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Un blog en Français!

Pour le moment, j’apprends le français. Donc, je voudrais d’ecrire cet blog en Francais!

Malheureusement, je ne me souviens beaucoup de mots et je pense que c’est tres difficile.

Aussi, je ne peux pas écrire signes accent! Hmmmm!

J’ai demandé à mon ami de m’apprendre tout en buvant du vin!! Je voudrais améliorer!


“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing”

Anthony Smith  is 84 years old and is currently crossing the Atlantic Ocean on a plastic raft to raise money for WaterAid.

 Two years ago, at 82, he was run over by a van – for many people of this age such an accident may slow them down but not Anthony Smith! He has used the compensation money he received after the accident to buy the materials and supplies to build the raft for the 2,800 mile expedition. And he said, “”The whole point it to prove that elderly people can do something interesting. Well, I am 84 and disabled, so I’m well qualified on that score.”

I thought I would post this because it just shows that it is never too late to be whoever you want to be and achieve whatever dreams you may have. I mean, in our 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s-whatever age we might be, we are all guilty of thinking “it’s too late”, “I could have done that ten years ago but not now”, “I would look silly doing that at my age”, or “That’s something for young people to do” .

But this guy, Anthony Smith, has shown us that it’s never too late – even at 84 with metal pins in your leg!

And since I seem to always link my blogs to a quote (I have an unhealthy obsession with ‘inspirational’ quotes) …. here’s one for today – “Nobody can go back and start a new beginning, but anyone can start today and make a new ending.”

How would your book read?

“Remember that happiness is a way of travel-not a destination” – Roy M Goodman

Lately, I have been feeling old and frustrated.

I am not old- I am in my 20s and I am not going to start lamenting my age as I have been successfully indoctrinated by all that media hype about 40 being the new 30. But I AM rapidly approaching the big 3-0 and in these situations, one starts to stake stock – and, unhealthily, to compare oneself with others.

Inevitably, I begin by looking at my career path, which has been rocky to say the least. Having spent four years of my 20s at law school and working as a trainee lawyer, I didn’t even start to pursue a career in international development until I was 27. This is compared to most others of my age in the sector who seem to have known what they wanted to do since they were zygotes; travelling to Africa in school holidays and interning at NGOs during university summers.

I try to be zen about this (Zen Jen is the nickname I am going for) but it can get incredibly frustrating being at the bottom of the rung. I want to jump head first into policy analysis, advocacy strategies and project management. But, inevitably and absolutely fairly, often find myself with the more mind-numbing administrative tasks that are the NGO rite of passage. In the development sector, two degrees and a strong academic record do not count for much – because, let’s face it, everyone and their cat has a Master’s and/or a PhD.  As you can imagine, it can be hard to stand out!

But, reading the quote at the top of this blog reminded me that comparing your current title, position or salary is not what matters at all. What matters is your journey, how you got to where you are today – and what experiences you had along the way. I like to think of my life as a book. And I want my book to be a good read – a real story. It should have twists and turns, should be exciting, should keep people guessing right to the end. After all, who wants to know the ending before they even start reading? Where’s the adventure in that?!

So with that in mind, I stop panicking about where I am right now and look back at my twenties: 4 joy-filled years at university in Scotland, two of the best years of my life at law school in London, 2 ‘dark’ years(!) working in various law firms and wearing a suit before taking the biggest leap of my life to date and launching myself enthusiastically into a career in international development!  And I am proud of what I have achieved – from volunteering in Africa, fundraising for charities, working in advocacy and campaigning for international NGOs and writing articles and brochures that have actually been used at high-level meetings. To look back at where I was 18 months ago and to consider what I have learned and how I have changed since then is incredible.

And I feel so lucky – to have worked out what I want to do when I was relatively young and to have been able to pursue it. So many people spend their entire lives in careers that they are not satisfied with, never quite finding their ‘thing’ or knowing what it is but not having the belief (or money, skills and support) to go for it.

