Saturday, April 25, 2009

A Gift of Books

A big JAMBO! (Hello!) to the students and teachers of Amy Belle Elementary School in Germantown. They recently hosted a day-long cultural exchange event -- "Tanzafest" -- in partnership with Hearts in Unity. Attending a presentation in the morning, they learned about life in the small villages of Tanzania, Africa. Captivated by the stories and photos, the students asked such thoughtful questions about their new friends at Seela Primary School in Tanzania. It was so heartwarming to see the connection of hearts that were made that day.

In the afternoon, the Amy Belle students reached out in friendship to the students in Seela, and made over 400 Swahili/English phrasebooks as a way to help their new Tanzanian friends learn English.

Special thanks to Diane M. for her dedication to the PTA and to the students, and for her help with organizing and coordinating this cultural sharing opportunity for all at Amy Belle School. To the PTA and the teachers for their encouragement and support, and to the many volunteers who helped the students assemble the books... we couldn't have done all of this without you. Thanks for opening your heart to students on both sides of the world.

Our sincere thanks also to Mr. Finger -- a principal who is clearly admired by both students and teachers for his vision for this school. The legacy you will leave when you retire next year will be the respect that you taught the students by example.

It was an amazing day!

Join us in watching this connection unfold... student to student and friend to friend.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

A Child is Waiting for You

There are over 2.5 million orphans in Tanzania. Most of them have lost their parents due to the HIV/AIDS pandemic, but accidents and disease (cancer, malaria, etc.) also leave many orphaned children with relatives, often their grandparents to try to care for them and their siblings. Worse yet, they are abandoned and left to make their own way in the world as street children.

How can you help?

When you partner with a Tanzanian orphan through Hearts in Unity, you open up a new world of hope for these precious children. Through your ongoing communications as a pen pal and friend to your partner child, you can build a special bond of sharing, learning, caring and encouragement... a heart-to-heart relationship that will transform that child’s life... and yours.

There is a child waiting for you in the village of Mwika, on the slopes of Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania.

Do you have room in your heart?

To learn more about connecting with an orphan pen pal in Tanzania, please visit our website at and click on the "How I can Help" tab.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

A Shipment of Blessings

Last September, we shipped nearly 1 ton (yes, 2,000 pounds!) of donated school supplies, teaching materials, books, clothing, sewing machines and more to the villages of Seela and Mwika in Tanzania.

It was a long journey! From Wisconsin to Iowa, boxes of donations then loaded into a shipping container. After 3 months of transport on the high seas, entry into the port of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania, processing through customs, and another month of ground transportation within Tanzania, this shipment of blessings finally reached its destination.

And now, a gift back to us – a few wonderful photos and another email with so many thanks…this one from Mama Itikisaeli Sikawa – one of the 19 teachers at Seela Primary School.

“Its a great pleassure to get another chance of saying halloh (Habari yako wewe na familia na marafiki). Here at Seela Primary School, all teachers and pupils are extremly happy proceding with daily activities. Futhermore we received the rewards you sent to us. Teachers and pupils received the boxes with great joy seeing you (imaginary) though you were not there physically. How happy everry one felt. These shows how you love us. We do the same to you. Every one holded his or her reward in hand saying thanks Sue, GOD bless you. We also share the rewards with our neihbours school Sing'isi Primary School, and of course they thanked a lot saying may GOD bless you and all donars participated. We would like to say Good Easter to you and your family, pastor and all friends.”

Heartfelt thanks for the amazing generosity of all who made this shipment of love possible, including:

• The students of Ben Franklin School in Menomonee Falls for donating over 800 pounds of school supplies.

• The Girls Scouts of Wisconsin Southeast for making more than 400 Swahili/English textbooks for the students of Seela Primary School, and also for their generous school supply donations.

• The local dentists (We love Dr. Timothy Poser!), Girl Scout troops and youth groups who donated more than 1,200 toothbrushes – special thanks to the Freistadt 4H and the Germantown Youth Futures for their help with this project.

• Both adults and children, with a labor of love, who have sewn hundreds of fabric school bags for the students in Tanzania. Special thanks to those who donated their hand-sewn school bags through Bigsby's Sewing Center (Brookfield) and Holy Cross Lutheran Church (Menomonee Falls). Together, you have touched the hearts of both teachers and the children in Tanzania.

• The kind individuals who are helping to support the women of our Sewing Co-ops in the villages of Mwika and Seela. Many thanks for the sewing machine donations (from Sophie Schaarschmidt and Janet Wendtland), and for the abundanance of thread (a donation from Lori V's mom!). Thanks also to so many who donated yarn for the women of the Mwika Sewing Coop to use in knitting sweaters for the children of that village. Through all of these gifts you give the women employment and income opportunities so that they, too, can care for their children.

• The many generous friends, especially kind-hearted co-workers at Northwestern Mutual (Milwaukee), who helped donate over 600 pounds of clothing and shoes for not only the children, but also for the men and women in the villages.

Special thanks also to NAI-MLG Commercial (Milwaukee) and to Holy Cross Lutheran Church (Menomonee Falls) for the generous and much appreciated donations towards shipping costs both here and in Tanzania, and to UPS Corporate for their generosity and assistance with the transportation of the donations from Wisconsin to the shipping center in Iowa.

It is a testament to the amazing things we can accomplish to help the precious children of Tanzania when we join together with our hearts in unity.

Asante sana! Thank you very much!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

We Twitter! Do you?

Hearts in Unity has joined the Twitter community! Do you Twitter? Follow us through the Twitter feeds on the right-side bar of this blog, or stop by for a visit at and join us there.

We'd love to follow you, too! Send us a message of hello and let us know you are there, too!

