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January 18, 2009

Sr. Stephanie sends update

In late 2006, Resurrection Sister Stephanie Blaszczynski, former president of Resurrection High School, left the United States to start a school for girls in the town of Buturu, Tanzania, East Africa. Her mission is a major challenge due to the extreme remoteness of the area and its poor infrastructure; i.e. bad or non-existent roads, occasional electricity and lack of water.

She communicates on a laptop by satellite as its makes it way over the Indian Ocean. Below is another of Sister Stephanie’s letters describing efforts to make the school, which opened a year ago, available to mostly Tanzanian girls who live at the facility due to the great distance they must travel from their homes.

The month of December is supposed to be vacation time for schools between the last school year, which ends in late November and the new one, which begins in January.

In Tanzania, the students stay around for a week after their final examinations and take their report cards home with them. We had seven students who did not make the passing grade average of 40 percent and cannot go on to Form 2 (second year of secondary school).

We did not want to send them home to find out from their parents that they did not pass, so we decided to meet with each of the seven individually and explain why they could not come back. This put the entire school into hysteria mode — with weeping, wailing, begging on their knees — and some were about to crawl and try to kiss my feet. It was a most terrible experience.

We tested 606 girls for Form 1 (first year of secondary school) and had more than 50 come asking for their daughters to be accepted into our school. They cry, plead and beg but we have to be firm since we only can accept 110 at the most for lack of room. We have been using primary-size school desks and now needed to have secondary school desks and chairs made. There is no way we could fit 55 of these larger-sized desks into a classroom.

We will have three classes of Form 2 next year and so will have room for about 10 new students. There were 75 girls who tested for those 10 places. Most of Christmas Eve, we had girls trying to test into Form 2.

Now we have parents crying and demanding that we help them in some way. Others storm out angry when we tell them we cannot take their daughters. Wherever we go into town, we keep being asked about places for students.

One of the district education inspectors told us that people flock to our school because it is such a good school and that we do everything in a just and fair manner. It is wonderful that we have this great reputation but it is emotionally exhausting to keep saying no when people are begging.

The good news is that the dormitories are going along well. However, I do not think we will be able to start school in January as planned because of a lack of roof materials. The man from parliament who is making them a reality insisted on having a fancy roof with materials which come from New Zealand. Now we have to wait a few months for more roofing materials. Can you imagine starting school even though half of the building does not have a roof?

We have been trying to hire teachers. Instead of a staff house, they were to have individual small-size cubicles in the students’ dormitory. There was going to be a temporary wall put up to separate the teachers from the students. Four days ago, I was told that the Ministry of Education would not allow teachers to stay in the dormitories of students so now we have to search for some kind of living accommodations.

The first teachers’ meeting is in early January and we do not have a single teacher with a signed contract yet. We have had four teachers come who wanted to only stay three months or eight months but not the entire year. Obviously, this is a very stressful time.

However, I am really excited that we will have some physics lab experiments due to a very talented volunteer from the United Kingdom who teaches at a boys’ high school there. I just have to find some money to buy some long tables and some basic science equipment for him.

It seems as though the animal and insect situation gets worse and worse as they get larger and more plentiful. Maybe the land being disturbed for the construction has brought out the numerous snakes, rats and gigantic turtles.

Against all rules, the girls must have been having food in the room we were using for sleeping because we were inundated with cockroaches. We tried for weeks to get rid of them ourselves but finally had to get an exterminator from a town about 3 hours away. The girls were excited with the swarms of “kumbi kumbi” that flew in a few times. The wings fall off and then the girls, workers and our dog went nuts eating them. Would you believe? I refused to even try them.

It has been extremely hot this month and especially so when I hear about all the snow and ice you are having. Looking back on 2008, there is so much to be grateful to God for. I thank him for you, for your presence in my life, for all your support of this mission. I pray that this New Year of 2009 will be filled with many blessings for you and your loved ones.

Love and prayers,
Sister Stephanie