For those of you who may not realize, we are in our fifth year at Tumaini. Oddo and I teamed up in August of 2009 and began caring for our first 24 children. Most of those initial intake children have now been with us for more of their lives than without . . . and so, after a tough few months making some very tough decisions, I find myself reflecting back on the whys and wherefors of recent events and looking forward for guidance and solutions.
This is one of the most difficult blogs I’ve written thus far and I’ve authored several hundred under the Tumaini banner. I ask for your help.
Within these past few months we have been forced to separate first Margaret, then Evelin, and now Jenny and Eliza from the rest of our Tumaini children for repeated behaviors we simply can no longer condone. With this decision comes a combination of sadness for the futures of these girls along with relief for our remaining children, and for the constant stress present here at Tumaini House, but it saddens me beyond words for these girls have basically been “cut loose”.
Margaret started acting out and displaying ugly behaviors about 1 ½ years ago. She began threatening younger children, forcing them to do her chores, tormenting and beating them just for pleasure but after a while she kicked it up even more. She began manipulating situations where others would suffer for her actions. She would sabotage study sessions with other children, causing them to be sent to bed with her after creating kilele (chaos or noise) and forcing the session to end early, then, laugh in the faces of the children who suffered her actions. She soon graduated to conniving methods of getting out of her chores by pretending injury or illness and then, when the unsuspecting “mama” forgave her the task, she would mock the child/ren who then had to do her deed. She became violent at school, not just kid violent but VIOLENT and also to our children when she was home at Tumaini. There are 27 little witnesses here watching and learning from every move each of us makes. We had to do something.
Then along game Evelin, Margaret’s cousin, who, along with Margaret was being “coached” on how to extricate herself from school by her older sister Dora. Evelin excelled. Within this last year Evelin has succeeded in attaining the last position in her class . . . 111 of 111 children. She is no rocket scientist but she is bright and if applying herself could do so much better. She too then began displaying disruptive, violent behavior such as Margaret, when home at Tumaini and all culminated when, after being taken out to have a gown made, new shoes bought and nails done so she, Angela, and Anna could stand up in Teacher Winner’s marriage send off celebration, refused to have her hair cut to return to school. I was out but the story goes that all of our boarding students were instructed to shave their heads before returning to school. Evelin refused. Oddo came home and reminded her to shave her head. She refused again, knowing that she would be beaten upon her return to school (sticked). She explained to Oddo that she wanted to keep her hair, as short as it was, for Teacher Winner’s send off party. Oddo said she would have to ask me. Upon my return, I too reminded Evelin that she needed to shave her head else, Matron would punish her. Then all hell broke loose. Evelin began crying, screaming and stamping her feet, flailing her arms around. I asked her what was wrong but she wouldn’t answer me. I told her to settle down and tell me what was bothering her. (Evelin is a dramatic sometimes.) Oddo, stepped out of his office and explained the situation after which I told Evelin we would have to call Matron to get permission first before we could allow her to keep the hair. Her tantrum escalated until I finally told her that she could now cut her hair for she would no longer be attending Teacher’s party. She ran upstairs to her room and wailed.
Now, on hair cutting day there are a mittful of little heads needing shaving. One of the children went upstairs to tell Evelin it was her turn. No luck. Raymond, myself and finally Oddo went upstairs at which point Evelin lost all control and began screaming at Oddo.
This is a VERY structured culture with respect TO respect (greetings, hierarchies, etc.) and her behavior was waaaaayyy over the top, especially, I hate to say, with a man (a bit more understandable with me as mama perhaps but no less disruptive), and for her to show such disrespect to all of us was simply too much. Oddo told her to get in the car, he was taking her home. She refused again. Oddo eventually delivered her to her mother, explained the situation and left her at her home.
It was after Evelin departed that the stories began coming out about she, Margaret and Dora scheming to FAIL their exams instead of pass. Angela was recruited into the effort but decided better and did her best on her studies but the story had been told to our children and they had heard. They had also witnessed the most brazen display of disrespect we have seen here at Tumaini and herein lies what I am beginning to understand is the problem. We do our utmost not to practice corporal punishment. Our teachers do punish with a ruler on the hand or behind sometimes, but as a rule, our children know the worst they can expect is a loss of privileges, dish duty perhaps and a time out in bed. For some of our children this just doesn’t work.
