From the “Gift of Language School” to the Machica Orphans Home
I had originally conceived of Walkaroundtheworld.com as a travel blog with a purpose in 2000. I had just recently gone through a divorce and was looking for some meaning and purpose. When I learned there would be a total eclipse of the sun running through southern Africa in June, 2001 it seemed to me that the universe, like the finger of God, was pointing exactly to where I needed to go. I had been a teacher for a number of years before then and I envisioned that I would explore Africa and visit local schools along the way to make connections and see if I could contribute anything to them.
My travels eventually brought me to the village of Mang’ula where I planned to explore the Udzungwa Mountains. Udzungwa National Park was, at the time, Tanzania’s newest National Park and one of its most biological diverse wilderness areas.
I arrived in Mang’ula in the late afternoon of July 26, 2001. As I walked along the road to a hotel I wanted to stay at, a young local man who was walking in the same direction introduced himself to me. His name was John Mansur Mwakalinga. He asked me where I was from and what I was doing in Mang’ula and we briefly shared our histories. He informed me that he had started a kindergarten in town with a friend of his named Kenny Mleke. I told him that I had been a teacher and was very interested in seeing his school. John took me on a tour of Mang’ula and eventually to his school.
John’s school, which he had started with his boyhood friend, Kenny, was called the Gift of Language School. John and Kenny had started the school a few months earlier and were teaching math and English to better prepare the students for primary school. The school was housed in a small brick building with a dirt floor and a sagging tin roof. The door consisted of a few planks of wood cobbled together. There were no hinges for the door – which had to be moved manually to the side to allow entrance. There was a single desk in the single room of the school, so the dozen or two students who attended had to sit on the dirt floor. Many parents were unwilling to continue sending students to the school because of the lack of desks. This, I realized, was an opportunity for me to be helpful.
I had seen some carpenters working in their shops during our tour of town and asked John about the possibility of having one of them make desks for the school. John told me that he had already spoken with them and that it would cost about 5,000 Tanzanian Shillings (just over $5 USD at the time) for each desk and that each desk could hold four students. I asked John how many desks were needed and he told me that six would be enough. I told him that I wanted to purchase desks for their school and would back to the school the next day after hiking in the Udzungwa.
After a long morning of hiking and a short nap, I made my way through town to John and Kenny’s school where classes were held in late afternoon. I observed Kenny with the students, who later came up to me in turn to introduced themselves in English. When school was let out I gave Kenny and John money for the desks and they invited me to their village of Chonde. I was assured it was not far. Space and time in Africa is relative as these folks are accustomed to walking everywhere and “not far” for them was definitely farther than I wanted to walk after hiking up a mountain all morning. It turned out to be just a few kilometers to the village – and I was glad that I went with them.
When we entered the village the children came running toward us shouting “mzungu” (white man) with glee. John told me that not many white people ever came to the village and I am not surprised as I only saw a couple of non-natives during my stay in Mang’ula. And those folks were there solely for the mountains and not to tour the local villages. John and Kenny led me to their house which was smaller than the average walk-in closet of an American home. The entire mud brick structure measured maybe seven by seven feet. The only furnishings in the building, which consisted of a tiny entrance and a single room, consisted of one bed and a night stand with a kerosene lamp. A mosquito net hung over the bed and they told me that they were just recently able to afford one. John and Kenny shared the bed – a consequence of the extreme poverty of the region. The residents of Chonde were and remain subsistence farmers. All the village homes were of a similar size and construction (mud bricks) and none had electricity or water. Cooking and most of the daily chores took place in an open space outside the home. Kenny’s mother and siblings lived in a home next door and we sat with them for a while and had a meal of local fish. No one else in Kenny’s family knew English, so Kenny taught me some phrases and translated so we could make small talk in Swahili.
As evening approached I said my goodbyes to Kenny’s family. Kenny and John walked me back to my hotel and we hugged and wished each other well.
