WRITTEN BY Laura Thompson, TFFT ambassador and 2015 Vision Trip participant
Laura Thompson recently traveled to Tanzania to participate in The Foundation For Tomorrow’s first Vision Trip. Below you will read her reflections on this experience and the work TFFT is doing.
What a week. What a truly fantastic, unforgettable, eye-opening week. As I take off from Kilimanjaro International Airport and see the renowned mountaintop through the clouds, my mind is filled with many memories – sounds and images – of seven well-spent days in Arusha, Tanzania with the team from The Foundation For Tomorrow (TFFT). For several years I have been following the progress and success of TFFT, an organization which believes in the power of education and is dedicated to providing educational opportunities and support services to orphaned and vulnerable children in Tanzania. I have had the opportunity to get to know the incredibly smart and steadfast staff of TFFT – based in Charlotte, North Carolina, and Arusha – and after having to cancel my participation in TFFT’s RIDETZ bike ride in 2014, I jumped at the chance to be part of their inaugural Vision Trip.
From the day of our arrival to the morning of our departure, our group of TFFT volunteers and contributors from across the U.S., was shown the beauty, compassion and commitment of The Foundation For Tomorrow to the children of Arusha, and to the larger community in Arusha and beyond.
Our week began with an exuberant graduation celebration at Usa River Academy (16 TFFT scholars graduated that day!), an exciting SuitUp Nike shoe design competition at Star High School, a fun gathering with TFFT scholars who board and study at Arusha Modern School, a visit with the children who live at Matanyok Children’s Home, a meeting with one of TFFT’s teacher training centers, calls on two of TFFT’s micro-loan recipients, a visit to the remote Sinai Primary government school, and last, but not least, a tour of the remarkable Seeway Children’s Home.
Each day was filled with memorable highlights: we were all thrilled to meet with and learn more about one scholar’s plans to study computer science at a university in the U.S. We met other students who told us of their hopes to become pilots, doctors and lawyers, and the classes they enjoy that will help them reach that goal. Some members of our group are dedicated sponsors of TFFT scholars and seeing the immediate reconnection between them was heartwarming. We all delighted in seeing the kids pick up our cameras and iPhones and immediately snap photos of everyone in sight. They scrolled through our playlists and impromptu dance parties broke out at our visits. The laughter was contagious as were the high fives and big hugs.
Each night before dinner we were given hand written notes from scholars that described their excitement about a pending gradation, plans for the future, their hopes and dreams, and how TFFT has made an critical difference in their lives. After reading these heartfelt letters that affected all of us, we began our meal by toasting the determination and future success of these young people.
While we saw many things that filled us with immense hope, we had other visits that stopped us in our tracks. I personally wrestled (and am still wrestling) with several situations that I wanted to apply my American “let’s fix it!” attitude. I realized, though, that “fixing it” isn’t necessarily the role of TFFT or any other NGO. Rather, the path forward is to work with local organizations, to partner or lend assistance to these groups as they face the many challenges of the education and child welfare programs. If I learned anything in the past seven days, it is that TFFT is an excellent partner – one that listens and responds as community partner, a professional partner and/or a life partner to the many children and families they commit themselves to.
In addition to spending time with TFFT scholars, our group also had the opportunity to spend time with the TFFT team. We were all deeply impressed by the highly qualified and diversified set of skills the team possesses, and even more so by their unified mission. The team not only identifies and gives a hand up to some of Tanzania’s most vulnerable children but has developed a holistic set of services to enable the child, their family and/or foster family to gain more educational, psychological/ social, health and economic opportunities. The creativity, compassion and constructive outreach shown by the team is remarkable and making change for the children, families and organizations they reach.
Although I currently live in Hong Kong and cannot attend the galas, participate in informational gatherings, or help to stuff envelopes, I do hope that my family and I will find ways that we can become more involved in the work of TFFT. We have discussed as a family sponsoring Full Circle Toolkits, providing funding for teacher training, or sponsoring a scholar. I hope that I, along with my fellow Vision Trip companions, will to play a small part or grow our participation, in advocating on behalf of TFFT when and where we can. TFFT’s extensive, thoughtful and impactful work, with support from friends, families, contributors and sponsors from the U.S. and beyond, is making a difference in the lives of the children of Arusha, Tanzania, as well as their families and local organizations.
When I close my eyes and think of the last few days, I think of the hard stares and the wide smiles of the children TFFT reaches. I think of the hopes and dreams of young people who are working hard each day to achieve their goals, I reflect on the heartfelt, well-written letters of thanks from TFFT scholars and I worry about the children that need foster parents and school placements. Most of all I treasure the memories of the children that embraced my hand or accepted my hug – a stranger’s – when held out to them. Those are memories I will hold on to and cherish forever. Through this experience I have become to understand TFFT’s mission, programming and reach and the power of their commitment. Before this journey I was an interested party, now I join them as a committed partner.