'You learn how to cut down trees by cutting them down.' Bantu, Congolese Proverb
THE STORIES OF OUR WORK
We, at REACH Shirati, are fortunate to have worked with many partners, volunteers and supporters. Through the years, they have shared many stories of their inspirations and adventures. Often their most significant experience has been meeting and working with the gracious, welcoming and resilient people of Shirati-Nyamagongo. There is ample joy here and of course, ample hardship too. But life simply goes on with dignity and hope.
Here, we share some stories from the residents of this region as well as stories from our volunteers.
Amber was inspired to become a lifelong volunteer, after a month in Shirati.
"I am an Obstetrician and Gynecology Resident Physician at UC San Diego and had the opportunity to work at Shirati Hospital through REACH Shirati (formerly AISCS) for 4 weeks in Februrary to March of 2015. This experience was life changing!
"I worked side by side with the Tanzanian doctors and nurses mostly in the operating theatre helping with gynecologic surgery and in Labor and Delivery assisting with complicated deliveries. I learned many valuable lessons in caring for patients in a rural setting with limited resources and had the opportunity to go out to the villages to participate in outreach activities regarding maternal and child health.
"These patient encounters will stay with me forever. Additionally, I developed many wonderful friendships during this time with people from all over the world as well as learned about the rich Tanzanian culture and explored the beautiful country.
"This experience has inspired me to use what I have learned in Shirati to continue to volunteer internationally to help provide care and education to people in resource poor areas throughout my career. I am very thankful for my experience with REACH Shirati!"
Amber Knight, MD
Obstetrician and Gynecology Resident Physician at UC San Diego,
San Diego CA
Kate and Steven thought "we have it in our power to do something that matters so much".
"When our son David joined a group of REACH Shirati (formerly AISCS) volunteers on a trip to Shirati in 2008, we were already supporters of the organization. When David returned, he had many stories to tell. Toward the end of the trip, at a gathering at someone's house, he'd met a man living with AIDS, working a farm together with other men living with AIDS. But none of them was really strong enough to carry their produce to market to sell. If only they had a bike, but a bike would cost around $50, which was out of reach for them. David gave the man $50, a small sum compared to the very large effect it would have on the lives of these men.
"There's such a "straight" sense to the aims and approach of REACH Shirati. While it operates on a small scale, the organization has always figured out how to apply its resources, whether the energy and skills of volunteers or funding, in a way that has the maximum effect on the lives of the people in Shirati. Another thing we learned from our son was that the hospital in Shirati, which serves a large and poor rural region, wasn't able to provide food to patients. Patients depended on their families, who often had to come a long distance to the hospital, to provide them with food. The result was especially harsh for malnourished children and new mothers, who had a critical need for adequate nutrition.
"In the same way that David's $50 could matter so much, we understood immediately that if we could raise even a few thousand dollars , we could fund a program that would feed children and maternity patients for a year. To know that all the money we raised would go for this purpose and to know that we had it in our power to do something that mattered so much (that might help so many children survive) felt like a mandate we had to honor.
"When Dr. Chirangi became director of the hospital, we committed to raising funds every year for the food program. The cost of the program has been shared among our friends and acquaintances and other REACH Shirati supporters, and as that circle grows, we hope one day to fund a food program that feeds every patient. One of the beauties of this program is that the food is cooked by a local women's collective, and the money they earn helps to support their families, so that the effects of our giving are multiplied still further. Every dollar we raise is spent on paying for food. Many of the women in the maternity ward share their food with other patients who are less fortunate. One day we hope we'll be able to honor their spirit by funding a program that feeds all the patients."
Kate Brady and Steven Kahn, San Francisco, CA
Rachel fell in love with little Matieka and that’s all it took to change a future.
"I met Matieka in summer of 2008 when I was in Nyamagongo volunteering with REACH Shirati. I remember meeting this small, shy, adorable boy and falling in love with him. We could not communicate with language, but would sit together under the trees and play games, giggle and dance. When it was time to leave Shirati,
"I knew I wanted to stay connected to him and his family. I also knew that his family was very poor, and had 9 children, and were unable to send them all to school. I realized one way I could contribute to his future was by paying for Matieka to go to Tina's Pre and Primary School where he would learn English, opening up for him the chance to go to secondary school. And with this relationship, the Scholarship Project was born!
