Slow and easy start today and a slight change of venue for our early morning meeting as the chapel was due to be used for a meeting of local church leaders. The smaller of today’s teams left in the Landcruiser for Tukuyu, fifty kilometres away in the hills around Mbeya, while the larger team headed for Iyela, just a five minute’s bumpy driver deeper into the suburbs.
It seems tedious to keep talking about the interviews that take place every day, and it has to be said that in one respect the task is tedious and long. Asking the same questions over and again, while sitting on hard wooden benches and waiting for questions to be clarified, answered and translated back, is not the most glamorous task in the world, but it is a necessary one.
Each form filled in, each piece of paper that makes it back into the pile, each statistic added to the overall mass of data, achieves so much:
- It brings back news to the sponsors, painting a picture of each child in the programme and making them more real to the people who pay for their support and education.
- It ensures the child is still attending the food distributions, and it helps them to feel special and wanted.
- It gets the parent involved and makes them take the programme seriously.
- Monitors heights and weights, and other health issues, such as HIV, and has saved lives in the past. The heights and weights also allows school uniforms of the correct size to be purchased.
- It highlights mistreatment of children, especially in schools, and allows Grassroots to take such issues to the authorities, with evidence.
- It helps Grassroots to decide which of the children is in greatest need of support, as well as flagging up particularly bright students who might be helped with higher education.
- It enables Grassroots to direct its resources more appropriately, responding to actual needs rather than assumed ones. For example, providing mattresses for families where the children are sleeping on the floor, or providing water filters for families whose water comes from a river or uncovered well.
I remember from my time working as a pilot in Chad that raising support for myself was relatively easy as I could find all sorts of interesting things to write home about, and the job that I did so readily caught the imaginations of those supporting my family. By contrast the engineers who maintained the planes had very little to write about and found it all but impossible to maintain support. The mundane is often at least as important as the exciting, and it’s very much the case here. Without these visits, Grassroots would be unable to function anywhere near as well as it does now.
For all that, the process of asking and answering questions seems simple, even through an interpreter, there are a number of interesting challenges we face. A simple question, like how many brothers and sisters do you have, becomes ludicrously complicated when you consider that in Tanzania a brother or sister can be a neighbour, a cousin or anyone living in the home. Not only that, but with the mortality rate as high as it is, there are a great many of the parents who are widowed and then remarry, so brothers and sisters are as likely to be step-brothers and sisters.
Other problems include kids who don’t know their birthdays being looked after by relations who don’t know them either, poor maths resulting in miscalculated ages, lengthy discussion on who lives in the same house, the list goes on.
So no, the interviews are not that easy to do, and they do take time and get to be tiring. But they are not about names and numbers on a sheet, they are about real people – children with genuine and desperate needs; children and carers with bright smiles and genuine gratitude for the work of Grassroots; very real, three dimensional people who are as loved by our Father as you and me.
One of the great delights of doing the interviews is having the chance to meet the child you’re sponsoring. Today one of the team, Ranata, was in the group that headed off to Tukuyu, the home of the child she sponsors. Last year when she visited, the child was very shy and clung to his father throughout, but this time he and the rest of his family were cheerful and active. By chance, Renata was able to interview the family as well, and was delighted to be able to spend so much time with them and discover that they were doing so well.
Another delight is the very real, overwhelming appreciation that the Tanzanian’s show for the gifts they receive from Grassroots. A prime example happened the other day when Martin had finished setting up the computer room. Sharon took a few of the translators into the computer room to show them. They were utterly speechless – which is a truly unusual state for these guys – and one even started to cry. When Sharon told them that they would also have Internet access, they went into complete meltdown. Experiencing such profound gratitude for something we take so much for granted is a great motivator.