And so what now about Jenny and Eliza? Jenny is a spirited, saucy, and mischievous young lady who is always “pushing the envelope”. This is not necessarily a bad thing in this country for if someone wants to survive here they are going to have to push in order to get by. Eliza is a VERY bright young lady who has always been manipulative and secretive. They colluded to steal some Lego which, unfortunately had belonged to Harriri, who, had hid it in a secret hiding spot to prevent . . . you guessed it . . . theft from someone. Jenny found his “spot”, took the toy (on order from a boy at school who specifically asked if we had Lego at Tumaini) and sold it to him for 2,000 sh or about $1.40. She and Eliza then proceeded immediately to the store and bought pipi (candy) and stickers after which Eliza came home and sold Jenny down the river by ratting her out. I find this particularly devious after she supported Jenny in the theft and sale and then benefitted from the spoils. Eliza’s attitude was of complete disinterest. She had done nothing wrong . . .
Jenny has stolen before and Eliza has been warned countless times to adjust her tabia (attitude) and they have suffered loss of privileges countless times. We have sent both children home in the past, to “think” about their futures, remember from where they came and to decide if they truly want to be a part of this Tumaini family. Despite promises to correct their behaviors, things have continued to digress to this point. Shy of beating the living tar out of them, something neither of us is prepared to do, Oddo and I simply had no other choice.
And so with Tumaini’s support, Margaret is now in a different school from where she attended with our other Tumaini children and Evelin is in yet another. We have separated them to discourage further collusion. But they still return to a fatherless home with a powerless mother and herein lies our fear for them. Jenny has been placed into boarding school and will neither return to Tumaini, nor to her sister’s home until at least Christmas. (She has been warned by the school and should she misbehave again there (she and a “friend” poured water on a teacher) will be put out of the school. Should that happen Jenny will be put on a one way bus to Singida, her family’s village which is where her mother lives and struggles to get by. Eliza has been sent home to her mother to “remember” what is right and what is wrong. She will struggle. They will struggle. But my question is this . . . for how long must the many, MANY children living here at Tumaini who decide every day to make good choices, who do NOT take what isn’t theirs, who treat each other with kindness and respect, put up with being abused, disrespected and have their personal properties taken from them, before they too, in resignation, throw in the towel and begin to misbehave themselves? Many of our children “safeguard” their treasures in my office, foregoing them when I am out of the country and that SHOULD NOT BE THE CASE! What does a family do when one child, lacking ANY concern or respect, steals, abuses, and/or disrespects his own family? What do we do here?
We have been applauded by several people who have visited us, familiar with institutional lifestyles, on the “family” environment we support at Tumaini. That includes us having the confidence to know that people will not steal from us. That includes the confidence to know that we will be treated fairly and with respect by each other and that is what I feel we must protect, else, do we really have any sort of “home” environment where these children might live?
I am advised by Tanzanians (many) that to send a child out is not the answer. We must “punish” repeated bad behaviors (which translates definitively into beatings) and use prayer. Prayer is already in daily practice here and I simply cannot bring myself to beat our children so what do we do?
I was counseled by a husband and wife team of psychiatric nurses who came to Tumaini and lived and worked with us for two months. Their warning was thus, “Mama you did not go out into the community and choose these children based on their psychological/emotional aptitude but on their need. You will not save them all but must focus on what is best for the majority.
I have been praying about this and what keeps coming to me is the Chinese Proverb, “Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day . . . teach him to fish and he will eat for a lifetime”. I believe that for some of us, we simply do not WANT to do the work necessary to learn to fish. We simply want to take a fish every day, even if it is not our fish. How to change this thinking?
We have some teacher friends from Glenlyon Norfolk School in Victoria, BC coming to join us in May and we hope they will bring us some insight into how to perhaps facilitate changes. Karibu GNS friends!
We have lost another friend. As I have mentioned the long rains have begun and it has rained especially hard these past few nights. Two nights ago an occasional plumber of ours named Hamisi, lubricated and intoxicated, attempted to circumvent a flooding creek, fell and was found yesterday morning, downstream,
buried in mud with only his arm protruding. He has no one to help send him home to his village and so a fund has begun to put him on a bus back to his village for burial.
Glory brought me a letter two days ago asking that we send her mama to a different hospital as she is not gettingwell under the care she now receives . . . how do I tell her there is no hospital able to “get her well”, as she dies of AIDS?
We wish Gerehad the happiest of birthdays today and we pray for successful examination results. Class IV and VII write their mock exams and then immediately commence with their end of term exams. For most, April will be a month of holiday and play . . . for Classes IV and VII (Gerehad, Harriri, Martha, Jenny, Eliza, Daniel, Christina, Esther and Kelvin) studies will continue through the month in preparation for their oh so very important national exams.
We are healthy. Typhoid has ended. Baby Junior and Baby Sumaiya stay with us while Junior receives proper nutrition to repair liver damage he has suffered as a result of a severe protein shortage and Sumaiya convalesces from a burn to her hand and awaits the post operative homecoming of her mama in their new home at Maji ya Chai. Be well.