"That summer, other volunteers and I took photos of local children and asked them to tell us a bit about themselves. We created a scholarship book, which we brought back to my home town and shared with friends, family, and local businesses. That year we found donors for 13 children! I was thrilled to see so many people step up and with an act of kindness, literally change the future of a child thousands of miles away.
By the end of 2015, the donors to the Scholarship Project sponsor 156 students to attend Tina’s School by paying for their tuition, a daily meal, health care, and other items they need to attend school. For some of these children, the shoes that the scholarship provides as a part of their school uniform is the very first pair of shoes they have ever owned!
"Many children have been able to get an education through this project and many enduring relationships have been formed between REACH Shirati volunteers and Nyamagongo / Shirati kids and teens. I have continued to sponsor Matieka and visited him and his family on my return volunteer trips in 2009 and 2011.
"Today, my family and I sponsor all of his siblings through the Scholarship Project. They are our family now and we share in all their joys and accomplishments."
Rachel Gordon, MSW
Clinical Social Worker, Therapy services with foster children,
West Coast Children's Clinic of Oakland
Mama Usiku lost her family to AIDS... but then she found hope.
June 2013, Nyamagongo, Tanzania
Mama Usiku is a resident of Nyamagongo. She is HIV positive and in 2012, she participated in our first HIV/AIDS Education classes offered to all Nyamagongo residents.
Mama Usiku knew all too well the devastating toll AIDS can take on a family because she had already lost her husband and children to the disease. She explained that she decided to participate in the class to learn how to cope with her circumstance and continue to live her life. Mama Uskiu said she was overjoyed to learn that she could live a longer, healthier life without spreading the infection further.
While taking the AIDS education class she met a boy who was orphaned because of AIDS. “Because of the class, I felt like I understood how to care for those with HIV, and help them get the right treatment. I felt empowered to help this boy with the knowledge I was given.” So she took the boy in as her son and gave him more than a home, she gave him a way to a healthier and longer life.
Now Mama Usiku encourages her neighbors to join the group. The life-enhancing knowledge she gained in the class gave her the courage to live with HIV and made possible a happier and healthier future with her new son.
Jane is a hardworking 4th grader with a scholarship and a bright future.
June 2015, Nyamagongo, Tanzania
Jane Samora is a fourth grader at Tina’s Pre and Primary School. She loves being a student and dreams about going to university.
A few years ago, Jane had a problem. While she was still a first grader, she was told she would not be able to continue in school because her family was unable to pay the small tuition. There simply was no money for her education. Her mother and grandmother had exhausted their extra money on Jane's medical care. A bad burn and ear infections from falling into a cooking fire as a toddler had left Jane with ongoing medical problems. There were seven other children to take care of, and her older siblings were aready working to help support the family. Jane spent her days cleaning and helping her grandmother with cooking and household chores. Lack of schooling meant that she would be married off early, perhaps as soon as she turned 14 or 15, and she would have the life many other teenage girls share in this region of Tanzania - raising a large family in poverty.
In 2009, REACH Shirati, started a scholarship program for girls just like Jane. That school year, we raised funds and asked our teachers to identify girls who were very poor and had to stop attending school, but had made an effort previously and done well in school. Jane's eagerness had certainly been noticed by her teachers. She was elated to find out she was 'chosen', and has worked hard on her studies since.
In addition to tuition, the scholarship also pays for a daily meal, a uniform and her ongoing medical treatments, all thanks to the generosity of a donor in California.
Jane has consistently received 100% grades in English, math, and science, she loves to read and looks forward to school everyday. Although she is too young to realize it, her family knows all too well that with an education her future is bright with opportunities.
Nancy just knew she had to go on this trip to Shirati.
'Western Region Volunteers See MedShare’s Impact Firsthand at Hospital in Tanzania,' Posted on July 27, 2014 on MedShare Blog.
"From the moment that Medshare volunteers [in the Western Region] decided to raise the funds to ship a 40-foot container of medical supplies to Shirati, Tanzania, and I found out there was a possibility that volunteers could go to visit the hospital, I knew I wanted to be one of those volunteers. I actively participated in the fundraising for the container, contributing to the silent auction both in purchases and donations and also asking my friends and family for donations. And then my dream became reality as two other volunteers Fran Jurcso, Camille Harris, and I began our plans to travel to the hospital.
