The following blog was written by our trip leaders. They've covered the news fantastically. I will blog again when I have computer access- after the climb:
"Happy 4th of July to our fellow Americans!
We are writing you from Arusha, fresh off the heels of our community service project in Mto wa Mbu. How do I even begin to tell you about all the amazing adventures we have shared in just 9 days?!
After over 16 hours of flight time, we arrived at the Kilimanjaro airport greeted by Gabriel who will be our guide up the mountain of Kilimanjaro in less than 24 hours. With a smile on his face and a helping hand, Gabriel assisted us in loading our enormous amounts of gear into the bus as we headed to our hotel for the evening in Arusha. Considering our fatigue from flying clear across the globe, we crashed pretty hard that first evening but not before enjoying a late night buffet at the SG Resort Hotel! The next morning, we loaded up the bus to make our way to Mto wa Mbu where we would be participating in our community service project. On our way, we had an opportunity to stop at a lovely outdoor restaurant called the River House where we enjoyed a buffet complete with fresh fruits, veggies and barbeque. This lunch was a great time to get to know one another and introduce our thoughts regarding what we were most looking forward to during our adventure.
When we finally arrived in Mto wa Mbu, we found ourselves at the Njake Lodge – our home away from home for the next six nights. After our yummy dinner, we were treated to an acrobatic performance from some of the local Tanzanians and we were amazed at their skills! At our first night’s Moonup, Ben Turner and Mary Virginia (the group elders!) were selected as our first LODs (Leaders of the Day) as Clark and I knew we could depend on them to set the tone for positive leadership skills. I awoke the next morning to the sounds of laughter and splashing as Clark, Rebecca and Meg took an early morning swim in the pool at the Njake Lodge. Grace also took an accidental swim when Hugh playfully pushed her in. What a way to wake up!
We were then greeted by our tuk tuk drivers who would be transporting us to the community service site all week in their speedy little 3-wheeled taxis. The gang had a blast on these as we navigated through twists and turns across the dusty plains of the Lake Manyara region. We passed dozens and dozens of Maasai villages, and you would have thought we were celebrities. Small children would run out of their homes shouting “Jambo! Jambo!” to greet us. It was a sight to see. After our 10 minute commute in the tuk tuks, we met Michael and Junior who are teachers at the secondary school in the village. They introduced us to some of students who are participating in the Red Sweater Project, the organization with which we’d be working. This is a non-profit not only inteterested in providing education but also creating a more self-sustaining environment for this impoverished area. Michael and Junior introduced our project to us: rennovating a dusty, delapidated brick building into what would become a classroom for primary school students. We began our day by plastering the inside and outside of the building as well as mixing concrete for the floors. We found that throughout the week, most of our days would begin with this type of work while the afternoons would be spent playing sports and singing songs with the Maasai children.
Early into the community service project, we were amazed at how close we had become already with these young folks, even though we could not speak the same language. Hugh, Dallas and Ben Hoopes were the game masters of the group, teaching the young Maasai boys how to throw footballs or kick soccer balls while the girls, especially Mallory, Laura, Mary Virginia, Rebecca and Grace, taught some fun pop songs to the Masaai girls, like “Call Me Maybe.” Everywhere I looked that afternoon, positive human interaction was taking place…one of my favorite moments was watching the young Africans stare in awe at Ella’s red hair, something they had surely never seen!
On our third day, we began painting the interior and exterior of the school white as a base coat. In the hot sun, we took a couple breaks and made our way to the small, primitive convenience store ran by one of the school teacher’s wives. CJ especially liked getting little Tanzanian treats like cookies and sharing with them group. That afternoon, we split into two groups and hiked to a few local Maasai villages. We were able to see the inside of their tiny huts which sleep up to about 10 people (and even some goats!) The villagers were happy to see us and so welcoming to their homes. Clark’s group took the digital Polaroid camera and was able to give the photos instantly to the villagers who were so grateful to receive the first photos they’d ever seen of themsleves!
On our last full day of service, LODs Laura and Morgan organized the presentation of the donations we’d brought. The art supplies from Ben Turner, the soccer balls from Ella and the clothing (and dental supplies) from Grace were a hit! Michael, Junior and the students were so happy to receive all these items that will serve the school so well for such a long time. We then played a big group game of “volleyball” before departing and spending another fun night at the Njake Lodge playing Catchphrase!
On our final day in Mto wa Mbu, Michael and Junior took us on a long hike to the natural spring which supplies the village with water. Some of us were able to see baboons and monkeys from afar, and for many of us, it was the first time we had seen such animals in person. We are looking forward to seeing more African wildlife on the safari after our domination of Kilimanjaro. To reward ourselves for the job well done during community service and on the hike, Vincent (our cook) surprised us with a pizza party complete with chocolate cake! The villagers at the restaurant where we ate the pizza were so intrigued by us, they asked us to sing a song for them in our English language. We chose to perform “Wagon Wheel” as a group, and the villagers thanked us by singing their Tanzanian song “Jambo.” One of them even asked Mallory to dance, which was pretty entertaining!
We are so proud of what we accomplished in that small Maasai village…we can’t wait to show you photos of the complete transformation with which we helped…turning a rusty, rundown building to a bright and shiny new classroom. We have learned so many lessons from the friendly Maasai people that we will surely carry with us back to the States. We have also made so many quality new friends, especially Michael and Junior who have inspired us greatly to lend a helping hand whenever possible. For now, we must get packed up for the upcoming trek of Kilimanjaro. We will be sending an update again in about 7-8 days, so stay tuned to learn about our successes!"