Guest Columnist

A trip to Africa changed my heart

Kellie Lala at morning assembly at Tumaini Junior School in Karatu, Tanzania. (Photo submitted by Kellie Lala)
Kellie Lala at morning assembly at Tumaini Junior School in Karatu, Tanzania. (Photo submitted by Kellie Lala)

Jambo (hello in Swahili)!

I traveled to Tanzania, located on the eastern coast of Africa in October 2005 on a photo safari. It was the trip of a lifetime. I loved the animals, Maasai and the wonderful people of Tanzania. My trip leader and guide, Modest Bayo, had started a primary English-speaking school in Karatu — his home village — in September of 2004. Near the end of our trip, Bayo took a few of us to his school. The children were smiling, singing, and my heart soared with joy after meeting them.

Once I returned home, I was so touched by the Tanzanian people I knew that I wanted to do something for them.

Having been in sales all my life, I knew I could raise money to support the Tumaini Junior School. I approached my lifelong church, Noelridge Christian Church, and asked for their blessing on my mission project. I called my project African Hope and began a series of fundraisers in July of 2006. We had a bake sale, Harvest table with home grown veggies, a huge church-wide rummage sale, soy candles, homemade greeting cards (made by my mother), Hy-Vee coupon books and a church member who is a professional photographer took family pictures which were turned into Christmas greeting cards. I expanded upon my fundraising efforts by asking neighbors, friends, family, and people who had been on safari with me to also donate money. My fundraising continues to this day and I am so humbled by the success and journey of this experience. I started the annual spring “Arts for Africa” art and craft fair seven years ago and it remains my largest source of funding.

This year Arts for Africa is Saturday, April 27, from 10 a.m.to 3 p.m. at Noelridge Christian Church, 7111 C Ave. NE in Cedar Rapids. We feature over 28 local artists and crafters, a huge silent auction and bake sale. We also sell handmade items that I have brought back from my trips to Tanzania.

My total fundraising is close to $100,000 since 2006, and the funds I sent over in December 2018 bought 35 tables and benches for a new dining hall at the secondary school. The furniture is locally made, providing income for local families which in turn is spent at the local market which helps other families. Other funds have been used to construct new classroom buildings and purchase solar water heaters for the dorms.

I speak to my friend and school founder, Modest Bayo, almost every weekend. He is so grateful of the work we have done for his school half way around the world. My fourth trip to Tanzania was in January of 2018 as I led a group of 17 Mount Mercy nursing students, two faculty, President Laurie Hamen and two supporters. The support of my church, Mount Mercy University, community businesses, and residents is making a huge impact for these students. Their lives are changed forever, and our community is helping with the education of students half way around the world.

All classes are taught in English. The Tumaini schools are located in Karatu in the Riff Valley of Tanzania, and include three campuses, with the Primary School (3 and 4-year olds), Junior school (baby class thru 7th grade) and the Secondary School (8th thru 12th grade) with a total attendance pushing 1,200 students. They have seen amazing growth from just 75 students in 2005.

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I am so grateful to be a part of their success. The students continue to excel in their programs and the Tumaini Junior and Secondary Schools are in the top 1 percent of all schools in Tanzania (home to more than 8,000 schools). In fact, the top 7th grade girl in the entire country is from Tumaini Junior School, and her name is Given Cosmas.

Any size of donation can help; $25 can buy a new mattress for a boarding student or for a $1,500 annual donation a student receives an education, room, board, uniform clothing, and medical care.

Asanta Sana (thank you very much in Swahili).

• Kellie Lala is senior account manager at Z102.9, KGYM and Smart-FM Radio. She was born and raised in Cedar Rapids, graduated from Mount Mercy University, is a lifelong member of Noelridge Christian Church and is a world traveler.

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