Tuesday, June 24, 2008


Many would agree that I enjoy a good political discussion here and there when I'm in the States. While here in Africa, however, I've tried to avoid any discussions pertaining to American politics in order to keep myself safe. I have on occasion shared the Obama love (having a Kenyan father makes Obama incredibly popular here in East Africa) with a few of Pastor's friends, but other than that I've kept mum on my liberal stances. Unfortunately, I can't seem to avoid the politics at the orphanage. Despite my greatest attempts to stay out of the political drama that is enfolding within the orphanage, I always seem to get sucked in. Today was no different.

Without going into too much detail, for awhile now, there have been financial difficulties at the orphanage. This seems to be a common problem across Tanzania. The financial difficulties at the orphanage, however, has a direct impact on the children being served as well as volunteers who donate their time and money. The lack of food for the children, the postponed building of the orphanage center, and the complete lack of resources despite a constant flow of donation money is an obvious red flag. Megan and I have been informed of the financial problems by a few volunteers who have been frustrated with the situation. Pastor has also given us his side of the argument. During our initial, awkward meeting with the orphanage director, she was immediately on the defensive with us and attempted to lay some ground rules down for us in regards to donating items, including money. We were essentially told that everything had to go to the kids, whether our donors (Mama Bertucci, the Mayer family, my parents, etc) had specified a certain project or not. This put me on edge as I believe that the only person I'm responsible to for donations is the person who donated the item. While in this meeting, Megan spoke up and informed the orphanage director that she felt we were the wrong people she needed to address as the specific situation she was referring to did not involve us. Unfortuantely the orphanage director continued to discuss the issue with us along with other political issues they're dealing with within the orphanage.

Since that meeting, we've been trying to lay low by focusing our attention on teaching the kids while they're at school and using our free time (with the orphanage director's approval) to assist Pastor in building his house. We thought we were out of the woods last week as things went really well in the classroom, but I guess good times can't last forever. Yesterday while walking to the dalla-dalla stop, we received a call from Belinda, another volunteer, telling us that the orphanage director didn't want us coming to the orphanage, rather we were to go and sort through clothing at another project. We complied and assissted in packaging 30 boxes for families in the area. It was a quick job, but it had to be done. When we left, the director of the program asked Megan and Belinda to come back the next day (today) to help deliver the boxes. They both agreed.

Last night as I was planning for today's school lessons, Morgan (a volunteer we room with), was pulled aside by our VPGC. He informed her that he had spoken to the orphanage director and that she did not want us (Megan, Magnus, Morgan, and I) coming to the orphanage the next day (today) because we would be utilized better at the other project. Morgan informed our VPGC that she didn't sign up to work at the other project and that she wanted to go and teach the kids. Paraphrasing Morgan, our VPGC told her that we need to stop trying so hard to always be fixing something and that sometimes you just need to do nothing.

When Morgan informed us of this conversation, as she was asked to do so by our VPGC (don't ask me why he refuses to talk to us as a group), we all became very upset. We knew that just yesterday (Monday) a new group of 3 volunteers had arrived to work at the orphanage and were living in our host families homes, a mere week after we were pulled for financial reasons. Our interpretation of the orphanage director's desire to keep us from coming to the orphanage was that she didn't want us talking to the other volunteers about our frustrations and that it was easier to just push us out. Knowing how much I had invested in my classroom, I made the decision last night to go into school today.

Going against the grain and facing confrontation head on is not my strong suit. Thus, making the decision to go to school today wasn't easy. I had nightmares all night, made obvious by my tangle of sleeping bag, stuffies, and blanket. I awoke this morning by myself and headed off to the Village, an hour and a half trip. Simply making it to the Village alone in one piece was a huge accomplishment. I was harrassed on the dulla-dulla when the driver wouldn't give me back the correct amount of change, but I stood my ground until he paid me. I was repeatedly called Mzungu (typically a racist term for white person), yet I ignored each call. I was definitely worried about the orphanage director's reaction when I turned the corner at the school.

When I arrived at school, it was raining and no one was there except for Pastor and a handful of children. I collected the supplies I needed and went into the classroom to play with the kids. The teachers arrived an hour later (already an hour later for school) as did the new volunteers and the orphanage director. I taught for 2 hours before break time. During break time I had tea with the other volunteers and saw the orphanage director. She was not pleased to see me. She tends to be very passive aggressive and simply said to me, "Why didn't you go to the other project?" I informed her that I was here for the kids (her words from our first meeting) and that I didn't want to leave their teacher without the lesson plans I assured her I would have. The orphanage director scoffed at me and left the room.

For the 45 minute break a man from an international orphans program discussed the ways in which his program is going to assist the orphanage in becoming a more reputable program. Everything he said was wonderful, but it just felt as if it was arriving 10 minutes too late. Elsa, a volunteer who's been here for 10 weeks and leaves on Monday, asked all of the hard questions as she's been dealing with the difficulties at the orphanage much longer than the rest. The man was very helpful, yet the orphanage director continued to be icy to Elsa and I. After the meeting, Elsa and I went back to our class and finished teaching for the day. I meant to talk to the orphanage director one on one to ask her about the other project situation (supposedly there's going to be a meeting on Friday about our position at the other project), but she had left early.

I do NOT want to be involved in the politics at the orphanage and don't want to spend the next 5 weeks working at the other project. I also don't want to spend 5 weeks feeling like I'm constantly walking on egg shells regarding the teaching I want to do. I came here to assist the children at the orphanage and would like to continue doing that until Megan's parents arrive at the end of July. If the orphanage director is going to be cold towards me and continue to make it difficult for me to teach my class and work with our teacher (the WONDERFUL Tanzanian teacher of my class), I'm going to be very physically and emotionally drained. I'm also frustrated with the lack of support from our VPGC. He seems to believe that the orphanage director can do no wrong and can't seem to understand why we're frustrated with the situation at the orphanage. All in all, it's making for a very frustrating and annoying trip.