"As we drove down the 18 miles of dirt road, four hours from the closest airport, we knew we were definitely in a very rural area. Dr. Chirangi welcomed us the day we arrived and took us on a tour of the hospital. He pointed out all the equipment the hospital had received from Medshare in their previous shipment and excitedly showed us where all the new equipment would be going from the soon to be received container. Dr. Chirangi told us of all his immediate plans for additions to the hospital, and I realized what a difference receiving the supplies from Medshare would make to allow other money to go into the infrastructure of the hospital to meet more of their needs. As we continued our tour and reached the different wards, I became very aware of the different experience one would have being hospitalized here rather than at home in the United States. There were simply four wards in the main hospital: men, women, pediatric, and maternity. Each ward was simply one big room with barely an aisle to walk in between the beds.
There were no privacy curtains, patients were wearing their own clothes, visiting family members sat on the patients’ beds, and as the doctors examined incisions etc. the patient was exposed for all to see. Those recovering or waiting for surgery may be right next to someone with a contagious disease. The pediatric ward was so crowded we learned, that often they have to have two children per bed. Mosquito netting hung from the ceilings and the window openings had no glass in order to provide air circulation.
"The highlight of the trip for me was when Dr. Chirangi invited us into the operating theatre to observe a surgery. After we put on our booties and masks (items I have sorted at MedShare) along with our scrubs we headed into the surgery room. It was early and the air conditioning had not yet been turned on. We had heard many stories about the surgery room with the leaking anesthesia machine, which is why there was a new one on the shipment about to arrive.
"What we didn’t realize was that we would experience what it was like to be in the room with the leaky anesthesia machine. Before completely embarrassing myself by fainting and giving them an additional patient, I simply left the room a bit green and went and got some fresh air. By the time the second surgery began, the air conditioning was on and I could handle it. It was amazing to watch all the medical supplies I have sorted the last two years of volunteering in action and see first hand what a difference it makes: the bovies and tips, the gauze, the scalpels, the sutures, etc., etc. We watched Dr. Chirangi remove an ovarian cyst the size of a small avocado, repair an umbilical hernia, and remove an appendix all from the same patient in about 30 minutes. He even asked Fran to hand him the #4 Vicryl sutures, which of course she knew from her sorting experience. The news of the container arriving soon, had reached the community and everyone knew who we were as soon as we said we volunteered at Medshare. While we were there we had time to explore the community a bit and found wherever we walked, we soon had children following us, walking with us, talking to us and holding our hands. Everyone in the community was so friendly and welcoming and it made us wish it could be like that back home rather than fearing strangers. The children loved having us take their pictures with our digital cameras and showing it to them, as at home they had no mirrors and didn’t know what they looked like. In fact on our walk from where we stayed to the hospital, (about a half mile) we passed houses that had no indoor plumbing, no electricity, and no running water. We saw how much of the community lives and how families work hard, simply to survive. We saw students walking miles to and from school each day, women walking miles to Lake Victoria to carry water home, (on their head), and we went to the market to see how they buy their food.
"When we left for Shirati, we believed we were going to visit the hospital, but little did we know that we would fall in love with people of the community and want to continue to help them. This trip was an amazing opportunity to see firsthand what our efforts at Medshare do for the communities around the world. It showed us how important it is for us to let others know about Medshare whether they are possible volunteers, recipients, or teams that need supplies to take with them on medical missions. At MedShare, we have listened to stories from doctors and nurses who return from similar areas after their medical missions. As amazing as their stories are, nothing was as incredible as us being there ourselves. Not having any medical experience, we felt privileged to have the opportunity to have this experience. If the opportunity is given to you, take it.
"We would like to thank MedShare and all the volunteers who made this possible for us as well as AISCS (African Immigrants Social and Cultural Services, the former name of REACH shirati) the NGO which funded the ground transportation for this container and also hosted us during our stay in Shirati."
Volunteer, MedShare’s Western Region Distribution Center
San Leandro, California
Prisca's testing day
July 2012, Nyamagongo, Tanzania
Prisca lives with her young family in the village of Nyamagongo. She had been sick for a while in the summer of 2012, so she decided to get tested for HIV by medical staff from the Shirati Hospital at Tina's Pre and Primary School. On the very day Prisca found out she is HIV positive, she started her Antiretroviral therapy at the Hospital with the encouragement of the Women's Health Education Program, and she has been healthy ever since!
