make a good Christmas gift. Emphatically, they both answered INDEED! And Merry Christmas."

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

1st Day in Tanzania- "Goats & Rachel" (Tanzania)

"This Monday, we found a great example of what IS the True Spirit of Christmas. We traveled nearly an hour down a bumpy, dirt road to Moshono, Tanzania, a remote area of Africa that World Vision has been serving for nearly 15 years. We had the incredible privilege of meeting the Mollel family who has indirectly benefited from World Vision. Four years ago, their neighbor received a dairy goat from World Vision donors. In this community, when someone receives a World Vision goat, the first dairy goat born as a result, is expected to be given to a neighbor in the community. The Mollels received a kid goat from their neighbor and it has made a huge impact on their family. Not only has the goat provided much needed milk for their family, but they've also been able to sell some of the surplus to help buy basic necessities like medicine. Plus, the goat's manure now helps fertilize their garden and helps them grow better banana trees, edible roots, and sweet sugarcane.
One of the things I learned about World Vision that I didn't expect was the profound ripple effect of a giving one simple gift. The original World Vision goat that was given to a neighbor produced baby kid goats that are now benefititing neighbors throughout Moshono.

The other thing I was stunned by was how incredibly blessed we are in the United States. On this trip, my luggage got stuck in Amsterdam so I'm still working without a change of clothes, toiletries or snacks that I'd packed. I don't even have a good pair of working shoes to tour around...I'm wearing my slip-on black satin shoes (that were easy to slip on/off through security.) Yet, the Mollels barely have enough food for their family. In fact, the contents of my one carry-on bag (laptop, iphone, books, etc) are probably more valuable than their entire annual income. (The average Tanzanian family makes less than $340/year.) It really makes me think twice about complaining about not having my 2nd pair of jeans to put on!

Yet, we saw the True Spirit of Christmas come to life in Rachel Mollel, This wife and mother of 4 was actually a bit standoff-ish when we first arrived. I can't imagine how overwhelmed she must have felt when our cameras and crew suddenly showed up in her front yard trying to ask her a multitude of questions. For nearly two hours, we grilled her husband about the benefits of their World Vision goat and how their family is preparing for Christmas. But it wasn't until we asked her about how our World Vision donors could pray for her that she truly opened up. I think in that moment she realized that despite our extreme life differences and how far apart we live, we are actually one and the same in Christ Jesus our Lord. We may have different prayer requests, different resources and differences wants/desires, but we both trust that God is and will provide for matter who we are. My favorite part of today was when Rachel suddenly put her arm around me in a spontaneous moment...and in broken English...simply said, 'God bless you.' That IS the True Spirit of Christmas!"