Stories from Tanzania

Dear <<First Name>>,

Thank you for your unwavering interest and encouragement as I volunteered in Ifakara, Tanzania. My time there was brief but productive, and it is only a small part of something greater that is happening in the lives of the people I served and the team I served with. I am excited to update you on the work and relationships that happened during my trip!
The moment the trip became real
Dar es Salaam, one of the few developed cities in Tanzania
The Uluguru Mountains, near Ifakara
Ifakara is a village of 100,000 people that can only be reached by airplane or dirt road. It took four flights and an all-day bus ride to get there. Along the way I was privileged to see the spectacular countryside and learn the simplicity of Tanzanian culture. With its malaria research institute and referral hospital, Ifakara has established itself as a regional outreach for health services, and St. Francis University College of Health and Allied Sciences (SFUCHAS) – our client – was established in 2010 to further this cause. SFUCHAS’s mission is to deploy educated health professionals who will increase the quantity and quality of healthcare available to this rural developing nation.
A commercial street in Ifakara

The Project Trip

SFUCHAS is situated on a crowded 2-acre campus, and has seen its enrollment increase from 40 students to 1,000 in its brief history. As it has grown, the needs of the university have rapidly expanded beyond the expertise of SFUCHAS’s administration and its primary benefactor, Provision Charitable Foundation. When Provision realized it did not have the experience or manpower to develop the facilities SFUCHAS needed, it reached out to Engineering Ministries International (EMI). Due to the urgency with which the university needed to develop a vision and documentation for the construction of necessary facilities, EMI recruited volunteers – including myself – to accompany its staff as it visited Ifakara. This additional labor gives EMI a much greater capacity and breadth of expertise to fulfill this project and reduce the project’s turnaround time by months.
SFUCHAS's contractor educates my team and I about soil conditions on the future campus site
A team member explores the existing student union
I present an idea to my teammates
As a combined team of 7 volunteers and EMI’s South Africa office, we generated a design for a new 32-acre university campus in Ifakara. A typical day consisted of 10 hours of design work and meeting with stakeholders – students, professors, administration, a Tanzanian architect, Tanzanian engineers, contractors, and Provision – followed by two hours of team-building meetings – devotions and testimony sharing. Our team consisted of engineers and architects from a variety of professional and cultural backgrounds, and we all possessed a singular mindset to serve the people of SFUCHAS to the best of our ability. This was one of the most compatible and driven teams I have ever been a part of, whether professionally, in mission work, in school, or otherwise, and this allowed smooth collaboration and coordination within the group. We were united by a shared love for the stakeholders, and it was incredible see this translate into a design that reflected this love.
Students overflow the conference hall during our presentation; nearly 200 individuals attended our presentation, despite the fact classes were on break