Who knows what is going to happen in my story over the next 18 months, 3 years or decade – but I plan to go forward with this quote in mind:

“All of us tend to put off living. We are all dreaming of some magical rose garden over the horizon – instead of enjoying the roses that are blooming outside our windows today.” – Dale Carnegie

Water and sanitation in Tanzania

This is more of an article than a blog but thought I would share:

The sun is rising and a group of children in ripped blue and white school uniforms are standing in a vast yard of red dust, belting out the familiar ‘Tanzania, Tanzania’ with gusto and pride before the school day commences. And these children have reason to be proud of this country in East Africa. Despite a chequered colonial history followed by economic problems and a failed invasion by the now infamous Idi Amin, Tanzania has succeeded in becoming a peaceful country with something that resembles a democracy.

But taking a closer look at this scene in Milingano, a tiny village set deep in the Usambara Mountains, it can be seen that this group of children is much depleted from those that are actually registered at the local school.  Plus the coughs, sneezes and yawns of many tell an important story.  Health in rural areas such as these is suffering, and looking at the dented plastic bottles of brown water that the children are holding on to so tightly it is not difficult to draw a conclusion as to why. According to the World Health Organisation/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme Report 2008, 45% of the Tanzanian population do not have clean water and another 67% lack adequate sanitation facilities. Such shocking statistics are made worse by the fact that reports often understate the extent of the problem, with national figures masking even more serious ones in rural regions. People are being denied what is increasingly being considered as a basic human right: clean water and adequate sanitation.

Most villagers in Milingano do not have adequate toilets and the stagnant, muddy water in the local river is an unattractive prospect, made all the worse by the recent droughts. Families are subsistence farmers with no cash income and so are unable to buy soap, a change of clothes or building materials for a toilet. Disease is rife in the area and preventable illnesses like diarrhoea, worms and typhoid are common as a result of dirty water and poor hygiene. Many children miss school due to personal illness or to care for family members and, worse still, to attend frequent funerals. When children do attend school, they are often unable to concentrate or communicate effectively because of illness, thirst and exhaustion.

There is a trickle of light on the horizon at though. As assembly finishes, the children pick up their torn, dirty exercise books and run excitedly en masse across the yard to a water tap where they drink and wash their hands before lessons. Thanks to Village Africa, a small charity that works in the region, hygiene is slowly starting to improve. The charity has not only provided a water tank, but also 12 new toilets for the 865 registered pupils, many of whom walk for up to three hours each way to attend school. Seminars have been held to teach the children about personal hygiene such as washing hands after using the toilet and before preparing food and eating.

Kiwayo, the school’s headteacher, eagerly reported on the changes that have occurred, “Before the project, the pupils did not have education on sanitation. They did not know that after using the toilet they need to wash their hands. Now, the school has a water tap which they know how to use.”  He has definitely noticed improvements in attendance since the changes, “Before, the school did not have a good toilet. Sometimes the pupils would go far away from the school to search for a good toilet and not come back. Therefore, attendance was lowered.”

Maiko Elia, an eager and bright Standard Seven pupil grinned as he told us, “Many pupils were suffering from bad stomachs because they were not washing their hands after the toilet. Now they are safe because they are using good toilets and washing their hands.”

The picture at the school is definitely one that is improving but it is still far from perfect: one water tap for 865 pupils is hardly sufficient and soap is still not available for hand washing. Plus, when the children return from school to their small thatched huts, the lack of clean drinking water and adequate toilets is a problem yet to be solved. Whilst children are now being educated about hygiene, many of their parents have never attended school to be taught these important lessons. In these conditions, absences due to poor hygiene and sanitation are bound to continue.

Milingano village is just one of thousands of rural villages in Tanzania, most of which do not benefit from projects like Village Africa. Without improved water supply, adequate latrines and targeted hygiene lessons, education will continue to suffer. Children will miss school to collect water for their families and attendance will decrease due to illness and poor sanitation facilities.  Sanitation is currently the second most off-track Millennium Development Goal in Sub-Saharan Africa and, if things carry on as they are, the sanitation target here will not only fail to be met by 2015 but will not be met for a further 200 years. It is villages like Milingano that will suffer the most, with the WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme Report estimating that 7 out of 10 people without improved sanitation live in rural areas. Fortunately, the Tanzanian government does seem to be taking the situation seriously, with the recent launch of the Household and Community Latrine Improvement Campaign to improve sanitation in rural communities.

