Building in Tanzania

February 24th, 2017 | by Jason Mackenzie

IMG_4822The final week of my stay in Tanzania is dedicated to conducting our training and building the playground. The first day started late, about an hour and a half late, but I expected that. We had a group of roughly 22 teachers and hospital professionals who came together for the workshop, as well as Onerva the volunteer from Finland.

We began with introductions and then a small activity to help us understand that we are alike and that we are all capable of designing something. I then moved into a presentation of Play360 and the work we do as well as Asset Based Community Development (a pillar of Play360). Participants loved the concept of ABCD and came to realize how many resources and assets they have around them.

Just before lunch we broke into random groups and each group was given a large stack of playground schematics with the instructions of:

  1. Pick a piece, either from these manuals or your own creation
  2. Create a materials list for that piece
  3. Create a curriculum element for that piece or pick one that has been provided

Following lunch and a brief rain delay (we were working outside) each group was asked to present their project. The dynamic and collaboration in the room was beautiful. There were opportunities to provide support and suggestions. Everyone was engaged and participated in the exercise.

Team 1 presentation was led by a PE instructor from an elementary school. They basically invented a new game they called “Alert.” It involved 2 teams in which one is throwing a ball at the other in the middle of the court while the team in the middle is trying to move sticks from one tire to the other without getting hit. As the conversations were in Swahili, I understood little but the beauty is that they took the tools we presented and created a new game. The coach was so animated in his presentation, it was inspiring for everyone!

Team 2 presented a tire garden with the modification that each tire would have one number and one letter. There would only be 24 tires in the garden as there are only 24 letters in Swahili (no X or Q).

Team 3 presented an interactive map of Tanzania designed for anyone, but mostly for children with visual impairments. Onevra was in this group and she said it was beautiful to watch the collaboration unfold. The map will be 3 dimensional that includes water features for the lakes and ocean and of course, Kilimanjaro, the pride of Tanzania.

Team 4 is going to build a tire calculator and try to find ways to intermix sentences between the numbers so you can do math or sentence building. This is a brilliant idea in my opinion.

Finally team 5 is planning a special type of swing designed for children with hydrocephalus. It’s going to be more expensive to build, but we IMG_4779are all really excited to see what they come up with.

It was an incredible first day. I have never felt this level of successful collaboration in a working group. They took the ideas presented to them and ran. Is it Tanzanian culture? Is it the nature of the work? Is it that the
y have the freedom to choose their own project and take ownership?

The following days were dedicated to building. The group came motivated and everyone worked hard all day long. It’s easy to dig in the sand hear so building goes quickly. We hired a welder to build a swing frame as the group was concerned that a wooden one could not last in Tanzanian weather. I generally prefer not to hire out, bit I mostly prefer to follow the desires of the volunteer crew.

IMG_4785Coach and his team were working on the 3D map of Tanzania. He crouched over the concrete and began to trace the outline of the country. When asked if he wanted a map to reference, he said didn’t need it because it’s in his heart.

We finished the building early, but the group was eager to keep working through Friday, creating new pieces and painting murals. Worked for me! I’d keep them here for a month if I could. It is a true pleasure working with this crew. They are all so inventive, constantly thinking of a new piece or solution. Janet and Walter in particular are truly gifted when it comes to developing new ideas.

In the evenings, after we are done for the day, the local kids swing by to play on the new pieces. It’s fun to watch them.

The grand opening of the playground was really an exceptional event. We had about 45 people there including adults and children, disabled and abled. The volunteers demonstrated the playground pieces they built, then invited the children to play. These volunteers were like children themselves especially when playing the new game, “Alert”.

We finally finished our swing for the children with hydrocephalus. Some of them love it, others not so much. What’s nice is they have the option to swing now. It’s inclusive of their needs. It was definitely an emotional day for all.

I had one comment from Kiya Jk, the Chief Executive of C-Sema (a child advocacy group). He said “I didn’t think this was possible when you first told me about it so had to come see it for myself. Now I’m going to advocate for these playgrounds at all my schools.”




A Tanzanian Road Trip

February 19, 2017 | Jason Mackenzie

The other day I was sitting with our partner Walter at his family gathering intended for everyone to discuss funeral preparations, including funeral costs, for a cousin that recently died. Each family member contributed something, then Walter looked at me and said, “brother…”

So I contributed.

Later we decided we would leave for the funeral, drive overnight, and arrive the next morning. The journey was 8 hours in total or something like that. It was awful and amazing at the same time…which is why I went. The trip gave me a chance to explore more of Tanzania, including Kilimanjaro.

We arrived at Kilimanjaro (locally known as Moshi) around 7am. Our expected arrival was 2 or 3 am. I was beat. Walter says “If you wanna hike Kili, today is the day. I will connect you with a guide.” Ummm, ok, I thought. I hadn’t slept, I was still in my dress clothes, which were starting to ripen…but ok.kili

So I got my guide and I hiked to the first outpost on Kilimanjaro. 8 kilometers each way. Not impossible even for a minimal hiker like myself. I saw beautiful blue monkeys which are apparently the only primates that exhibit the skills of a cat in that when they fall out of a tree, the can land on their feet. The rainforest is stunning in these parts. Watching the porters lug the backpacks of the hikers going to the top is a bit unnerving, but of course job producing.

I finished my hike and met Walter at the bar later that evening. I was still in my dress clothes from the day before, as was he. I was unbathed with shag of tooth, as was he. But we drank a few beers and laughed and later slept well in the foothills of Moshi.

The next day, Walter’s family went to the funeral and its preparations. He set me up with a guide to take me to the waterfalls, the living museum, and the caves. I must admit, I was so surly from lack of sleep the night before that I wasn’t sure I event wanted to go….I’m glad I did.

The caves are simple but the storyteller is well versed in the history that she is a wealth of knowledge worth visiting. Next we made the journey to waterfalls, which are beautiful and coveted by the people of the region. Even after the short sweaty hike, the water was still too cold for this guy. The living history museum is a sight to see, mostly because of the enthusiastic caretaker, Edward. He will teach you about the different tribal traditions including housing, marriage practices, war, banana beer, and polygamy.

banana beer
Drinking banana beer.

After the museum, we figured it was time to warm up, or cool off, with a big cup of infamous banana beer. It’s a bit grainy and a but sour, but worth the experience. The company is even more invaluable.

We got on the road back to Dar Es Salam at about 8pm so we could be ready for a medical brigade Friends of Children of Cancer (FOCC) was planning the next day. Walter kept telling me how big this event was going to be. I thought to myself, come on, there’s no way…it was huge.

There were probably 2,000 people there. There was a basketball tournament, a soccer 16830852_1389303041101611_8084765895424830089_ntournament, skits, drum circle, roller skating competition, oh and some really great doctors on hand to do medical diagnoses. All of this, I might add, was donated. Not a schilling spent. This, I thought, is collaboration.

It was chaotic in the beginning, but by the end, the ship was sailing smoothly. I asked Janet what she thought was the greatest issues presented by the people to their doctors. She said, they all say their doctors don’t listen to them. The patient goes to the hospital, the doctor listens for a minute, then prescribes something. Things were different at this event. People’s voices were heard and realistic prescriptions were prescribed. We could all feel the success of the e50910619237__8DF61269-6E99-44C1-8F98-096C784138D0.JPGvent. I couldn’t believe it till I saw it and was a part of it. It makes me realize once again that with the right team of people, anything is possible.

One day of rest and final preparations for next week’s playground build training. About 20 trainees are expected and we hope to have a the build completed by the end of the week.

Learning, Planning, and Giving in Tanzania

February 16th, 2017 | Jason Mackenzie IMG_4613

Greetings in Swahili take quite a bit of time. I fear I will never get passed even the simplest of greetings but I’m not too worried as people here are friendly enough and don’t seem to mind. In my flatmate’s couple of weeks here she has nailed the entire phrase and can even pick up on conversational nuances. She seems determined to learn the language. I am mostly determined to stay cool and build a great playground….

Walter says Swahili is the 11th mostly spoken language in the world. Listening to people speak it, you can catch a little Spanish, a little Arabic, a little German and a bit of French. According to Janet, it’s because this has been a friendly trade route for centuries and these different languages just filtered into the dialect.

My flatmate goes to work much earlier than me so she was gone by the time I woke up around 7:30 am. As a habit, she locked the screen door when leaving so I’m locked inside until I can flag someone down to unlock the gate. I will say to them in Swahili “Mambu biti” (how are you) and he will say back “Poa” (I am fine). Then my plan is to frantically point at the screen door latch. If all goes well I will be out of here in an hour or so.

Walter and Janet doing what they do best– loving, supporting, and embracing young people.

Walter and I have been discussing developing a deeper partnership between FOCC and Play 360. Tanzania seems like a very easy country within which to work and it feels quite exotic in that it would be a great place to bring tour groups as well as student groups interested in getting to know the culture and build playgrounds. Also, partnering with FOCC means Play 360 will have an on-the-ground relationship with a strong organization dedicated to its mission of helping children with disability and illness. FOCC seems equally dedicated to education as it does to treating illness and addressing issues of inclusion.

With respect to the playground we are building, we’ve determined as a team that it should be designed to be inclusive of all children, those with disabilities, those who are fully abled and those who are undergoing treatment for cancer or hydrocephalus. Many families with sick children feel as though their children should be kept inside and not bring embarrassment to the family. However, our hope is this playground will create a fun, and public space for all children, even the sick ones. We’ve decided the playground should include the following elements:

  1. The playground pieces are not jarring as the hydrocephalus children cannot be shaken about
  2. There is an element of light/dark contrast in the colors for those children undergoing chemotherapy who are having issues with sight
  3. The playground is inclusive for all children encouraging integration and community
  4. Encourages sick children out of their homes
  5. A sensory garden for all disabilities
  6. Could integrate the traditional conga dress since it is cheap (instead of paint)

The nurse got into a deep conversation with Walter in Swahili about a particular hydrocephalus case in the room. It was a small child with a very large head being held by who I assumed was his mother. She had clearly come from far outside the city based on her attire. While almost all women here dress in beautiful and colorful clothing, the people from the very rural areas clearly stand out. They are rare in the city, maybe 1 in 500 or 1,000 but their robes and jewelry stand them apart. She was in a blue robe and had large beaded earrings up and down her ears and a very large necklace to match. She had grey eyes and was impressive to look at.

So, Walter is talking with the doctor in Swahili for a while then he says “Hey Jason, maybe you want to hear this story?” Note, people always speak in English around me unless they don’t speak any English so I simply assumed the doctor didn’t. He proceeds to tell me that this child needs a particular antibiotic before he can get the hydrocephalus surgery and the antibiotic costs between $50 and $60 USD and without the antibiotic the child will die so he needs some kind of sponsor. “Damn!” I thought. “Ok Walter, I will sponsor him.” The nurse responds in perfect English “We always love when Walter brings someone by the hospital.”



Safely arrived in Tanzania

Friday, 10 February, 2017 | Jason Mackenzie

Made it to Tanzania around midnight today. Was picked up at the airport by Walter and Janet the two coordinators of the various children’s hospital projects.

Zurich was beautiful and expensive and perfect! Even the red light district was trash free. I’m happy to be back in a country where thigs are less perfect; electricity is temperamental, water comes from a well, a mosquito net is essential for sleeping if one wants to stay without malaria.

It looks like there is going to be a very busy schedule while I’m here. These 3 weeks won’t be spent just on building playgrounds! Apparently there is a national children’s cancer awareness day coming up and there will be some big events going on around this hospital to promote awareness. Also, there is going to be a 1-day blitz of curing kids with hydrocephalus (excess fluid in the brain).

Normally, when they are treating kids with that disease, they can only do surgery now and again, but occasionally there is a blitz in which a few doctors are brought in, beds are set up in a large meeting space and 20 kids can get surgery in 1 day. I can hardly imagine what that will be like but I feel pretty fortunate to be here during that time.

Indownload (1) chatting with Walter on the ride over here, he says that kids come from all over the country to their hospitals. They come in, receive chemotherapy treatment, then go home for a week before their next treatment but the problem is, they don’t get adequate nutrition at home so their bodies aren’t ready for the subsequent chemotherapy treatment when they come back. He often has to send them away, hoping they will get better nutrition before they return.

Everyone here is really excited about the playground builds. We will build one at this hospital and train the staff from other hospitals during the process so they can build some at their sites. We will also leave them with some tools because an item as simple as an electric drill is impossible to find here in Tanzania.