Special Moments

After 6 workdays, we presented our design to a well-represented audience that included each of the stakeholders, the district (county) commissioner’s office, and SFUCHAS’s governing diocese. One of my favorite moments of the trip occurred during the question-and-answer session at the end of this presentation. Despite receiving positive feedback from the stakeholders, one student challenged my team with an important question: “What proof can you give me that this design will actually get built?” The students immediately began to stir and stakeholders looked around at one another, as if to ask, “Who dares to answer this question?” After a moment, my team’s lead architect rose to the challenge. “Why do you ask us this question,” he begged, “when the answer begins with you? In 10, 20, 50 years’ time, what can you do to assist the university in accomplishing these plans? You have an incredible opportunity to define a legacy of generosity in a university that is still in its infancy, so will you be the difference you ask for?”
Our lead architect challenging students to "be the difference"
A teammate presents his contributions to the design
A local choir serenades attendees of our presentation at a reception
I would be happy to share my many other experiences with you upon request, but I will close by sharing about one particular bond that stands out to me. Senga Pemba, interim principal at SFUCHAS, went above and beyond to provide hospitality and feedback to my team, particularly me. Professor Pemba is, by my guess, about 70 years old but possesses the tireless enthusiasm of a 7-year-old, especially when it comes to SFUCHAS. Riding around town with him in a jeep as he taught me the history of Ifakara, watching him eagerly recruit 10-15 students for an impromptu focus group upon my request, and sitting in his office as he giddily cast his personal vision for the future of SFUCHAS all endeared him to me, as I could clearly see his love for the people we mutually served. On our final evening in Ifakara, SFUCHAS threw a house party for Provision and EMI, and as everyone said their goodbyes, I had a moment with Professor Pemba to express my gratitude for his hospitality. As if to outdo me, he proceeded to ask when I was planning to return to Ifakara. I quietly responded with a witty joke, and his infant-like laughter lit up the faces of everyone standing nearby. As you might be aware, I battled depression, anxiety, and loneliness while in college, and in moving between 6 different cities in the last 3 years, these struggles have recently resurfaced. In Professor Pemba, I witnessed an intense joy that reminded me why I am passionate about my relationship with Christ. In the midst of intense mental and emotional fights, it seems that God always finds a way to remind me that He brings the winter because flowers need the freeze to germinate and bloom gloriously in the spring.
Professor Pemba giving my team a tour of the existing campus
This was my primary motivation to participate in the SFUCHAS project: I understand that because I have been given much – a home, community, education – I can provide these things and much more to others. However, this project is not complete. Over the coming months, I will continue to have two obligations to EMI and SFUCHAS.


Next Steps

The outcome of this project is a several-hundred-page report which guides SFUCHAS through the development process for its new campus. EMI’s goal is to submit this “master plan” document to the stakeholders by December 1. Once the master plan approved by the stakeholders, SFUCHAS can begin using funds to build the design, which will likely take 20-plus years to complete. In the meantime, I will be coordinating with the EMI South Africa team to see that the master plan is produced in a way that effectively communicates the design.

Additionally, I am only 35% ($960) away from my funding goal for this project, and my funding deadline has been extended to November 3. Will you please carefully consider helping me finish off strong with a one-time, tax-deductible donation of $50, $100, or $200? Any donations are appreciated and can be made online here, at the EMI website, and cover the basic expenses accrued during the trip, such as transportation and meals.


Closing thoughts and prayer requests

If you pray, please thank God for the ongoing success of the project to date. Please ask that the report will be coordinated among all volunteers and staff effectively over the coming months and that my funding and any other potential remaining funds among my teammates are raised in full in the appropriate time frame.
As design production moves from a makeshift office with personal conversation to emails being sent across time zones, effective coordination will be crucial
Thank you for being a part of this amazing experience with SFUCHAS through your listening ear, prayers, and donations. I look forward to hearing what you have been up to lately as well!

Yours truly,
Neal Heidt :)

P.S.: If you would like to read more about the project, you can do so here.
From left to right: Canadian, Swiss, and Tanzanian flags adorn our hotel in Ifakara, paying homage to Provision, researchers in residence, and the nation

Fun Facts

  • Enrollment at SFUCHAS is projected to reach as much as 10,000 students by the year 2040.
  • The number of health professionals per capita in Tanzania is 97% less than that of America.
  • Ifakara's history as a health hotspot dates back to the 1920s, when a Swiss missionary of the Catholic order of St. Francis settled there and founded a pharmacy.
  • The future SFUCHAS campus is currently a rice plantation, meaning that our design will attempt to eliminate four months of standing water every year.
  • Bananas and plantains are dietary staples throughout Tanzania, and are grilled, fried, and eaten raw. Their trees are commonly used as hedges.
  • Our team represented eight different architecture and engineering disciplines and four home countries.
  • Another volunteer, Faraja, is an architect and a native Tanzanian. On several occasions, he served as our local guide and translator.
  • After concluding our work in Ifakara, we spent two days at a safari retreat near Mkumi National Park.
A woman sifts rice on the site of the future SFUCHAS campus
Faraja pretends to touch hippopotamuses during our safari
Copyright © 2018 Neal Heidt. All rights reserved. Some images courtesy of EMI.

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