Ipalamwa Adventure


My Third Annual 3-Week Volunteer Vacation with Global Volunteers

Each year of volunteering with Global Volunteers in Ipalamwa, Tanzania is a new adventure and safari (is Kiswahili for journey). It’s not just the physical journey of getting and being there it’s more of a mental and spiritual journey; learning more about the Tanzanian people, resources, politics and culture, as well as learning more about myself… This year lead to the adventurous idea of retiring on my own mountain in the Iringa Region of Tanzania running a kindergarten and orphanage, which is an ongoing email discussion with my rafiki (friend) and Global Volunteers Country Manager, Edward. This year’s safari is best described in the following topics and photos.

Ipalamwa Secondary School Form 4 Graduation

Ipalamwa_StoryGlobal Volunteers’ host partner is the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Tanzania (ELCT) Iringa Dioces, which has had a partnership with Global Volunteers for over 25 years, and owns and manages 7 Secondary Boarding Schools along with thousands of church congregations in the Iringa Region of Tanzania. I serve at the Ipalamwa Village and ELCT Ipalamwa Secondary School, which has only 4 Forms or grades instead of their traditional 6. Here’s a little background… Tanzania secondary school consists of Forms 1-6 with official government exams held at Form 2, 4, and 6 and based on the exam scores the government determines whether a student continues to the next Form and what schools they can attend. Thus, the students at Ipalamwa Secondary School graduate at Form 4 and then wait at home from October through January to be told if they will go on to Form 5 and whether they can go to a Government School or a Private School, such as the other ELCT school in Pommern.

This year, I had the honor and privilege to attend the Ipalamwa Secondary School Form 4 Graduation. It meant the world to me and to a number of the students whom I taught and befriended the previous 2 years. Students, Teachers, School Cooks, and Church Woman preparing the grand feast for after the Graduation Ceremony. Boiling in all the pots are rice, potatoes, ugali (best described as a corn flour paste that is the staple for all Tanzanians), greens, and beef. A calf was purchased for the special event and it was bled by Mohamed, our Global Volunteers assistant team leader, as he is the only Muslim invited to the ceremony. I learned the Muslim tradition that for Mohamed to share in the celebration and meal, he had to be the one to bleed the calf.

As a side note, these buildings were the teacher’s living quarters when I was there in 2008 and 2009. They are now abandoned due to their dilapidation with the roofing and other salvageable parts to be used for other construction projects. This year a few of the Teacher’s were living in what used to be the Headmaster’s house and the rest live in homes of the Lutheran Church congregation members in the village. Most of the teachers are transient, due to the poor school conditions and lack of money for consistent salaries. This is one of the many issues in the school. Without permanent, dedicated and committed teachers, the new Headmistress is and will continue to struggle to deliver her vision and the business plan we worked on together.

Ipalamwa_Story2The Graduation Ceremony began with a formal processional with the graduates in front wearing white and black and the undergraduates in the back wearing their school uniform of burgundy and white. The road had been decorated with the banana leaves, lavender flowers and vines. They used rope and the vines to make the archway the students are dancing under. The students are dancing and singing a traditional celebration song.

In the background the unfinished building is to become two more Dormitories with Global Volunteers’ assistance. They were started in 2009 and as you can see are still unfinished; one of the many unfinished projects at the school.

Ipalamwa_Story3The Graduates, Underclassman and Parents all danced and sang traditional celebration songs before the ceremony began. The Bishop and other School Dignitaries arrived and gave beautiful speeches sending the graduates off, encouraging them to continue their education. It was all very fun and festive. Not the formal affairs of our graduations in large gymnasiums or outside football stadiums. You can see the broken chairs and church benches were carried over 2km from the church to this shaded area on the school grounds. It was minimalistic, but there was more love and excitement than I’ve ever seen. They were all very excited that they had an electric sound system with a portable generator and a DJ to play music and to use a microphone for everyone to hear the speeches and names being called. This was a first for the school and village.