Upon my return to the U.S., I sent John and Kenny $500 USD to begin construction of a better school building. There was also a brick maker in Mang’ula, and I thought, and still believe, that the best way to foster economic development in poorer nations like Tanzania is by utilizing and promoting local resources. Developing the local economies is the best way for those communities to succeed. While charity and donations are helpful, they do not sustain the community. Having local people involved, like the carpenters to build desks, and the brickmakers to make bricks, make the community more economically vibrant, making projects like the school more successful.
John and Kenny subsequently renamed the school the “Jeremy Kidergarten School” – a most humbling honor.
I continued to keep in touch with John and Kenny via mail and email. My adventure in Mang’ula, like the others I experienced during the three months I was traveling around southern Africa on that trip, I described on my walkaroundtheworld.com website.
I later discovered that sometime in 2003 a Canadian man, Adam Kinsman, learned about the school from the website and traveled to Mang’ula to assist with the school, and later with building a new school.
John and Kenny eventually went separate ways sometime in 2004 – John went on to establish a new project called the Masude Society and later the Machica Orphans Home, a school and orphanage that now houses approximately 80 children. Kenny went on to established another school, the Mlimani English Medium Kindergarten, which was supported by Adam Kinsman from Canada.
I asked John to describe his recollections of the development of the Gift of Language School, our meeting, and the subsequent development of the other schools and John’s orphanage. (Note: the following has been edited slightly for grammar and spelling):
2001 to 2005.
I remember meeting you, and then took you to our first old school – Gift of Language, which was established by Kenny as a manager and I as his helper. At that time, the children were about ten to thirteen children only, staying on the empty floored old classroom, which we had rented from the landlord (we paid 6,000 T.shs monthly to run it). I remember you being very much touched with our situation with children sitting on the empty floor without mats to sit on, there were no chalks, no pencils, no papers for the children to use for their writing. Our first plan with you was to buy a few desks and some chalk boxes for the children.
You provided money which was then used to make a few desks (5 to 6) which were shifted into the classroom, ready to be used by the children, along with a few boxes of chalk and paper.
From there, we went on teaching the children very comfortably at the Gift of Language School, which after a few months had grown to about 35 children by November 2001!
In 2002 – the Gift of Language Kindergarten went on well with more children joining in. Until this period, we had no a proper means/way of earning income for the school project, so we had lived a hard life depending on the little donations from children`s parents which were always in the form of food stuffs like maize, a duck or a chicken. Very few parents/guardians were able to pay in cash money! So, Kenny and I decided to establish another evening class for the secondary school students who were contributing a little money to us as we taught them English and mathematics. The little funds we collected from these local students gave us a relief in our very hard lives and hopeless future!
I remember you were able to support the project with the 500 US$, which were used to partly pay the building rents to the old kindergartens building.
I remember some money being spared in the bank, which later was used to support another state owned pre-school “Mgudeni Pre-school” and was able to construct one room for the children, and also the desks were given to this school.. oh they were very thankful and up to now, they do appreciate the support a lot.
I remember meeting Adam Kinsman from Canada and told him about my wishes and vision in really establishing a proper school with buildings and offices, a kitchen, etc. I remember giving Adam my project proposal for the new school and he was very interested! Adam went to visit the children the next day at the Jeremy’s Kindergarten school, and there Adam got to know Kenny for the first time!
When Adam came back in 2004 – he met Kenny and I was no longer working with Kenny. I was away from Mangula and went to live in Musoma (Northern Tanzania) where I served as a secondary school teacher for some few months. Kenny met Adam and he did not tell me about the new school construction… They constructed the school without my awareness and Kenny became the school master. I was happy because they were able to help many children.
So, the properties and the children from the Jeremy School were shifted to a nearby pre-school called Mgudeni Pre-school, because Adam’s school was now far from the Jeremy’s school, the children were not able to walk all the way up there.
I got to travel back from Musoma and get back to Mangula, because I had so much missed the children and still wanted to try doing something new for them … I left the Village and the Jeremy’s kindergarten, when the Children had so much wanted me and my help in caring and teaching them… The children had still many unsolved problems till then.
When I got back to Mang’ula in June 2004 – It was when I got to hear of and got to see the new Mlimani Kindergarten school of Adam, I was surprised and could not believe my eyes!