As these children run eagerly to the first class of the day, they are so bright, and full of such energy and joy, that it is impossible not to think that they could be the future doctors, teachers and political leaders of this country that they are so proud of. It would be a travesty if something as simple as clean water and a toilet prevented them from reaching their potential.


“The world is a book and those that don’t travel read only a page.

I don’t have time to write much as I am in Lilongwe with little funds and very slow internet connection.

I left Village Africa about 12 days ago now and am missing it immensely – the community, the school and, most importantly, the children. I hope that we made enough difference in the three months that we were there. It’s hard to imagine them all playing and singing outside my house without being there to join in!

I am now in Lilongwe in Malawi. We travelled down through Tanzania, seeing elephants, giraffes and monkeys en route! We also popped to Zanzibar, which was wonderful – narrow cobbled alleyways and brass-studded wooden doors, craft markets, forts, beautiful beaches and friendly locals!

Since then, we have been travelling down Lake Malawi through Nkhata Bay and Senga Bay to Lilongwe. The local buses have been an adventure in themselves. We tend to have to stand as they are so incredibly packed and can often find ourselves surrounded by chickens and other farmyard animals! Getting on and off-board the bus is itself an accomplishment and I have the bruises to show it! We have frenzied stops, during which hawkers shove food and useless household gadgets through the windows, trying to drop them in our laps to force us to buy them! Despite the craziness of these buses, I think they are my favourite part of Malawi so far! It is a great way to meet and chat with the locals, in addition to seeing the beautiful country.

A typical day in Milingano


“Own only what you can carry with you; know language, know countries, know people. Let your memory be your travel bag” -Alexander Solzhenitsyn


I usually get up at around 6.30am but have been lying awake for at least an hour prior to this – the housegirls arrive at about 6am to start sweeping the ground (why?!), the cockerel begins to crow at around 5am and a radio begins to play at a similar hour so sleeping in is not an option! I emerge sleepily from my room, eyes half-open, squinting into the sunlight and am accosted by the housegirls who precede to test me on every Kiswahili and Kisamba greeting under the sun as I make my way to the toilet. Breakfast is at 7am- often a strange combination of a hard-boiled egg and porridge, which sets the bowels moving! After our morning teeth cleaning ritual, Emma and I set off for school. We usually know when school is about to begin because the children come careering down the path outside our house singing and dancing to start the day. Such joy!

When we arrive at school, we have the privilege of watching the assembly. This is just an incredible experience and brings tears to my eyes every single time I see it – hundreds of children standing in line singing the national anthem in such beautiful voices, with the Usambara mountains rising behind them and the sun peeking out over the ridges! Beautiful. I just can’t believe I am here.

I spend the day teaching the children. I teach Standard 3 and Standard 5. Standard 3 are the equivalent standard of Year 3 in the UK but the average age of the class is about 12 years old, because primary education is not compulsory and so children enrol when their families can afford to finance them. Standard 3 are enthusiastic, energetic anf eager to learn but are also a little high-spirited and quite hard to control! They are a large class and there is a very broad spectrum of abilities meaning that it is quite a challenge to tailor my lesson to everyone. Some of my lessons are definitely more successful than others! The most amusing has to be one which was being observed by the TEFL coordinator. The children had had a farming lesson on the shamba all morning in torrential rain. They came straight from this to my lesson and were absolutely soaked through. Their teeth were chattering and they were literally shaking with cold. I tried to overcome this by commencing the lesson with a mini-aerobics class, but this had little effect on the temperature of the tiny children! I pressed on, conscious that my lesson was being observed, but the children proceeded to remove their clothes, item by item, and make a temporary clothes line across the classroom! I ended up with a class of 50 almost naked children, shaking and trembling, and refusing to sit down due to their wet underwear! A very successful lesson!

