Wow. I can't believe how quickly this week flew by. So many things have happened in only 5 short days!
This week I began my volunteer project at KIWAKUKKI, the HIV/AIDS community project for women here in Tanzania. I will try to post the website here later so that you can get a better idea of what the project does. From what I can understand (the translation is a bit tough at times), the organization serves over 5,200 women and children who have been affected by HIV/AIDS here in Tanzania. It is the largest organization of its kind. On Monday I spent the day walking through the town of Boma Ngombe with Mary, one of the Tanzanian volunteers. We visited the homes of 5 women with HIV. Unfortunately, only 2 of the women were home. Mary's English is better than my Swahili, however, that is not saying much for either of us! At the home visits I asked as many questions as I could and learned a bit about the lives and struggles of the women. By the end of the day, I had walked at least 10 miles in the hot, hot, hot sun, and I was exhausted.
To be honest, I am still trying to figure out how to process what I saw. I had a lunch in my bag that I never stopped to eat. No one I encountered had enough food to eat more than one small meal a day. The women receive their anti-retrovirals (ARVs) free from the hospital each month and are instructed take the medication twice a day with food. I have read some reports suggesting that it is often difficult to educate the people here about the importance of remembering to take the correct daily dosage. I was pleasantly surprised to see that this did not seem to be the case here. That being said, because the women are not able take the ARVs each food they are extremely prone to ulcers.
At the first home I visited the woman asked me for approximately $100 USD to send her youngest daughter to school this year. At the next home, I was asked to build a chicken coop. I went home that evening unsure of how I could really make an impact in such a short time. I still don't have it all figured out. I suppose no one does which is why the problem still exists. Mama Ruth, the women who started KIWAKUKKI, has built 8 orphanages and is currently sending roughly 200 kids to school with the support of sponsors. It seemed like such a great number until I asked to see the waiting list of children in the orphanages who cannot attend public school because they don't have school fees. There are over 1700 children from an area no greater than 50 sq km. who are waiting for support. Worse than that is the fact that if a child misses a year of school, he or she cannot come back the next year, regardless of the funds they may scrape together. In a country where no one is in a rush to do anything, time is of the essence for these kids.
On a lighter note, yesterday I was able to buy some speakers for the house and we are now enjoying our free time listening to Michael Jackson and Shakira, while little Sumaia dances around the house. Last night we even got to watch Step Up 2 and although Esther and Sumaia could not understand the English, they loved the dancing! Sarika and I cooked an "American" dinner of Mac and Cheese and Chili for everyone. It was a great night!
The dynamic of the house changes almost daily. We've had two new volunteers arrive this week already. Both are medical professionals - Jason, from Dallas, and Sophie, from London. Our dinner table is always full - I can't wait to post pictures so that you can see everyone! Oh, and before I forget, today was a big day in the house...we had a hot water heater installed! Funny enough, by now I am so used to the cold water, I can't imagine I will even use it, but it's a nice luxury to have.
On Monday I leave for safari for 5 days. The itinerary includes Lake Manyara, the Ngorongoro Crater and, or course, the Serengeti. For the first time this morning I began to really get excited about my plans for next week. I feel so privileged to be able to experience all that I have seen so far and there is so much more to come!