This year has been epic adventure of highs and lows. It has been the culmination of the past two years of hard work, prayer, fundraising and planning resulting in the move of Neema House to our new facility, collectively called Neema Village. This year has also been one of the hardest on record for our family. We have fought more and made up more. We have missed home and longed for rest. We have also rejoiced more and worked harder than we thought possible. We have watched our home country tear itself apart politically and felt those shock waves from the other side of the world. We have cried over losses and rejoiced over the birth of two new nephews. It has been a year of extremes. Like many of you, we are thrilled to say goodbye to 2016 and excited to see what 2017 has in store for our family, community and world. Here is a look back at the pictures and thoughts that have defined our family this year:
Camille turned 8 in July and Tabitha turned 6 in May. They started third and first grades respectively and are both thriving in their home school. This year we added several fun subjects and have continued to enjoy exploring literature. Both girls started learning piano after their Nana came for a visit and bought them a keyboard. They took classes with a local teacher and loved learning the instrument. I was thrilled to have them being taught by someone outside of myself or Ms. Tumi. In addition to the core curriculum we have added fine art/art history and typing. Their teacher, Ms. Tumi, has been such a blessing to us. Tumi and I continue to divide the daily teaching duties. I do school with the girls in the morning while Tumi teaches the kids at Neema House. Around noon Tumi comes to teach the girls at our house and I head to work at Neema house. We are planning to move on-site at Neema Village in April 2017, which will make this arrangement even easier as neither of us will have to travel more than a short walk between our house and Neema House.
This has been a year of building relationships. After a pretty lonely start to our time here in Tanzania, God has blessed us this year in deepening friendships. Arusha has been a strange place for building community. Some of the main struggles are just distance and time. Most of us are trying to balance full-time ministry and family, and it has been difficult to find time to focus on developing friendships. This year has been full of surprising blessings of time spent with people who have moved from acquaintances to real friends. We are very thankful that God is strengthening our ties to this place through our relationships with people here.
We have also been so blessed to have many people visit throughout 2016. Both my parents and Matt’s mom were able to return for a visit. I cannot tell you how thankful I am that God continues to supply for these visits. It is like finding water in the desert when family comes to stay. These times are so important for our girls, who desperately miss seeing their grandparents regularly. We were also blessed (!!!!) to have my cousin Jennifer and her daughter Addyson come to stay with us for two weeks in Novemeber. I was a little nervous about this, because Jennifer and I had not spent much time together as adults, but it was the best two weeks of our year. The girls loved getting to know Addyson again and I cherished the time that I had with Jennifer. As I write this we also have our closest friends Rachel and Kass and their two children here for a month long visit. They have been saving for three years to come see us! Rachel has been working with the staff to put in the garden at Neema House and Kass has been working on construction projects. There are no words to say how much I love having them sharing our country, work and life for four weeks. Please come see us! It means the world to our family.
Since we have been playing tour guide for visitors, we have gotten to see more of Tanzania this year. After the big move we spent some much needed time at the coast focused on recharging and reconnecting as a family after that insanely busy season. We have also done more exploring around Arusha. This waterfall is on Mount Meru and is a lovely day hike. Our family has loved discovering hidden gems in our own community.
Our personal life has definitely been squeezed in between the work we do at Neema Village. The big move was July 15, 2016! This is a picture of what the building looked like in January 2016 and this is a picture of our staff in late July 2016. The move was just the beginning of the work of settling in at Neema Village. There has been so much planning and figuring out the best way to settle the kids into the new facility. We have also had a busy year with building our social work program. We have facilitated ten adoptions and three babies have returned home to their families. We have had 18 children join our Neema House family due to either abandonment, maternal death, or high risk situations such as dangerous conditions at home. This year has seen an dramatic increase in involvement by the ministry of Social Welfare. This is a good thing for us, as we really want to be the best orphanage in Tanzania and that means working closely with Social Welfare. As soon as we got settled into the new building we began the process of becoming official registered as an orphanage in Arusha. Because we have never operated out of a property we owned (a stipulation for registration but not required for operation), we have been able to legally piggyback with another NGO, also called Neema House, located in southern Tanzania. This allowed us to start operations in 2010 without owning our property, with the understanding that we were in the process of buying property and building a facility. Now that we are in our own property, we are able to become officially registered. This has been a very difficult and stressful process. Think of registering a hospital or a school or going through an intense IRS audit. It has been full of inspections and submission of paperwork. It has been made more difficult because, although the Ministry of Social Welfare is improving, it is still run by word of mouth with very few official documents. There has never been a written process or list of needed items to help us in obtaining our registration. Any social welfare officer can just say they need this paper or that inspection or this stipulation met. However, after months of work, we think we are very close to receiving our registration paperwork.
