Dear Friends and Supporters of St. Nicholaus, Heartfelt Greetings for the feast of Christ‚s Resurrection!
2016 started off with good news for us: Five years after applying for an official license to operate the children‚s center we have finally secured it. Why so soon?! Different people and circumstances came to our assistance. One of the reasons was Tanzania‚s presidential elections in October 2015. The new president, Mr. Magufuli, initiated already many changes.
His campaign slogan was „Hapa Kazi Tu!„ (Here is only work!). „What would Magufuli do?„ has become another popular saying. The new president seems to be serious about realizing his election campaign promises. For 2016, he canceled all tuition and fees in public schools and prohibited private schools to raise their tuition and fees. Unnecessary government expenses such as international first class have been cut. The president is determined to put an end to corruption. He is implementing measures to curb tax evasion since hardly anyone in the country has been paying taxes. Most significantly, President Magufuli wants to improve and advance his country and I am looking forward to changes over the next few years. Unfortunately for foreign nationals the costs for resident‚s and work permits have quadrupled. If you like to read more about this topic please refer to the attached news clip.
With the new wind blowing in the country, a high-ranking government official visited us at St. Nicholaus the day before Christmas Eve. Along came the local TV station that broadcasted this visit later. We were greeted with the usual gifts every children‚s home in Tanzania receives from time to time: a goat, a bag of rice and a bag of sugar. When asked what else we need, I mentioned the license necessary to formally operate St. Nicholaus Children‚s Center. In front of the TV camera, the government official promised we would receive it before January 1, 2016. In the end, the license was issued January 6th, but after five years of waiting another week is negligible…
Overall, Tanzania has significantly developed in the past years. Many people have access to electricity. The main roads are paved which makes travel, transport and trade a lot easier. People have inexpensive prepaid cell phones and access to Internet for affordable fees. This greatly improves communication and business activities. However, health care and education still greatly lack behind. Many people continue to die of diseases that could have been treated, simply because the disease had not been diagnosed correctly and attended to properly. Public school education is free but at the same time worthless, because 70-100 students sit in a classroom copying study material from the blackboard while the teacher enjoys a cup of tea in the teachers‚ office. Public school teachers and even headmasters use their salaries to send their own children to expensive private schools. Nobody seems to notice the contradiction. In this culture, people are not accustomed to protesting and organizing demonstrations. They are unaware of their rights to question authority and initiate change.
Last year, several organizations that serve people with disabilities in the greater Lake Victoria region, formed a network organization. Goal of the „Tanzania Disability Rehabilitation Consortium„ (TDRC) is to join forces to help people with disabilities and to advocate for and strengthen their rights in the country. Of course, St. Nicholaus is a member of this new network organization that hopefully will extend throughout the country.
I have been actively looking for a home for adult people with disability for our oldest girl Maria (19). Recently, I went to Rulenge, a small village about a 6-hour drive away at the Rwandan-Burundian border. There, the Sisters of Mother Teresa have a home for infants and for elderly women. They also care for three women with disabilities. Unfortunately, they cannot take Maria. Thus, my search for a new home for her will continue. While we were visiting the Sisters, they received a distressing phone call: In Yemen, on Friday, March 4th, the Islamic State (IS) killed four Sisters of Mother Teresa along with 11 other people who were all ministering at a center for those in need.
In January, the Franciscan Sisters who work at St. Nicholaus moved into their new house. Two Sisters are working as caregivers and two Sisters are cooks at our center. One Sister is a teacher at a nearby primary school and another Sister is the teacher at the new Catholic kindergarten in our parish.
But not only our country has developed the children of St. Nicholaus are making equally great strides. Since January, 18 out of 27 children are enrolled in local kindergartens and schools, 7 children are attending a special ed class in our center and the two youngest children are actively learning how to walk and talk. Therefore, the mornings are nice and quiet. During the afternoons, they are doing their homework or run, play and make plenty of noise because they had to sit still all day long in class. On the weekends, the older ones are busy with choir practice, religious education and the Franciscan children and youth groups in our parish. Some enjoy a hike with their scout group.
A broken laundry machine has added a bit of spice to daily living. The existing laundry machine was only one year old but decided to retire early because of heavy use. There is no service shop we can call. The local electrician and a visitor tried their best. After one week of doing laundry for 27 children by hand, my caregivers were ready to quit!!! By now, we have a new washing machine. The old one is still turning but it is no longer spinning nor providing us with any wash programs…
During the Easter holidays, our five big girls (16, 12, 10 and 2×8 years old) are attending a two-week workshop on self-defense. This is an important issue given the pace our children are developing into adolescents. We want to build and strengthen the self-confidence of our girls. They need to learn to say „NO„ when someone assaults them. On the 90-minute drive home from a recent practice session, the girls were screaming „Hapana!„ (No!) at the top of their voices. They are excited about the training and we are lucky that such a program is available in our area. In the meantime, our boys will join a Franciscan Youth group for a week of volunteer work.
Agatha with her two children Mwolokozi (12) and David (1) are with us for Easter. I have told her story in previous general letters. Agatha has cerebral palsy and so does her oldest son. She conceived both children through rape. Therefore, the children have no fathers. We have known Agatha for four years and are helping her to manage life as a single mother. A guesthouse built on the property of St. Nicholaus Children‚s Center offers the opportunity to reach out to women like Agatha in times of great need and crisis. Agatha does not currently have a big problem, but two weeks of a mother-and-child-holiday will be good for this family.
We are wishing you and your loved ones a blessed Holy Week and happy Easter,
Stefanie Köster, the children and caregivers at St. Nicholaus