(Most of the village has no electricity and the school has a generator that runs nightly from dusk to 10pm for the students to study, but only if there is money for gasoline. One night when the Headmistress was gone to a Deices week long 2011 planning meeting, there was no money for the gasoline, so we volunteers donated the money. Then the next two nights there was no electricity as the generator “broke”. On the third day the headmistress finally arrived with a “mechanic” who said it hadn’t been oiled/lubed properly, so another school “maintenance” issue.)

Work Project: Building the New Girls Toilet

Upon our arrival in Dar es Salaam, we were informed this year’s work project was to finish building the 4 room classroom building started in 2009 and the Chemistry Laboratory started in 2008. Once we arrived in Iringa Town and met the new Headmistress, we were informed there was an emergency project to replace the girls’ toilet. The brick outhouse toilet that was down the hill from the girl’s dormitory collapsed and a temporary wooden structure was immediately built, but it would not last the rainy season. For many reasons, the new toilet became the highest priority over the classrooms, laboratory and all the other unfinished projects. During the tour of the school grounds with the new headmistress, it became very clear that the projects started in my prior two years of volunteering were continuing, and additional issues arose each day. The school is falling apart. Thus, it became clear that this was an opportunistic year for me to let go of my own agenda and frustration and desire — I can’t give up on this village and school. Instead, I found the strength to continue to stand by them and provide guidance and wisdom in any way I could.

Ipalamwa_Story4Besides the building project, we spent time teaching English, Mathematics and Civics to the Secondary School Students and we spent a few mornings teaching English Songs to the Government Primary School Students. We also took some more relaxing time to stamp the books in the office that were sorted last year and never stamped. Once again, an opportunity to not get frustrated over a project started a year ago and just to go with the natural flow of the community.

The pit was dug and the dirt moved aside for the foundation/base of the toilet. Since there is a lack of shovels and hoes to do the work and as to not get tired, they take turns doing the work so a lot of people stand around watching. We pitched in but they said American’s strength is with our brain and not our body, so they didn’t let us in the pit and would only let us move the dirt for a few minutes. Thus, we became paparazzi!

Ipalamwa_Story7We helped the students assigned to carrying bricks, which were from the pile left in 2008 for the classrooms, to the dorm toilet construction site. Many of the bricks were broken and buried under the over grown weeds and grass. The girls were smart and found boards to stack 10-15 bricks to carry at once so they only had to make 2-3 trips for their assigned 30 bricks. Many of the boys were like us volunteers only carrying 2-4 in our hands. A portion of the money we donated for the work project went to purchasing another very large truck load full of bricks, as well as the cement, sand and small stones for the mortar and the rebar. Once we had piles of bricks by the construction site, we used a chain/line to pass the bricks down into the pit. Again, we were told this was too hard and we were told to wear gloves to stay clean and keep our hands soft.

The bricks were laid on the bottom for the foundation and the students used empty corn sacks to carry the sand and small rocks to the pit. There are no wheel barrows or other machines to do the work.

Passing bricks and sand, as well as collecting water was our work. The students/men doing the actual bricklaying were trained mason. The man on the right (below) is a 38 year old Form 3 student who is a mason and carpenter. He is away from his wife and two children to gain an education to further his business and earn more money to then put his children through school. There are many adults in school for this reason.

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You’ll see the mortar is prepared on the foundation/floor. The sand and water are carried down in buckets with the bricks tossed down from above. We realized why some of the buildings don’t last long; their ratio of sand, cement, and small stones in highly different from ours. They can’t afford the cement and small stones, so they use more sand, which makes it weaker and not hold up as long.

Ipalamwa_Story8We met with the Government Primary School students and teachers where they are learning some traditional HeHe tribal dances. We also spent time in different classes teaching them the words and motions to “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes”, as well as “The Hokey Pokey”. We even taught one class how to tell time.