Matt has been a champion!! The kids love him and he loves the kids. However, most of his time is spent behind this desk. He manages all the finances for Neema Village. He has also been the Tanzanian end of three US based audits. Because we are a new organization we have had to figure out what it takes to have perfect (or as close to perfect) financial practices for both a foreign NGO (Non-Government Agency) and an American 501c3. We want to be the best, not just for the kids, but also for everyone who donates to support the work we do. This means being accountable for every penny spent and it takes A LOT of pennies to run Neema Village. Matt spends much of his day paying people. He pays the builder and the staff and the milk guy and the egg lady and the social security company and the vegetable guy and water bill……It just goes on and on and it is all in cash, of which the largest denomination is equivalent to USD $5. Matt also supervised the building projects keeping everything on schedule and up to very high standards. Over the past 18 months, he has overseen the construction of the main building, a security building, generator building, laundry facility, widows house, volunteer lodge, Montana House (cottage for older kids), Ucare house (cottage for older kids), shop/storage, and a directors house (April 2017!!!). Here is an aerial photo taken yesterday from the hill above our property.
All the green roofs are Neema Village. There are still plans forl a school/church and a women’s center in the future. We are also working on starting a garden and animal project (cows, chickens, goats) to become more sustainable by producing our own veggies, milk, eggs and meat chickens. We are very excited to potentially be welcoming more permanent volunteers to head up several of these planned projects. Matt and I both feel like we are maximally extended with our current responsibilities and have been praying for additions to our team. We are excited to welcome a teacher who will be working with the older kids for the next year and also a family that is aiming to arrive in June 2017.
I have continued to oversee the staff development, social work, and volunteer program. We now have 43 employees working for Neema House! Sometimes I am overwhelmed with the enormity of it all. I focused this year on improving the efficiency of our programs and making sure that everything runs smoothly. That is no easy task with 44 kids, 43 staff, multiple sites, programming for each group of children, social work, outreach (we oversee a multiple birth outreach in the Arusha area) and the volunteer program. In 2016 we welcomed more than 60 volunteers from around the world. These volunteers stay with us on-site and work at Neema Village. I coordinate their trips from beginning to end, making sure that they have an enjoyable experience and are able to connect with our work and serve in meaningful ways. With the opening of our new volunteer house (due to be completed in just a few days!) we expect to see a sizable increase in our volunteer program in 2017.
The 18 babies we welcomed to Neema House in 2016.
The 13 kids who were adopted or reintegrated back with their families in 2016.
Our work at Neema Village is definitely a family adventure! We have been challenged this year, but we are still as committed as the day we arrived. We hope that God chooses to keep us here for many more years. We feel now, more than ever, that we are uniquely prepared and suited for life and work in Tanzania and at Neema House. We would be unable to do any of this without the financial support of the people who believe in our work back at home. Although we have been blessed with a fairly consistent support over the past three years, we have lost a bit of our base and we are praying for a few more people to join us. If you have ever thought about becoming a part of our ministry, I would ask that you make now the time! If you are interested, please send me an email at Kelly@tzorphan.com and I will send you all the information you need. The way we receive our support has changed recently and the paypal button on our blog is no longer operational. I can email you all the details. We are also very excited to be planning a visit to the States this summer. We are hoping to stay for at least two months and would love the chance to see many of you and talk about what we are doing here at Neema Village. Thank you for your love, prayer and support this year. I cannot wait to see what happens in 2017!!