Prisca also completed her HIV education classes and joined the HIV support group, "Positive Living." Her husband is HIV negative and she has learned a lot from the support group about how to keep her family HIV negative. "if it wasn’t for the HIV testing day, I might be dead now" she says. Her favorite aspect of being a "Positive living' Support Group member is learning from and sharing with the other participants.
Prisca and the other young people in the group have become community advocates. They encourage their friends and family to get tested and educate them on HIV transmission and healthy living.
Prisca doesn't feels isolated or stigmatized by the disease, instead she has found a new way of looking at the future and living positively.
Tabi learned that a great meal disappears fast, but the memories last forever.
"When I first decided to volunteer with REACH Shirati (formerly AISCS) in Tanzania during the spring of 2014, I wasn’t sure how I could be most helpful. Dr. Laura Mason, the trip organizer, explained a project to makeover the hospital patient lunch program to be more nutrient dense. Nothing makes my ears perk up more than food projects.
Healthy living centered around nutritious food has been something I have been very interested in for over 10 years and have spent a lot of time studying. I am by no means a licensed nutritionist, but I was excited to help in the creative brainstorming process and experimental cooking.
"Upon arrival I paired up with Kelly, a social work intern working on health issues in Nyamagongo and already waist deep in the food project. Our goal was to come up with a more nutrient dense meal than the typical staples in the Tanzanian diet: white rice or Ugali (maize paste). Both of these are significantly lacking in calories, protein, fat, vitamins and minerals. Our requirements were that the meal should be nutritious, made with locally available ingredients, be simple to make, and fit into the modest program budget. The more cost effective the meal, the more patients we could feed.
"Sourcing local meat as the primary protein was pretty far out of the program budget. Therefore, we focused on finding a whole grain paired with beans or lentils to make a complete protein while adding avocados to introduce healthy fat. We explored the weekly Shirati open market to see what ingredients were comparable in price to the current menu. As you can imagine, almost everything was more expensive than rice. We were happy to find a few good options and decided on yellow split peas and millet, topped with avocado. A major factor in our decision-making process was to pick ingredients that were not obscure or far from the comfort level of the patients.
"Compared to white rice, millet has roughly three times the amount of calories, significantly more protein, fat, and carbohydrates. Yellow split peas pack a huge amount of protein and fiber, and avocado provides healthy fat and an abundance of vitamins and minerals such as potassium, vitamin K, vitamin E, fiber, and magnesium.
"A challenge we later ran into was to find out that the beautiful meaty avocados at the market were only used by locals for juicing! We were aware of the risk that unfamiliar combinations of ingredients could be less acceptable to the patients, and tried to keep it as familiar as possible. We also had to keep in mind that the addition of any oil, salt or spice would add to our cost. Therefore the few ingredients we picked had to taste good together without many additions.
"Kelly and I woke up early one morning to prepare this millet-split pea meal for Martha, the amazing lady who is the cornerstone of the hospital kitchen. She was incredibly welcoming and was interested in working with us to come up with a better meal. I thought of her as the sort of “gate keeper.” If she liked what we came up with, she would then present it to the patients and educate them about the health benefits of this new meal vs. the usual rice. When Kelly and I presented the meal to Martha, she and her team of four were hesitant at first but soon asked for seconds! There was relief and excitement in the air. Martha asked Kelly and I to come back in two days to teach her and her team to make the meal and help serve it at the hospital.
"The process was full of laughter and a lot of learning for Kelly and I as we really needed hand-holding to cook over open fire on the three-stone stove! We all worked together to make it happen. When we proudly brought the new meal to the maternity and pediatric wards, there was some confusion but mostly curiosity. As we presented the meal, it took some convincing for the patients to try it but the subtle flavors seemed to exceed the initial skeptical thoughts. The meal was a success!
"Unfortunately, my month in Shirati went by very fast. I had to leave a couple of days after the first new meal was served, but the memories I made in the hospital kitchen will last much longer. Cooking with the generous, warm and welcoming ladies at the Shirati hospital will forever warm my heart and bring a smile to my face, and hopefully fill some tummies with nutrients!"
Tabi Musselwhite, Oakland, CA
Food and nutrition educator/ Alternative education youth mentor
Linda Arot, our health educator, is planning for long, healthy and happy lives, for herself, her family and her community.
