Nkwamakuu (“Qua Makoo”) Primary School at the base of Mt. Kilimanjaro

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Today started like every other in Africa so far.  I’m awakened in the middle of the night typing this blog partially because I can’t sleep and partly because the emotional tugs to the kids are so strong. We gathered for breakfast (fruit, sausage, eggs and toast) and review the plan for the day and laugh about the events yesterday.  We’re right on schedule for our work and “Africa time” where things take two or three times as long as you think is not getting in our way.

The talk of the morning is about Benson and the potential paths his future might take.  Without education and opportunities he’ll grow up like any other teenager and adult in the region.  He’ll have a wife and kids of his own.  He’ll scrape together some kind of a living and his family will sell something from their roadside stand – just like everyone else.  He’ll hit up the occasional tourist on the main road and they might be impressed with his English.  His standard of living will be way below the US poverty line but, even though he is at the top of the Bell curve here, he’ll just be ok.  He’ll be no threat to anyone nor will he have any lasting impact on his community.  He’ll be an opportunity lost.  With some help he may be that pilot he dreams of. I’m not sure what the Secret Service thinks of our ideas for flying Barak Obama.  If they don’t like it – it was Heward’s idea.)

We made a quick stop at Orkolili to rerecord a sound bite from our science teacher from the night before.  While Heward and Elley re-recorded the bit in our makeshift sound studio (a remarkable replica of a Land Rover), I wandered the school looking for Mama Mcha and her teachers to shoot some portraits/candids of them in action.  Well the action was less than “action” as we must have reached the school during a teacher break.  I found one very good teacher working the blackboard and teaching the students how to conjugate English verbs.  I was impressed and could have learned something if I had stuck around.  I found two other classrooms full of students but no teacher.  Much to my surprise, the kids were all studying quietly without the spitballs, folded paper footballs and iphone texting you might see in the US.  I’m glad I didn’t have any spare paper to teach them how to fold that football and play US table football with it.  I could have brought their entire discipline system to its knees.

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The next stop was the Nkwamakuu primary school on the way to Mt. Kilimanjaro.  We made our way down the banana-tree-lined dirt road and came upon a “picturesque” but primitive primary school with the Tanzanian flag flying high in the incredible African sky.  On the outside wall of the school was a giant hand painted Asante Africa Foundation logo.  Asante Africa Foundation had built a building for Teachers lodging and latrine facilities.  The extreme shortage of classroom space for the 300+ kids had forced the school to repurpose the Teacher lodging building into a two room, makeshift classroom.  In the smaller of the two rooms (smaller than the size of my bathroom at home) were 10 desks each sitting 4 or 5 students (shoulder to shoulder).

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No supplies and yet – well behaved and all participating.  I watched the kids standing in line for their food.  The lunch-time meal was porridge and beans yet they all stood in line and not a drop was wasted (except that small fraction that stuck to their hands – soon to be transferred to mine.)  These school lunches are the only food some of these kids get some days.  The food is one real incentive to keep the little ones coming to school.

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Next up: Someone had a stroke of brilliance!  Heward needed to film a couple of interviews with the staff and a student and needed it quiet.  They cleared the school and sent 300 primary kids out to sit in the dirt under the tree and “be quiet.”  We called it the Timeout Hill.  They had little or no supervision so I went out under the tree and sat in the dirt with 200 kids (and my camera).  The “quiet” part of the experience lasted about an hour.  I wandered through the crowd taking candid pictures (and sharing) without the normal hustle and bustle of the students all posing and laughing at their picture on the back of the camera.  I must have shaken 2000 hands (from 200 kids).  We all started counting (in english) as a group.  They could all count together up to twenty.  Then we started counting backwards.  10, 9 ,8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 “Blastoff”.  They didn’t understand until we did it again and when we hit zero I threw a mock rocket (a corn husk) high in the air.  Some things are just simple…

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I pulled a couple of them off to the side and took more personal “portraits.”  I love those shots of kids sitting on the grass where the camera is as close to the ground as I can get it (leaving the foreground out of focus).  Well – try that in Africa where “grass” doesn’t exist.   The kids were just wonderful.  Great smiles, great eyes and warm hearts completely offset the dirty hands.

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We then found 6 older students (10-12 years old) and filmed a chalkboard scene for our project.  You’re going to have to watch the “movie” when it comes out.  Heward, Ellie and I make a great team.  Fun was had by all.

It was truly a wonderful visit – I was absolutely filthy when we were done – and I quietly cried when I got in the car to leave.  They have so little to work with and yet – these kids are no less deserving of opportunity than anyone.

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Nkwamakuu students got an excellent demonstration of the worm (as performed by Heward Jue). They also saw a real class act with superb creative skills and leadership talent. Asante Africa Foundation is proud to have Heward on Our Board. I’m proud to call him my friend.

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Our Tanzanian Asante Africa team is working with the community to build an additional classroom.  The community has already laid the foundation and the blocks are on site ready to build.  I had unknowingly used the foundation and blocks as props for my portrait studio during the timeout.  Mt. Kilimanjaro was the backdrop.  We just need to get them some resources (money) to finish the project.  A small investment will make a big difference for these kids.

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We had missed lunch again…(I wonder what African lunches taste like…) and we were starving.  We stopped at a local dive bar and ordered beer and African food.  Not the best but – who the hell cares about food?  It was a great day!

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