Were you wondering if we had fallen of the edge of the earth? Or maybe taken a long hike out to Maasai land never to be seen or heard from again? Well, it is nothing that glamorous. We are just busy plugging away at every day life. Everything is actually going exceptionally well here in Arusha for our crazy family. Michael and Dorris Fortson were here from January through March. Their visits always infuse extra energy into Neema House. It is akin to someone coming into your house and all of a sudden you notice the peeling paint and corners of clutter. The Fortsons are great at bringing fresh eyes to our operation and helping to raise us to the next level. If you have ever taken anything as complicated as an organization with 40 employees and 48 smiling, crying, hungry, hitting, playful babies and toddlers to ‘the next level’, well you can only imagine how much effort, energy and patience(!!) that requires.
So much of our struggle as an organization is related to space, namely we need MORE! When Matt and I arrived at Neema House in December 2013 there were 23 babies and 24 staff. Over the past two years Neema House has grown to now employ 40 Tanzanians and have 48 babies in an increasingly insufficient space. To put it simply, we are bursting at the seams. The poor house is groaning with its load. Just to give you an example of how overcrowded we are, we now have to pump the septic system every 6 weeks just to keep up. Gross!! But it gives you an idea of our current situation.
This many people can turn into quite the logistical nightmare when you are trying to figure out bathing schedules, sleeping arrangements, staffing requirements and so on. We have hired several new nannies, taking our shifts from 6 to 7, and now 8 nannies per group. Even with 8 nannies per group the volunteers still have PLENTY to do. To say that we are excited (and biding our time) until our big move in June is quite the understatement! We are so ready to be in the new facility. Thankfully that move still looks to be on track. The roof was completed right before the rains hit in full force. The crew is now working on all the inside finishing and doing bits on the outside when the rains let up. The rains were late this year, but what they missed on length, they are making up for in intensity. We are also hopeful/expecting the Montana House to be finished right around the same time as the main baby home. When this house is finished we will be transitioning our older kids (some of whom will be with us until they graduate high school) down to the Montana House. This house will be staffed by either a mother/father unit or a mother/aunt unit. Please be praying that we find the right couple to be the ‘parents’ of this house. Matt has been meeting with our local builder Chandu on almost a daily basis to make the finishing plans for both the baby home and the Montana House, as well as the various other details.
In the midst of all this we have had several successful adoptions and reunifications (children whose mothers have died and go back to live with their family after one year of age). We have several more adoptions and reunifications in the works. In March we were able to transition some of our staff, including moving Angel, who was our volunteer house coordinator, into the full time position of social worker. We have grown to the point where we need one dedicated person to keep up with the year of follow-up with babies who have gone home, and overseeing ongoing adoptions and reunifications. She is also making home visits for admissions and our ever-growing out reach program. Angel and I are working closely together to try to develop the best social work program within our limited experience. Angel has some schooling in Social work, and I have worked closely with social workers as an occupational therapist. We are also hopeful that we will be assisted by a few volunteers who are experienced social workers and plan to come in late summer to help us further develop our program. God is so amazing in the way that He is able to provide for our needs. I see this so clearly in the way He provides the expertise we need when we are ready and not a moment before. This is just a plug to say that if you have a skill or knowledge or gift and you feel God prompting you to offer it in some way, please do not ignore that. You have no idea who might be desperate for a social worker or a engineer or a good organizer to step in and ease some burden.
The babies are all doing really well. Rebekah, the Fortson’s daughter who has been here doing the medical management, has been back in The States for the last four weeks. I did not realize how relieved I was to have the burden of medical care on the shoulders of someone else until I had it placed back on my own. I was able to do it for the first year just fine, but we have grown so much that it is definitely a full time job in it’s own right and I am so thankful that it is not mine! Rebekah will be back in a few days and I will be glad to hand the reins back over and focus on the volunteers, program development and overseeing the staff.
Speaking of staff, have I mentioned that we now employee 40 Tanzanians! That is 40 families that are supported because of the work at Neema House. I have written several times about the fact that our staff is more like a community or family than an unattached workplace. It is certainly like a village when you are at Neema House with everyone doing life together as they do their work. I feel about the staff like I do my own children. Most of the time I am very happy with them and feel pretty good about my parenting and then occasionally I look around and think, ‘am I raising wolves??!’ It is the same way with the staff. Most of the time they are doing an awesome job and then all of a sudden I look around and everyone needs some sort of intervention. It is my prayer that we will come to a place where we have enough systems in place, as well as education and training, that everyone will do their job perfectly. That will be right about the time Jesus comes back I’m sure!
We did receive such a wonderful compliment about Neema House from the Ministry of Social Welfare no less! In December we had a visit from one of the heads of Social Welfare in Dar Es Salaam (the capital where all government ministries are based). They were visiting all of the orphanages and were very complimentary of Neema House. Then in February we received an email inviting us to be a part of a special planning committee for the future and development of social welfare in Tanzania. In the email they complimented us on our ‘perfect and admirable performance’. We were able to send our manager and social worker (go Angel!!) to the meeting and found out that we were one of only three NGO’s invited from the whole country of Tanzania! We are not doing this for the praise of man or the compliments from government officials, but it sure feels like icing on the cake when we get them.
I did not sit down to write a blog on Neema House, but that was what came out. We are still here, that was the title, and I planned to tell you what is going on in our family and personal life, but this is our life. We raise our kids, love each other, and work at Neema House. In all these things we pray for wisdom and strength and compassion as we try to bring glory to God. I have actually been studying Revelations (a first for me and something that I have felt God ((and my husband!)) wanted me to do for far too long) and I have been blown away by the very first verse: “The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show to His bond-servants”….The teacher that I am studying under emphasized that word bond-servant of Christ is a strongly indicating a chosen position. We are not forced into serving, we choose serving. When we choose serving we are blessed by His revelation, but we are not saved from struggle. Matt and I have chosen to be His bond-servants and we are still here. We are still doing this crazy, growing, complicated mission that He has given us to do. And the wonderful thing is that with being ‘still here’ we have been infused with joy, infused with strength, and infused with wisdom that is beyond our reach. Neema House is our passion as much as raising our girls or loving each other, because it is our way to bring glory to God. I hope He is also infusing you with what you need to bring Him glory in your walk. I would love to hear and be encouraged to find out how this is playing out in your lives.