"When I first talked with Hattie and Laura about starting an HIV/AIDS Education Project in Nyamagongo, I was so happy. I remember thinking about how our community desperately needed an education and testing project, and how many people’s lives it could save. In fact, I could not stop thinking about it!
"Three years later, with the help of the Global Fund for Women grant, so many of my dreams for this project have come true. The education and testing program has saved lives of many in my community. We have educated hundreds about prevention and opened many eyes to the importance of HIV/AIDS education.
"Yet, creating and leading the Bora Uzima (Better Life) or "Positive Living" support group has meant even more to me. After testing positive, many women are scared and don't know what the future holds for them. In the program and support group they learn how to live positively with HIV, have a normal life, keep their partner and family negative, and even give birth while on medication. They are able to learn from each other, and lean on one another for support and guidance. This also inspires them to educate other women in the community who may fear stigma and not join the group themselves.
"I am grateful for the opportunity to spread my message of hope for a healthier, happier future in my community and beyond, and I will never stop."
REACH Shirati's Leader of Positivel Living HIV/AIDS support and education group,
Kelly learned that health and hope come with a side of happy in Nyamagongo.
Kelly, a Master of Social Work Intern from Washington University in St. Louis, worked with us from January to May, 2014, on the HIV/AIDS Education Project, Hospital Food Project, and school personnel development.
"REACH Shirati is a wonderful, small but mighty organization to volunteer with. Even though I never met Laura in person, she is a very knowledgeable and insightful resource both before, during, and after my volunteer semester with REACH Shirati.
"The Tanzanian host, Fred, (REACH Shirati Porgram Manager and Manager at Tina's Pre and Primary School), is a very gracious host who always makes sure the guests are comfortable, healthy, and safe while also being a great resource to bounce ideas off of when trying to implement new programs or projects.
"The community of Shirati was very welcoming and open to new ideas. Overall, I had a great experience with this organization. If you have a chance to volunteer with REACH Shirati, do everything you can to go because you won't regret it one bit!"
Kelly Collingwood, MSW
Refugee Officer with the US Citizenship and Immigration Service, Washington DC
Jennifer celebrated her 50th birthday by bringing education and opportunity to girls, a world away.
"In 2009, when my 50th birthday was approaching and friends & family kept asking me "What do you want to do to celebrate your birthday?" Many ideas were suggested, but none of them felt right. Then one day I was attending a school function and I heard about this fabulous young lady, Lily Gordon, who used to attend my son's school, Prospect Sierra. She was building brick ovens and helping get clean water to a small school in Tanzania. They were putting together a group to go back for the next summer to build rain water storage tanks and the plan was to leave a couple of days before my birthday.
"I knew instantly this was how I wanted to celebrate turning 50. This was one of the best decisions of my life.
"During the planning stages I got the idea to bring over One World Futbols to the children. I had heard that they love soccer but the balls get chewed up and popped by the thorny terrain. One World Futbols are made to be indestructible. With the help from a few other families from Prospect Sierra we were able to bring over 20 balls. The children loved them. While I was there, we got the idea to plant fruit trees at the school. We had to drive for three hours to another town to find some. I bought, avocado, mango, orange and few other kinds. Keeping them alive, we knew would be very hard with the lack of water, but they promised to take good care of them. I get pictures occasionally on how the trees are doing. I hope some day to bring my son back with me and see the school and trees I planted.
"The people of Shirati are the most kind of loving people I have met. I fell in love with the children at the school. A few little ones captured my heart and we now sponsor their education through the Scholarship Project. When I got back I was able to find sponsors for other children from our Prospect Sierra families. I am so grateful for REACH Shirati (formerly AISCS) to allow me to have this experience!"
Jennifer Burt, Berkeley, CA
Caleb considers his time volunteering with us in Shirati, life-changing.
"Being a volunteer in the REACH Shirati (formerly AISCS) Global Outreach Program has been a life-changing experience for me. I went on my first trip with the program after my junior year of high school and it was by far the most enjoyable summer I’ve ever spent.
"Working on projects at the primary school in Nyamagongo was a very formative experience for me as I began to consider what type of work I wanted to pursue after graduating from high school. I was lucky enough to be able to return to Shirati with REACH Shirati two years later, this time with an emphasis on health-related activities through the nearby regional Shirati Hospital. I am now a pre-medical student intending to work in the field of global health, and I can say with certainty that the time I spent as an volunteer in Shirati-Nyamagongo was foundational to getting me to where I am today."
