I had mentioned yesterday how the road to Rift Valley Children’s Village can become treacherous when it rains and how our drive had gone well since the roads were dry. Well, it rained very steadily overnight, and everything was still quite wet in morning as we departed for our second day of clinic at the children’s village. We had seen a good number of patients yesterday and we weren’t sure how many would show up given it was the second day and also that it had been raining which typically reduces the number of patients we see in any of our clinic as most patients walk and doing so through the mud can be very difficult.
Sure enough, the roads were a tad slippery heading out to RVCV, and it was time to shift Turtle into low gear for both going down hills and up hills as well. The necessity for this going downhill is to prevent having to use your brakes at all as a simple touch can often cause your vehicle to begin sliding and that is a very unpleasant sensation. The need for low gear going uphill is more related to the necessary power to get started when traveling slower due to the slippery roads. Regardless, Turtle in low gear becomes somewhat of a tank that can tackle pretty much any terrain. For those of you who aren’t familiar with a four-wheel drive operationally, there is a transfer case just behind the transmission that has both high and low range for all the gears. This takes a 5-speed gearbox and effectively gives you 10 speeds to use. There is also another function of the transfer case in which you can put in 4-wheel lock which means that all the wheels receive power equally. This is used specifically for those situations that require the extra muscle this setting produces but it is only to be used when there is very poor traction.
The drive went well, at least from my standpoint as I can’t vouch for how everyone else felt about it. Jill was coming along with us today and acted as co-pilot for me in the front seat. At least there is never a dull moment when traveling these roads in the back country as a small mistake can definitely ruin your day. Having a winch on the front of Turtle does give me a little more confidence as there were plenty of trees in the area that we could anchor should we get into any real trouble with the need to extricate ourselves. Down, down, down we went through the deep gullies and then up, up, up out of them until we finally reached the plateau on which the children’s village sat.
As we drove through the gate, there were no patients to be seen sitting outside on the benches as there were yesterday, though we were soon to find out that that they were all sitting inside the gymnasium to stay dry, and the registration process was now being conducted there instead of outside in the somewhat nasty elements. A good crowd having already accumulated, we decided it was time to get started seeing patients as were hoping to depart today at a slightly earlier time than yesterday. The plan for Jill was to spend the day touring the village, checking out the sights, and then also possibly visiting with Peter and India. She ended up having a wonderful time and was obviously incredibly impressed with what had been accomplished at the village to date as well as with their plans for the future.
It was a steady group of patients that we saw throughout the day that included many patients with epilepsy, some new and some return, as well as patients with headache, numbness and tingling and the like. There were no patients needing to be seen at FAME right away, but had it been needed, there were always RVCV vehicles traveling back and forth to Karatu throughout the day. The drivers that do this are pretty amazing considering they tackle these roads in all conditions and, although there is a back way out through the town of Oldeani that one can take should the roads become unpassable, it is unusual for them to do this. I remember struggling to keep my vehicle on the road on trip while they were driving a van, albeit a four-wheel drive one, that was keeping up right behind us. It is a special style of driving in this mud – avoid touching the brakes, feather the gas and turn the steering wheel into the slide and you’ll be fine, most of the time.
Lunch was again a delicious affair, this time with spaghetti and meat sauce (a vegetable version was also available for the vegetarians present) with salad and fruit. It’s very difficult not to go up for seconds with this type of food and most of us took advantage of this opportunity. After lunch, we sat for a bit while Arturo (now the CFO) described for the us the amazing success that the TCF has had with their community education programs, not only in the primary school where they started, but also now with the secondary schools in the region. This has all been borne out in the children’s success taking the national exams that allow them to continue with their education, going to secondary school and beyond. He also described the efforts they have made in creating school lunch programs. Prior to this, some students would have to walk 2 hours to school in the morning and were then expected to walk home for lunch and then back again which was obviously impossible for them to do. They would usually just not return to school after lunch. Also, during walks to school and back, there were issues of abuse that could occur, particularly with the girls.
They now have developed a program for providing school lunches with a contribution by the families (there always needs to be that skin in the game), and students can now remain in school for the entire day. To further improve the educational experience and atmosphere, they have also created the option for students to board at school and have built a dormitory building with the help of the government who has donated the land for these projects. They are now working with the other secondary school in the Oldeani Ward to create all the same programs including the school lunch and boarding options. Through these efforts, the Tanzanian Children’s Fund has not only changed the lives of India’s children, but also hundreds, if not thousands, of children’s lives in Oldeani who would otherwise not have had this opportunity for a meaningful education and success in life. Through their programs – RVCV, Rift Valley Women’s Group, educational initiatives, and health programs – the TCF has changed the direction of an entire community and region of Northern Tanzania.
Though we weren’t able to leave early enough to get everyone home by 5 pm, we were able to finish up a second day of 38 patients and arrive home in time for sunset. Jill and I had an invitation to have sundowners with a good friend, Annie Birch, and a guest of hers to discuss our upcoming trip to Zanzibar after the rotations were through. Annie, a travel consultant who has been here for over twenty years, and her guest Helen Ingvarsson, herself a travel specialist and who has lived on Zanzibar for the past ten years, were the perfect pair for us to speak with about our trip. We met at a relatively new lodge, Baghayo Garden Suites, which is a stone’s throw from FAME and is a wonderful place to watch sunset. I was very surprised when we went in to find Annie and Helen as the lodge is a little oasis that you would never have imagined existing where it sits. The sky was ominous with lightening in the distance from dark clouds and thunder that boomed all around, though we sat pleasantly at poolside sipping our gin and tonics and chatting about Zanzibar. Their recommendations were priceless and more than we could have hoped for given that our trip was only a month away.