Milingano Primary School

Standard 5 are a little easier to manage, mainly due to the fact that the class is a little smaller. The children’s average age is about 14, but again, there is a very broad spectrum of ages and abilities. They love games and competitions, mainly because I give out sweets to the winners! They are incredibly bad losers though and I am often faced with a large proportion of sulking children! Both Standard 3 and Standard 5 are obsessed with tests and as I walk to school each morning I am greeted by shouts of “Teacher Jenny, testi leo, testi leo.”

At lunchtime, we wander back to the house. As usual, we are greeted by every single person that we encounter on our way and we must stop and chat to them all so as not to be considered rude. We start with the usual Kisamba greeting and then move on to a deluge of Kiswahili greetings too! The locals enjoy testing our linguistic knowledge and I like to think that they are impressed by our progress!

After lunch, it is back to school for more lessons. The children are usually a little tired and grumpy by this point because many children walk for hours to reach school each morning and then do not eat lunch. This means that holding their attention can be difficult and so it is wise not to introduce new topics at this time.

After school, we often teach netball. This is great fun! The girls are incredibly energetic and enthusiastic! They play with constant smiles on their faces and never tire or complain! Emma is a PE teacher in the UK so I tend to step back and let her use her expertise, but I love helping and sometimes even join in to help (?!) the losing team!

After this, we return home for showers- a bucket of hot and a bucket of cold water that we pour over our heads! It is incredibly refreshing and may even actually surpass a power shower to be honest! We then open the dreaded MAKTABA! This is the toy and book library, but unfortunately it is not as serene and lovely as it sounds! We stand in a tiny room behind metal bars whilst the children charge at us, fighting and screaming. It can be pretty stressful but also quite amusing! There are some children who know which toy they want and can clearly say “Teacher, football” or “Teacher, box”- these are the easy ones! Most just stand and point at what they want whilst we try, unsuccessfully, to guess what they are pointing at! This can go on for a very long time and it is difficult not to get frustrated! It is very rewarding though when the children begin to learn how to use the toys and successfully complete a puzzle or play a game – it brings joy to my heart! Maktaba lasts for an hour and, at this point, we begin to shout “Maktaba is ashiaaaaa!” As soon as the children hear these words, they echo them repeatedly! Collecting the toys can be a bit of a chore, but we have a couple of children who like to ‘help’ by snatching toys from the others and hitting them if they fail to comply!

After this, we eat dinner and have our daily ‘tea and ginger biscuit’ ritual! When we go to Tanga once a fortnight, there is a Western-style supermarket where we are able to purchase treats such as ginger biscuits and Jackers. This has provided much joy but the biscuits are expensive and so we ration them very strictly! Unfortunately, last week, I tried to offer our watchman, Zakaria, one biscuit but he misunderstood me and took the entire packet from my hand!! We were both very distressed and snuck into the cooking area later to steal a few back!

Zakaria usually arrives at about 6pm (12 Kiswahili time). He can only be described as a ‘complete delight’. His high-pitched greetings never fail to make me chuckle! He lights out way to the toilet, even at 4am, and he regularly saves us from spiders, cockroaches and even bats! After dinner, we usually have a group of boys who come to our house for tuition and games. We sit outside with them and games include giant snakes and ladders, drafts and kerplunk! By this time, we are pretty sleepy but we then begin to plan our lessons for the next day, by the light of our kerosene lamps. This is often accompanied by some power ballad singing, since I have been fortunate enough to find someone with a mutual love for Heather Small’s ‘Proud’ and a similar lack of ability in the tuning department!! We also play cards, face charades (amazing!) and scrabble. It really is wild here, as you can tell! We usually retire to bed before 10pm because it is dark, there is no electricity and we have had a long day!

27th November

Well, I have written all this in the present tense but, sadly, it really should have been set in the past because we left Milingano this morning. I have had the most wonderful three months. This placement has surpassed my expectations and it is an experience that I will treasure forever.