In this particular season, “Johnny`s Kindergarten School” was established again. I was able to find a few of the children left from Jeremy’s centre and gathered them in my new school, now at the very centre of Mangula town, the area called “Mwaya.” I got to know Sheila Chinn from England (World Challenge Expeditions – Students Leader) at this time. I was a lucky one to make a long time friendship with Sheila who tried to support the school, but in a very squeezed and little budget which could not really sustain the children and the school in reality … which worsened my situation and that of the children. The name of the school was re-named “Sheilas Children” to honor her friendship and support to the project. [The school was officially funded by “Sheilas’s Children’s Caring Fund.”]
I met Paul Hurys and Susi Rieder from Germany and they found me and Mr. Sebastian already with “Sheilas School”, and they were very much interested and touched to do something for that good cause! I must say, they are the first friends to be able to provide big amounts of funds to change the whole story of Johnny School! Paul and Susi invited more friends from Germany and became more than 60 united friends in Germany with love and commitment to support Sheilas Children.
Due to the big efforts and concern these friends had in supporting the project – we thought to change the name from a personal name to a more “Community name,” also due to the easiness in registering a “community based name” rather than a “personal name”… it is very complicated (unless the foundation receives most of its support from that single person).
From 2005 on.
Paul Hurys and Susi Rieder from Germany: The Germans got involved for everything about the children’s needs, teachers’ salaries, orphans and students school expenses, and the construction work for Mangula Children Caring Fund. Machica Fund, later changed to Masude Society due to some recommendations from the Government of Tanzania. Sheila resigned from being our supporter and we remained friends.
Nick Felgate and Sandra Isaksson from the UK and the Kombolera Children’s Project: Sandra Issackson got to see our Masude`s website and during her last trip to Africa in (2013) – she got to visit Machica Home at Mangula, and met me there! She was very interested and she said she would like to do something the same to help the children in nearby villages… So, now Kombolera Children from UK is supporting a new kindergarten in Mkula Village (not Mangula). The Mkulas school is supervised by Charles and I am doing most of the management things. The new Mkulas School is still dependent on the poor parents donations and support from the guardians of the orphaned children. The Home still hopes Sandra and Nick to be their main supports. – John Mansur Mwakalinga
Kenny now lives in Argentina. John, however, continues to live in Tanzania where he has devoted his life to educating children and caring for orphans. As a result of my experiences with John Mansur and the Gift of Language School, and John’s tireless efforts to help his country over the last fifteen years, in late 2015 we discussed my desire to work with him on a new development project. After much discussion, planning, and research, we agreed to create a new agricultural, economic, and educational development project in Tanzania – the TuKAoNe Project.
My experience in Mang’ula with those kids is among my proudest and most purposeful moments. It’s difficult to accurately describe synchronicity. Words don’t fit as neatly together as a resonating universe. It’s enough to say the experience deeply affected and enriched my life.
In telling this story I have often described how I helped build a school in Africa – it sounds intriguing at cocktail parties. It’s not about my name being connected with the school, or the pride of having a good story about doing a good thing – it’s about having a connection and connecting in such a way as to feel part of something greater than one’s self.
When I first contemplated walkaroundtheworld.com, and then made the trip to Africa, with my expensive Sony camera and laptop and FTP program on a floppy disk that I would load onto a computer in an urban cyber Café so I could upload my “report,” I knew that I was conducting an experiment in connectivity. Because while it’s impossible to be everywhere and do everything, it is exceedingly possible to be somewhere and do something. The whole point of starting Walk Around the World was to explore those possibilities and help in any way I could. Before there was a Facebook or the word “blog,” I wanted to help connect the world to live globally and act locally. I wanted people to share an intimate experience together and make direct connections while demonstrating how incredibly simple it is to be helpful and do good in the world. I think it was a successful experiment, and has it been a source of inspiration in my own life. – Jeremy Theoret, Founder of Walk Around the World, LLC
More about Mang’ula
Mang’ula lies at the base of the Udzugwa Mountains in the east central portion of Tanzania. It is southeast of the capital, Dodoma, and southwest of Morogoro.
But that’s probably not that helpful, so here it is in perspective: