If you told me 3 months ago that I would be bargaining for sinks using Swahili in the industrial district of town, meeting and contracting plumbers and carpenters, and clearing stores of their entire children’s toothbrush selection I would have said HUH?!
But that’s exactly what part of this whirlwind of 2 and a half months has consisted of and I’m sooo excited to announce the “Happy Teeth Center” at the nursery school is complete and had its first day of use today!!!
So since I kept this on the hush-hush till it was successfully completed let me give you the background story of the past two months. So it all started when in my second week here I started noticing… wait actually let me back up, this story starts before my plane even left the United States.
At church the week before I departed for TZ, I went onstage and told the congregation where I was going and asked for prayers. Following the service, a woman I’ve never met or seen before ( and I’ve been attending this church my whole life) came up to me handed me an envelope and was soon on her way.
Imagine my shock when I opened the envelope and found a check for $300 stating it was “to use for whatever need God showed me”.
This was such a blessing in itself because at that point I had only raised enough money to get me to Tanzania and pay room and board but had very little to use as donations for supplies when I got there.
Fast forward and within my second week in Tanzania I had noticed dental health was a huge issue here and had also been introduced to the nursery school next door. It’s unclear whether some of the kids even own toothbrushes and for those that do, it’s unclear how often and how well they are brushing, but if their teeth are an indicator it’s not a good situation. Instantly I thought of doing something with toothbrushes but was thinking of keeping it small- just a small wood and wire set up that would hold the toothbrushes next to an outdoor water spigot where the kids could brush their teeth every day.
Well God had other plans. After drawing up an initial plan and diagram I showed it to the director of the nursery school and he said I LOVE IT, but we can do better- I have a room inside you can use- whatever you want to do, the room is yours.
So right then and there I had to make the decision to go big or go home. Well going home was clearly not an option, the need was oh so present and so I decided to get to work.
Plumbers came in and walls were broken open and water pipes installed. I began going to town and walking up and down the streets where sinks were sold and getting estimates. (Grateful for the Cradle of Love manager coming with me the first time so that he could ask the price in Swahili and I got to know the local and not the mzungu( foreigner) prices.)
But as per usual in any home building project (and this was my first one, I’m not even a fan of watching HGTV!) not everything goes smoothly. So once I finally had the sinks at the nursery center ( the original plan had been for me to cram onto the dala dala public transport with two porcelain sinks, glad someone from the orphanage was able to drive me instead),we realized the water lines the plumbers installed were not at the right height for the kind of sinks I bought.
Next dilemma- the carpenter who came in to build a cabinet for the sinks gave me an extremely high estimate. I was on a tight budget and now with having to redo the plumbing I was despondent about what I assumed would be a very high plumbing fix cost as well. We also needed mirrors and a cabinet and the painting estimate was again way higher than I wanted to hear. It appeared things were going to go over-budget and fast. And that just wasn’t an option. I prayed about it and walked into the director’s office to think things over. That’s when I noticed a wooden cabinet with glass panels full of old books and papers. I imagined it with a fresh coat of paint and thought could that possibly work as a sink base and cabinet? “It’s yours.” said the director. Then I noticed an old large framed mirror sitting dusty in the corner of his office. “And that, are you using that?” I asked. Again the answer was “Nope, it’s yours.” Things were starting to look up now. I could check off cabinet and mirrors! All at no cost!!! Then also saw a bookshelf in the office that would be perfect for holding the toothbrushes. Again was given permission to have it. Next morning a new carpenter and plumber had a joint meeting with me- they agreed to combine the cost of their labor and materials and split the price amongst themselves – and the price was a steal! I couldn’t believe it, I had literally braced myself for the worst when they were about to say the price and you could have blown me over with a feather I was so shocked with the price. What an answer to prayer. Then to get those items out of the director’s office required a big reorganizing and throwing-out-junk effort. So a well-needed office clean out occurred as an added bonus! (It was a bit like an episode of Hoarders- we found slide-rules from before the time calculators were used, antibiotics for cows, and a slew of physics textbooks from the director’s college year.)
But the first day the water flowed through those sinks was so cool! Definitely a surreal moment- They were the first sinks in the whole house and daycare center.
Next step: tiles. Well my indecisive self had quite a rough time with this. I even tried to get my driver to weigh in on the decision but he said “All men are colorblind! You need my wife for this!” Eventually I couldn’t decide that day so I came back another day. Well this time the man who previously had been very open to selling me the tile said it wasn’t worth his time to go to the warehouse a few blocks away for just one box of tile. Sooo I had done a 40 minute bus ride for no tile. Ended up finding it at a store closer to home and having to walj nearly one mile with it. I had purchased a lot of other school supplies that day so safe to say I was a comical sight- I looked like a pack mule! To free my hands I tied my two huge black shopping bags to my bag pack and hugged the box of tiles to my chest. The bags were pretty flimsy and so I was having a nice lil chat with God that went something like “please give the bags some strength!” Well it was a blazing hot day and I was getting tired so I got inspired by all the women I saw around me to try and carry the box of tiles on my head. Ha! Bad idea- clearlyyy I don’t have the neck muscles or balance or skill level for that. Luckily I was able to abandon that idea with out any tiles being broken in the process. On a side note it’s truly amazing to see the woman walk with things on their heads tho. You can see people with huge piles of firewood, vendors with hundred of pairs of socks, and buckets of oil just being balanced on heads with no hands holding. It’s absolutely incredible.
After we found a guy to put in the tiles the next step was to paint the room. I’m forever grateful for two European volunteers- a doctor and a nurse- who I met and became good friends with that helped me paint that room and all the wooden fixtures for over a week straight! Absolutely could not have done it without them.
Then hired a street sign artist from a stand on the side of the road to do the lettering on the wall and he threw in a cute elephant design for free.
A college classmate pitched in with money to buy the last bit of the toothbrushes( both my childhood and current dentist back home have donated brushes and toothpaste that will be on their way next week in my parent’s suitcase).
Andddd finally 2.5 months later, today we had our first morning of the kids brushing their teeth when they arrive and although we had a couple kids who would not stop swallowing the toothpaste, it was a great success! At least now 25 kids will be starting a habit of good dental health and brushing their teeth twice a day.
I learned a lot in the process. Not giving up, how much work building a home or improving a home must take, learning to reuse or reinvent items instead of just buying, and learning to take input and advice from others because theirs could be a lot better than yours and take your idea to the next level!
Really happy to be leaving this behind, and one plus is since most of the kids still have baby teeth, they’ll learn the good habits now to really take care of those permanent teeth when they come in and that’s definitely something to smile about. 🙂
Verse of the day: “This is GOD ’s Message, the God who made earth, made it livable and lasting, known everywhere as GOD: ‘Call to me and I will answer you. I’ll tell you marvelous and wondrous things that you could never figure out on your own.’”
Jeremiah 33:2-3 (MSG)
One thing I’ve learned is God’s got this and God’s got us. When things aren’t going right-talk to Him. It’s okay to complain, it’s okay to be frustrated, God understands and He cares.
When things go right and even when they’re going wrong, give Him thanks, because He’s carried you this far and He’ll carry both you and the work you’re doing, to completion.
Crazy to think when I was thinking wooden toothbrush stand in the dirt outside, perhaps He may have been chuckling in heaven saying “Nah, we’re gonna go bigger.”
So rest easy knowing God’s got a plan for your life and most likely it’s bigger than your wildest dreams, just trust Him.The very first rough sketch of initial plans The room before any construction