Fourth year pre-med student at Harvard university, Cambridge, MA
Lashay thought going to Africa was the chance of a lifetime and she would love to go again.
Lashay Thomas visited Shirati and Nyamagongo villages with our Board President Hattie Smith and several other young students in July, 2013, when she was 10 years old. Following are excerpts from her speech to her fifth grade class in the fall following her return.
"First, I would like to thank Mrs. Hattie Smith of REACH Shirati for taking me with her to Africa. And thank you Momma for letting your baby girl go so far away....
"It took a really long time to get to Africa. It took 26 hours on 4 different planes and 5 hour by car on bumpy roads. I was glad that we spent some time in hotels in Mwanza, Tanzania and Dubai. We stayed in a big house in Shirati. There were 5 bedrooms, 2 baths, a laundry room, dining room, a large living room and kitchen. We had a master bedroom suite with our own bathroom. The cooks cooked a lot of food twice a day. I only ate “chips my eye” which are fried potatoes with eggs, greens, beans, rice, and chicken.
"We went to Tina’s Educational Center, an elementary school that is still being built. My friends and I had a chance to teach for a week. They taught arts and crafts and games. I taught the kids how to make rubber band bracelets using their fingers instead of a loom. The kids really liked making bracelets and some of them taught each other. Many of them learned how, in only one hour.
"I saw many kids without shoes and wearing torn clothes. I was glad some of my volunteer hours were spent asking friends, family, neighbors, and church members to donate clothing to my “Shirts for Shirati” project. I was able to give shirts and other clothes to some of the kids in need. We also went to Shirati Hospital. We gave clothing to all newborns and sick children in the hospital. I also had a chance to hold a newborn baby whose twin sister had passed a few days after being born.
"Going to Africa was the chance of a lifetime. Everyone should go and have this experience. I would love to go again when I am older. Thank you."
Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School , Richmond, CA
Lanjanae feels blessed to have all the comforts of home, that's why she wants to help those who have none of those comforts.
Lanjanae Thomas, visited Shirati and Nyamagongo villages with our Board President Hattie Smith and several other young students in July, 2013, when she was 12 years old. Following are excerpts from her speech to her sixth grade class upon her return.
"My name is Lanjanae Thomas and I am a sixth grader at Dr. Martin King Jr. Elementary School in Richmond. First, I would like to thank East Bay Women in Action for awarding me a scholarship and giving me the opportunity to travel out of the country. I am here today to speak about my experiences in Tanzania, Africa...
"I arrived in shirati after 26 hours in the air and 6 hours in a car. The first thing I noticed was that everything was very different in the village of Shirati than in Richmond... [For example] very few people spoke English because their native language was Kswahili. However, the children were studying English at Tina’s Pre and Primary School, where I had a chance to teach art and some English.
"The children were more appreciative and courteous than American students. They were also well behaved. Every day, when we walked into the classroom, they would stand up and say, “Good morning madam of excellence.” Then they would wait until I gave them permission to sit down. I found out later that some of these students had not attended public school because they had to walk many, many miles, sometimes with worn out shoes or they could not attend without shoes. Many parents liked this school better even though they had to pay a little money....
"Although this was a great experience, I am glad to be back home because I am blessed to live in a house with running water, ride on paved roads, and have a bathroom with a toilet. As I look around this room, I can also see that all of you are also blessed... so please consider making a donation to help make a child happy."
Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School, Richmond, CA
Camille brought her passion for service and for computers together at Tina's school!
February 2016, Nyamagongo, Tanzania
"My My name is Camille Harris. I have worked and have lived in California all of my life. In the 1960’s after graduating from high school, I attempted to join Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA). This was a peace corps that served in the United States. I was convinced at that time by my concerned parents to wait a few years. I never joined.
"Through my working life, I never gave up the dream of serving. I achieved a successful career at the phone company and as an independent consultant… always supported by computers.
"I achieved an Information Systems Management degree which was driven by my belief in the importance of education and my connection with computers. I now find myself retired and still nurturing the dream of making a difference. I was introduced to REACH Shirati when they became supporters of a successful effort to send medical supplies to Shirati’s regional hospital. I visited the school being built by REACH in the nearby village of Nyamagongo and was hooked.
