Mlali is a very small town in the middle of Tanzania. It lies on a plateau at the base of Mt. Mlali, overlooking an iconic and stunning savannah. The roads are made of red dust, which finds its way onto every inch of my body by the end of the day. The sun sinks down peacefully every day beyond the horizon of acacia trees, then gives way to a moon that looks red each night when it rises. I believe it’s one of the most beautiful places I have ever been.
I was welcomed to Mlali by Mama Faith, who is married to Athanas Sekwiha. Athanas’s sister, Kilines, started the Queen Elizabeth Academy. Athanas is a teacher at the school, and Mama Faith is the school cook. It’s sort of like a family band, except instead of forming a band, they started a school. I live in a lovely little apartment on the family compound, which also houses Athanas and Kili’s parents, Babu and Bibi, as well as other nieces, nephews, and relatives, all of whom play a role at QEA.
The Queen Elizabeth Academy is sort of like The Little Engine That Could: in spite of countless setbacks, it has persevered. The team of people who run the school are change-makers with heart and grit that are extraordinary. There are dozens of times when it would have been far easier for them to bow down to the status quo as something acceptable, yet their love-driven work is turning their dream into a reality, one piece at a time.
In addition to the school’s strong academic standing (it was ranked #7 in the district last year), QEA is a beautiful little microcosm in its community. The school farm began three months ago and employs a parent as the head gardener. In addition to providing food for school lunches, the farm has already sold enough produce to pay the salary for the gardener and the watchman. Over 2,000 trees have been planted on the 36 acres of land, which were granted to QEA by the town of Mlali. These trees will provide additional income as the delicious bananas, papayas, and mangoes grow and sell. Equally as important, other trees have been planted specifically to help prevent erosion.
The foundation for the boarding house is coming along very nicely! I do believe the boarders at QEA will have the nicest view in all of Mlali! The masons are working very hard each day to make sure the kids have a safe and beautiful home.
I feel happy and whole here in Mlali. In the two short weeks that I’ve been here, I’ve had laughs that made my belly hurt and heard stories of grace and beauty and inspiration. I am grateful to be a part of this meaningful work, and blessed to have such wonderful friends and family who have supported this project. With love from here to there….