We will also be designing and building pieces for children with disabilities. Janet found a swing design for children who are unable to sit up. Many of the children with hydro encephalitis can’t sit up apparently.

And yes, it’s hot in Tanzania! Right now it feels like an Indiana summer evening….or more so, a Mississippi summer evening.

It is really exciting to work with people like Janet and Walter. They are so passionate about the work they do for these children. There is another volunteer here from Finland working as a nurse. She just started her 1-year commitment to working with them. In my first 15 minutes I realized that I would like to come back and do more work with these guys; once again I’m surrounded by people who are doing great work and its certainly not for money or prestige….it just feels good.

Tomorrow I will check out the small village where the hospital is located. Tomorrow night we are to attend a regional basketball game and supposedly we are going with signs promoting children’s cancer awareness.

Walter agreed to connect me to someone in Zanzibar who can show me a playground we did that he says failed because the locals didn’t appreciate it enough. It is always helpful to see those sites and try to better understand why they didn’t work, and ask ourselves the questions of: What does it mean for a project to work/not work?, Do these playgrounds need to last forever or should we look at re-evaluating them now and again?

Wow. There are a lot of mosquitos here!

The Next Journey Begins

Play360 Construction Manager | Jason Mackenzie


by Jason Mackenzie | Play360 Construction Manager

Headed to the airport in a few hours to begin the journey to Tanzania as part of the Mandela Washington Fellowship Reciprocal Exchange award. Flying from Indianapo
lis to Chicago to Zurich where I will spend a couple days before I fly to Dar es Salaam. If I recall correctly it’s like 2 hours to Chicago, 10 hours to Zurich and 12 hours to Dar.

Still need to pack some clothes for the 3 weeks I will be away. Let’s see, what does one pack for a Swiss and then a Tanzanian winter…? I’m guessing one big jacket and a lot of t-shirts.

And pack the tools…. our intention is to leave 3 or 4 toolkits in Tanzania. These will likely include a drill, drill bits, extension cord, transformer (Tanzania runs on 220 volts, certain to smoke a drill), a hacksaw, a converter (Tanzania plugs are different from ours), a tape measure, a utility knife and a few extra things.

20170207_085926Because most of our playground builds are done over the span of just a few days, we often travel with a lot of tools, including battery-powered ones. This is necessary because we have to be able to build fast with a lot of hands. This time, we are trying to pare down all the tools, build a little more slowly and leave a few of them behind so our trainees can build more playgrounds.

I’m headed to meet up with Janet and Walter. They work with the Friends of Children with Cancer We will be building a “prototype” playground at one of their sites all the while training their staff and others how to build these playgrounds as well as teach the curriculum associated with the playground. Luckily, we got the curriculum translated to Swahili!

The site is sort of like a Ronald McDonald house. These are facilities designed for the family members who are visiting their children who are receiving medical treatment at the hospital. I’m really excited about the work! I have a feeling it is going to be quite impactful and emotional.

Mandela Washington Fellowship Reciprocal Exchange Award

IMG_2885Play360 Construction Manager, Jason Mackenzie, and Friends of Children with Cancer Executive Director and Mandela Washington Fellow, Janet Manoni, have been awarded a 2016 Mandela Washington Fellowship Reciprocal Exchange travel grant to promote collaboration between the two organizations. Mackenzie and Manoni’s proposal is one of 26 competitively awarded grants through funding provided by the US Department of State. Mackenzie will travel to Tanzania in February 2017 to lead workshops training approximately 30 local community members on the construction process, incorporating curriculum into playground pieces, and identifying local and sustainable building materials. As part of the works
hop trainees will build one playground together benefiting a local hospital housing center where families stay as their children receive cancer treatment.

Community members participating in the workshops work closely with hospital support service organizations as well as education centers and will use their training to create playspaces in their own communities.

“My organization is committed to improving the health of the underserved children of Tanzania. By constructing playgrounds of simple, local materials we are ensuring the opportunity for children to play, interact with each other, and be active” says Manoni.

This set of trainings will build upon Play360’s extensive history in Tanzania and facilitate the development of new partnerships with diverse, local, and impactful organizations such as Friends of Children with Cancer.

#play360 #focc #mwf #yali #exchangeourworld