"So I requested permission to establish a computer lab/class for the children there. With the help of many wonderful people, my dream is almost achieved. Installation of two Rachel servers, to provide ”Internet in a Box”, will complete the first phase of this work. This will happen in the first half of 2016."
Camille Harris, Hayward, California
Stacie wanted to harness the energy of the sun to help brighten lives and she did that in Nyamagongo!
July 2013, Nyamagongo, Tanzania
"I worked with REACH Shirati for six weeks during the summer of 2013 as a UC Berkeley student in the Global Poverty and Practice Minor. That summer’s focus was a photovoltaic and solar energy project in partnership with Bruce Gardiner of Solar Roots. I gained valuable experience and insight into not only the work and dynamic of REACH Shirati, but also into the impacts of harnessing the energy of the sun to bring sustainable light and power to the classrooms of Tina’s Pre and Primary School.
"The goals of the solar project were to provide electricity to the school for nighttime security, evening classroom lighting, a reliable source of power to prepare for the arrival of laptops, and to provide solar cooking techniques for the teachers and the Nyamagongo Women’s Group.
"After the solar panel project was complete, when the time came to flip the switch, a wave of emotion and relief passed through all of us as the lights shone brightly and we realized we had achieved what we set out to accomplish. The students at Tina’s would be all the better off for it.
"Our experiments with solar cooking were mostly successful, I had the opportunity to take charge of the project toward the end of my stay in Shirati, which meant I was the one to present the first solar-cooked pot of rice to the teachers. I was nervous about how this unorthodox cooking technique would be received, but I soon breathed a sigh of relief and laughed when the one criticism I heard was that I should have salted the rice first!
"One of the great things about that trip was that the volunteers had the freedom to create their own side-projects, such as re-installing a tire swing for the playground and fashioning two soccer goals which required learning how to hand weave the nets, and building a new bookcase for the teacher’s store room.
"I am ever thankful to have traveled with this group, met the inspiring teachers of Tina’s, been welcomed into the home of the Chacha family, and helped create the sustainable improvements to the school which will bring increased safety and growth for the students, and community of Nyamagongo/Shirati."
Stacie Vance, Novato, California
Sam started an organization to help kids in Shirati, proving that a big heart is all you need to do big things!
February 2016, Berkeley, California
"My name is Samuel Kaplan-Pettus, and I am a sixth grader at Willard Middle School in Berkeley. When I was in third grade I got the chance to be on my school service council. One of our big jobs was to help organize our school’s walk-a-thon for charity.
"The first step was to find an organization. So I polled my class and found that people wanted to help with a lot of different issues, such as healthcare, education, and nutrition. My teacher gave me a list of nonprofits, and the one I thought best met my classes wishes was Reach Shirati (then AISCS).
"In the walk-a-thon we raised about $2,000 for Reach Shirati. The next year we had another walk-a-thon in which we raised another $3,000 and as a class we sewed book bags and sent them over to the school in Shirati. Since fifth grade I have been raising more money on my own with the help of my sister and my friends.
"We call ourselves “Kids for Shirati” this includes classmates and friends - about 8 kids altogether, We have been holding bake sales and raised over $4,000. In our latest efforts we have raised $2,000 of that amount toward the cost of building a third water tank in the village of Nyamagongo.
"Our goal is to raise $8,000 by the end of June 2016 through bake sales, Go Fund Me, and a silent auction. I really look forward to going to Shirati with my family this summer to help build the water tank that we are raising money for.
"I really want to thank everyone who has helped and guided me, including my teachers, my family, and Laura Mason. This project has became one of the biggest driving forces in my life.
Samuel Kaplan-Pettus, Berkeley, California
Victoria thought "Every patient deserves at least one good meal a day", especially after meeting a young mother of triplets!
October 2016, Maastricht, Netherlands
"I am a fifth year medical student from Germany, studying at Maastricht University in the Netherlands. During a clinical internship at Shirati Hospital in 2015, I was confronted with many difficult patient cases. One case that was particularly moving and made a great impression on me, was that of a 20-year-old young woman, Rosemary, who gave birth to triplets - something very unusual in rural Africa.
"Rosemary was not able to provide sufficient breast milk to her newborns, despite the staff’s support and education about breast feeding. In their first weeks the babies were not thriving and gaining weight. Finally, we realized that Rosemary was simply not getting enough nutritious food herself to produce sufficient milk. She had no family nearby to provide her with food, nor did she have money to buy food herself.