I will miss the people of Milingano with my whole heart. Their unwavering enthusiasm, limitless energy, unbridled joy and constant kindness and hospitality have made me feel so welcome. I have never felt such a part of a community as I have here and I hope that somehow I can replicate this feeling in the future. Milingano primary school is wonderful. We received a warm welcome each and everyday from both children and staff. The headteacher is doing an incredible job and can only be described as an ‘absolute joy’.

The last 24 hours in Milingano were absolutely amazing. I have never before wished that I could freeze time in the present moment to this extent. Our leaving party was wonderful – the singing, dancing and speeches brought tears to my eyes. Our party had been going to be cancelled as the headteacher’s eldest son, who lived several hours away, had died two days before but he came all the way back to Milingano just for this party. We were told that this was testament to how much we were liked and how much of a difference we had made to the community but, really, it is just another example of the kindness, generosity and selflessness of the people here. They have inspired, impressed and humbled me immensely. I am sitting here with a lump in my throat, missing Milingano greatly already. I think that the only quote in my extensive library that can make me feel better at the moment is “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.” I don’t want these amazing memories to fade- I hope that the colours stay as vivid, the smiles as bright and the friendships, both with volunteers and villagers, as strong.

My birthday


“There is nothing like a dream to create the future.” – Victor Hugo

Well, yesterday was my birthday and it seems like a poignant time to look back at the last year and take stock. On this date one year ago, I was a trainee lawyer in a city law firm and now, here I am, volunteering for a charity in a remote village in Africa. It has been a volatile, interesting and extremely challenging year but, suffice to say, I am happy. I care immeasurably more about the education and living conditions of the children of Milly and Yamba than I ever could have about a big money transaction in a London law firm. So, what next? Well, it may seem over-idealistic and unrealistic to spend your life only pursuing ventures that you fundamentally believe in, but if that is the case, over-idealistic and unrealistic is what I will always passionately aspire to be! Before, I felt like I was being guided by expectations and obligations and was almost resigning myself to a ‘safe career’, but now I feel as if I am writing my own story and following my heart – and I think that’s really the key to happiness- for me anyway!

I am absolutely gutted to have reached the point at which I have only 3 weeks left in Africa. I have had what I can confidently say have been the best 3 months of my life. I will pretty distraught to leave the children and community that I have grown to love- but I will be leaving a not insignificant part of my heart behind deep in the Usambara mountains. So, in return, what will I be taking with me when I leave my beloved Milly and Yamba? Well, apart from countless photos (I am sure you can imagine!) and unforgettable memories, I hope that I have gained a new perspective on life and on what really matters. Returning to the materialism of the UK will be strange and I hope that I manage to retain the appreciation I have gained of how lucky we are to have education, healthcare, enough food to eat and roofs to cover our heads. People in Milly manage to be so happy and satisfied withough the majority of the luxuries that we take for granted so easily. I read a quote recently and I kind of think that it is true – “The size of our happiness is inversely proportional to the size of our house.”

I forgot to mention that there was a huge event a fortnight ago in Milly- a mobile phone mast was erected somewhere in the Usambara mountains and Milly now has a mobile phone signal in a somewhat limited area. For myself personally, it does take away from the ‘remote’ experience a little and I am keeping my phone off as much as possible. For the people of Milly, however, it really is a huge change in their lives. With no transport system, the only way of communicating with friends or family or conducting business in even the closest village has involved a half day trek, so being able to communicate in this way should reduce some tired limbs! However, it is probably actually going to have little effect to begin with- firstly, because I am not sure where the villagers could even buy a mobile phone! There are no shops and the nearest big town is Tanga which would probably take several days to walk to! I am also unsure as to where the villagers could buy credit or even charge their phones since there is no electricity for miles around. I guess my main concern is how these villagers, who live in extreme poverty, will afford to purchase mobile phones to take advantage of the signal. I am worried that phones will become a status symbol and that people will forsake education and food in order to own one. Watch this space.

I don’t have anything new to report from Milly and Yamba really. Teaching is still going well and I am still loving the lifestyle and community spirit.