Ipalamwa_Story9Here I am teaching Mr H, how to do “The Hokey Pokey” (on the right). He was a great student. He was one of the oldest villagers, at the age of 72. He was still teaching Religion at the Secondary School and was a very active School Board member. He was responsible for most of the work projects each year that I was there. He escorted me last year to the meeting with the General Secretary to discuss the Business Plan I advised the School Board in writing. It was a very sad day in early November that I received an email on the passing of Mr H. Without a doctor in the village, they can only assume he died of a stroke. I will always remember Mr. H!

Work Project: Business Counseling

Ipalamwa_Story10I met with the new Headmistress to review last year’s Business Plan and Project Plans and reminded her that it needs to be updated with the status of the projects. I also suggested that she add all the projects she envisions for the school. We discussed the difference of the annual operating budget which is funded by the students’ tuition and that all the maintenance projects in the Business Plan needed to be funded in another way. I recommended a number of international foundations that raise money for such projects in Africa and the need to finish the Business Plan to send to these organizations for potential partnerships. She was very excited and agreed to update the plan and keep me informed of the progress and request any assistance and advisement as needed. I have not heard directly from her, but I’m told she continues to use the plan. However, the issues of funding and a different sense of urgency still continue.

Ipalamwa_Story11Every year, I’ve heard talk of the Pommern School and how much further advanced they are than Ipalamwa. Pommern is the first school and village Global Volunteers worked in. Again this year there were discussions on how Pommern does things differently than Ipalamwa. So we requested a visit to Pommern on our way back to Iringa Town and our journey back home. Edward agreed as all our supplies needed to be returned to Pommern, as well as our cook, Momma Toni. Upon arriving, Edward organized a guided tour of the village and school. The photo on the left is of the Computer Lab (right) that runs on solar panels and all computer equipment is donated from a foundation. The Mission House and offices can accommodate more than volunteers, where Ipalamwa can currently only accommodate 5-7.

Ipalamwa can learn from Headmasters of the successful schools to meet regularly and share best practices with the schools that are not performing as well. I see all the potential and opportunities for Ipalamwa to be a great school and I will continue to be of service as long as they want me to. “A rock pile ceases to be a rock pile the moment a single man contemplates it, bearing within him the image of a cathedral.” – Antoine De Saint-Exupery.

School and Village

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On our daily walks through the village, the primary school students scream and ask us to take their picture. Many of the children are enthusiastic and look beyond what little they have. They have the drive and dreams to learn and to have a future better than what they currently have. It’s inspiring to listen to them despite their hardships and living conditions compared to American children.

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On the left is an inspiring woman and some of her children with other village children.

Each year I’ve been to the village her home and shop have grown. Her and her husband have farm land down the mountain and sell the surplus of fruits and vegetables they don’t need for their family. They also run one of the largest shops in the village. This is where each year we’ve gone to have Coca Cola’s, Fanta’s, as well as Safari and Kilimanjaro Beer. The brick building on the right is new. It is her new kitchen and I won’t be surprised if next year she has her own little restaurant or some other business. The photo on the right is where the brother-in-law of the Store Keeper has his brick making business. This family is very entrepreneurial and driven to make a better life for themselves and their children. They are a sign of HOPE for the rest of the villagers.

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The women of the village are very strong and hardworking. One afternoon we drove down the mountain to one of the wells to collect water for our cooking and bathing. It took a few hours to fill all our jugs. The entire time the woman on the left was doing her laundry%by hand. The woman on the right is making a small basket and sold us a number of them to bring back as souvenirs for friends/family. She sold them for 3,000 Tanzanian Shillings ($2.00 USD). I adore this woman. She doesn’t speak any English, but held my hand and told our student interpreter that she remembered me from the previous two years and was glad I was there to support the village.

Working on the Future


This shows another new construction site. The headmistress’s vision is for a new indoor kitchen with an adjoining all purpose hall for dining, announcements, presentations, etc., which are all currently done outside, even during rainy season. However, this is just one of the many non-finished projects due to lack of funding.

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Besides the villagers, students, teachers and Global Volunteer’s leaders, I return each year for these breath-taking views. The sunsets are amazing, and the peaceful sounds of birds along with the lack of connection to the rest of the world makes it three weeks of peace, relaxation, love and inspiring reflection.

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