"That was the moment when I decided that I had to start bringing food to Rosemary and other women in the ward from my own supplies or directly from the market. However, I knew that I could not sustain this in the long run for the entire ward – or for Rosemary alone. At this time the REACH Shirati hospital food program was already in place, but due to a lack of funding, it could not provide more than one meal a day, five days a week, to patients in the maternity and pediatric wards (no meals were provided for the male and female adult wards).
"I thought the meal situation in the hospital was unacceptable, and I felt a great need to do something about it. To provide every patient with at least one meal a day, more money was needed for the hospital food program. Therefore, on my return to Germany, I started a fundraising initiative, the Shirati Food Program, raising funds every month in Germany and the Netherlands and sending a monthly contribution to the Shirati Hospital Food Program.
"The goal of providing every patient at the hospital with one meal a day, has not been reached yet, but we are well on our way- and our list of supporters keeps growing."
See Victoria’s INIGEM Shirati Food Program page in German.
Victoria von Salmuth
Maastricht University, Netherlands
Manuel's Gender Respect Project was his way of contributing something tangible that adds another dimension to the thriving environment at Tina's!
June 2019, Nyamagongo, Shirati, Tanzania
"In May of 2009, I was at an end of the year party from CAL at Diana Malin’s house. At this party, I happened to sit across from Dr. Laura Mason. Over the course of the evening, Laura shared with me the life changing programs that REACH Shirati (formerly ASICS) was leading in rural Tanzania. I was hooked. A month later, I was in Shirati with a group of student volunteers to build a water catchment system.
Fast forward to January of 2019, and I was once more on my way to Shirati to teach and conduct some research. When I arrived at Tina’s Primary School, I was stunned. Out of the single building and water tank that stood there when I left in 2009, a vibrant school with multiple water tanks had emerged along with various buildings hosting classrooms brimming with students listening attentively to their teachers.
Seeing this transformation was remarkable, and a reflection of the immense dedication by REACH to establish a school that provides life-altering education to hundreds of children.
At Tina’s, the staff does more with the resources available to them than any school I know. No books, chalk, pens, papers, or pencils are wasted. The students too, are astounding. They show a thirst for knowledge and a true appreciation for their education. Some spend as much as two hours to walk to school – one way. Being here has given me a glimpse of the possibilities that exist, and the long-term impact the school can have for this community if allstudents proceed to secondary school after graduating from Tina’s.
The school is so full of life, so full of hope, that I have thought out a way to contribute and establish something tangible that adds another dimension to this thriving environment. So, with the support of REACH, the input of the wonderful Dr. Chirangi, and the incredible day-to-day efforts of the staff at Tina’s, we created a Gender Respect Program. Through a curriculum centered around sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) and gender-based violence (GBV), this program provides students with information enabling them to make decisions that improve their chances to remain in school and lead healthy lives.
With the program now in its first year, I can’t help but be grateful for REACH Shirati and, above all, the dedication of all those locally involved at the school. At Tina’s, challenges exist. In fact, there are challenges every day. But every day, challenges are overcome through an uncanny perseverance that is ingrained in the social fabric of the school.
To say that my experience with REACH Shirati has been transformative is no exaggeration. REACH has significantly shaped the way I perceive the world we all share. It is an organization through which I have encountered exceptional individuals and witnessed how positive change can occur when people are determined to make a difference. Effectively, REACH has prompted a life-long commitment to acquire local knowledge from communities like Shirati and seek ways to engineer culturally relevant community development.
Ten years ago, I first heard about REACH without knowing anything of Shirati. Today, I could not share anything about REACH without talking about the beautiful human beings of Shirati, especially the students at Tina’s Primary School and its staff. To that end, ASANTE SANA Madame Anna, Fred Chacha, Moses William, Dishon Owino Aketch, Linda Arot, Vanessa Chyomhang, Juma Pangani, Denis Shabaan, Hellen Laurent, Wilson Marcelo, Mollie Ojala, Meekness Allen Mzava, Benard Samwel, Mary Ogola, Iren Fideli, Goa Achieng, Anna Paul, Caroline Emmanuel, Pendo Mangu, Willis Omolo, Deus Joseph, and all the inspiring students at Tina’s Primary School (and many others beyond Tina’s, like Dr. Chirangi)."