As many of you know, Chrysalis has invested heavily in international travel with our students since our inception, and by this point, we’ve traveled all over the planet. It’s felt very important to get our kids beyond our borders in a regular way to allow them to discover that other cultures are quite different, rich, beautiful, historic, compelling, and completely foundational in many ways for our own American culture. In our experience, nothing puts a dent in adolescent entitlement and raging narcissism like good old fashioned service work, done side-by-side with the recipients of the service. At the other end of the spectrum, nothing fuels a sense of worthy accomplishment and healthy pride than the act of giving back to people who are less fortunate. One of our destinations, Tanzania, has a special place in our collective heart. We traveled there twice, in 2009 and 2012, with great expectations about the ambitious service projects and adventures that we had planned. By the time we left, weeks later, our eyes were wide open and our hearts were full.
When our first group of 13 students arrived in Moshi, which is at the base of Kilmanjaro, we were introduced to Innocent, a ward official for the Kaloleni district. He led us each day along a dusty trail on the outskirts of town that passed by the simple, marginal living spaces of the area surrounding Kaloleni school. Kaloleni was a substantially impoverished school for elementary and middle school-aged children. There was no running water, only one room with any electricity, a wood-burning rough brick stove in an outdoor hut that served as a kitchen, and deteriorating open-air classrooms. The perimeter was un-fenced and unprotected, making it possible for animals and predatory people to wander in and out of their “campus”. During our first service week we built a few hundred feet of fence along the property lines, constructed a formidable soccer goal and set it in concrete in the ground (the previous one had been stolen) painted classrooms, repaired the concrete floors in classrooms, and repaired the grand canyon that had erupted across their dirt soccer field during the last rainy season. We mixed about a ton of concrete the old fashioned way–in piles of sand and cement on the ground–in order to secure the new fence posts in the ground. And lastly, we converted a former toilet into a teacher’s quarters, which eventually came to house a family of four. We arrived as strangers from the USA, but we left as close friends and promised to return someday.
Our second trip to Kaloleni in 2012 featured a group that was twice as large, and had an even greater goal. We had raised about $14K during the interim period in order to build a ten foot platform that supported/held a 500 gallon water tank. A brewery about a mile away had provided a water line to the school that was occasionally useful, but often “turned off”. The water tank could be filled when water was available for use during the times that no water was flowing through the line. We used the balance of the funds to build a legitimate, enclosed kitchen, complete with a sink (and running water from the tank just outside) a storage room, secured windows, a locking door, and a small office. It even had a roof. The new kitchen vaulted Kaloleni from the poorest school position in Moshi to the most envied school in Moshi. We also repainted classrooms, and bought a genuine glass window for the headmistress’s office. Lastly, we completed the fencing project, begun in 2009, and constructed a beautiful entry way with a gate to secure the campus. All the hard work on both of these service trips was done hand-in-hand with the good people of Kaloleni–parents, students, and faculty. There was a very sweet spirit among all in the group, and our work together has produced lasting friendships with many of them. Our service has served us very well.
Since we were in the neighborhood, we also visited the summit of Kilimanjaro, the Serengeti, the N’gora N’gora wildlife preserve, a Masai village, and Zanzibar. I’ll tell you all about those incredible adventures in months to come.