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Step by Step

The other day I went shopping for a new pair of shoes.

As I walked the aisles looking for my size, I was struck by the magnitude of it all. Floor to ceiling, wall after wall of shoe boxes filled with new shoes. Running shoes, walking shoes (is there special shoe for those of us interested in a periodic casual jog without the actual effort of a “run”?). And the prices! Seems like a pair of simple sneakers these days starts at about $75 a pair (I guess you could say I hadn’t been shopping for shoes in a while).

And in my musings of shoe selection and price my thoughts wandered – as often is the case – to Tanzania.

Walking with children along a rutted dirt road littered with stray sticks, stones and dry leaves. More than one child balancing on their head a bucket of water from the river, or a bundle of firewood as we carefully skirted deep crevices and potholes in the dirt road and each made our way home.

Glancing down at the children’s feet, I see shoes that are worn and full of holes; plastic sandals held together with string; sandals handmade from old tires; or more sadly, the child who doesn’t own a pair of shoes.

As I glance upward and see a pair of new $100 shoes on the shelf before me, I do a quick calculation. With the same $100, I could buy a dozen pair of sturdy shoes in Tanzania for the children – NEW shoes – not the USED shoes that so many Tanzanian parents buy for lack of money.

I think back again to the day last November when Roland and I went shopping for children’s shoes in Arusha, Tanzania. We were looking to purchase 100 pair of children’s shoes with the generation donations we received from so many “Hearts in Unity” supporters in the States. It took all day, but we finally accomplished what we had set out to do.

It was an amazing day when we distributed the shoes to the 100 orphan and at-risk children whom we had gathered together. The air was charged with anticipation as they waited so patiently. And on that day, 100 delighted children received brand new shoes!

What a blessing! Thanks to the kind hearts of so many people.

Yet, thousands of children in our Tanzanian villages are still without a single pair of proper shoes.

As I look down at the new pair of shoes I had selected for myself, I remind myself that a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step. And with our first gift of shoes to the children of Tanzania we had taken our first step.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Kudos to KMS Students!

A meal for the 1,000 students and their teachers at Seela Primary School in Tanzania! A meal large enough that even the pre-school age children in the village living near the school will be invited. Wow!

This amazing donation is from the 7th and 8th grade students in Mr. Demer’s six “Foods” classes at Kennedy Middle School (KMS) in Germantown.

Special thanks to the 7th grade students in the 5th hour/gold class for making the largest donation towards the meal for the children in Seela. Soon this class of KMS kids will be rewarded for their generosity and kind hearts with a special treat of maandazi – a Tanzanian fried bread much like donuts here.

Just a few weeks ago the KMS students participated in a “hands-on” cooking class featuring traditional Tanzanian food. Together in their classroom we made chapati – kneading it, rolling it into flat circles, and cooking the chapati on a griddle – while they listened to stories of life in Tanzania. We compared our meal preparation with that in Tanzania – electric griddles and easy access to water here vs. cooking over an open fire in Tanzanian with water fetched from the river.

The students then enjoyed a meal of chapati, ugali and a traditional Tanzanian vegetable stew. They loved the food!

The students asked amazingly insightful and thoughtful questions as they heard how the 1,000 children at Seela Primary (Elementary) School go without lunch each day. They learned how families in the village of Seela live in such poverty that they don’t even have a small bag of corn flour to send to the school so that ugali (a stiff porridge of corn flour and water) can be prepared as lunch for the students.

Moved by the stories they heard about the children of Tanzania, the 7th and 8th grade students donated from their hearts to help feed children in Tanzania….their generosity will touch the lives of well over 1,000 kids on the other side of the world!

Kudos to all of these amazing students!

"Piga Picha"

It was a beautiful sunny day in Seela, Tanzania. I’m playing with the children outside. A little boy, probably about 7 years old motions to me to follow him. He has a shy smile on his face and he speaks quickly and with a measure of determination. I pick out the Swahili words “njoo” (“come”) and “nyumbani” (“at home”). “You want me to come to your house? Mimi na wewe? Nyumbani yangu?”

He nods. So we go hand in hand. We walk down the road a short way and then down a dirt path to his home.

He shows me where the calabash are growing. “Piga picha” he says….”Take a picture” (by now, all of the children are well acquainted with the magic of my camera). I take a photo, show him the photo on the camera, and he nods.

We walk closer to the house. He takes me over to his brother and we greet each other… ”Hujambo Mama” ”Sijambo” “Habari za leo” “Nzuri, asante, nawe” “Salaam sana” “Asante”.

The little boy stands by the coffee tree where his brother is picking red, ripe coffee berries. “Piga picha” he says again. And I take a picture, delighted as he is with these photo opportunities. “Piga picha” again as he kneels down by the bucket of red coffee berries, and then as he stands first by the goat, and then in the doorway of his home, built of rough timber and a tin roof, gaps between the boards big enough to peer through.

Each time, he checks the camera to make sure I took the photos. Each time looking with a nod of confirmation and a shy smile.

He then pulls me by the hand, around to the back of the house.

I am not prepared for that I will see. My hand goes to cover my mouth as I stifle my unexpected intake of breath. The realization rocks me.

This is the little boy who people in the village had been talking about quietly in the days since my arrival in the village. This is the little boy whose mother had died the week before.

He had brought me to her grave.

“Mama Sue,” he said solemnly, almost a whisper, “piga picha.” It was my turn to nod.

As he stood there next to the rough wooden cross on which his mother’s name was painted, I silently complied with his simple request. “Piga picha.”

A picture of a little boy at his mother’s grave. That must have been how I looked as a child, standing at my own mother’s grave – 40 years earlier – when I was 7 years old.

The cycle of life and death never changing.