Cornel Ngaleku Children Centre (CNCC) - vulnerable (orphaned) children under the wings of the Ursuline sisters

[August 27, 2015] 

A totally different perspective on volunteering with children: the ‘voluntourism’ concept was not invented here, that’s for sure. It is a Tanzanian children centre in an environment you could certainly call contemplative,. with people around you to whom the speed of life and the march of civilization are not very important. To whom progress solely means improving the fate of the people that you care of and for. Expectation management is the key subject, when you think of the volunteers-to-be at Ngaleku’s. CNCC offers a hearty, spacious, honest and caring place to work and live for volunteers that want to commit themselves for at least two months. This is an opportunity for real volunteers, not for funvolunteers.

When you look down the slopes, you see Kenya in the far away plains. The border is only a mile away. The view on the other side is the Kilimanjaro massif; we are on the lower slopes of Kilimanjaro. The mountain does look very different as compared to what it looks like from the west or the south. Upon arriving here, the peak of the mountain was not visible. There only clouds. But around 6pm the sky suddenly became clear and I immediately recognized the Mawenzi peak: the eastern peak of the Kilimanjaro that consists of three volcanos. The highest one is Uhuru Peak, 5895 meters above sea level. The Mawenzi is the third highest peak of Africa, after Uhuru Peak and Mount Kenya: 5149 meters. Behind Mawenzi we could see Uhuru Peak, but it’s by far not that spectaculair compared to the view from the west or the south.

We came from Moshi, south of Kilimanjaro, with a Noah minibus, a two hour journey along the slopes of the majestic mountain. It is a very green and fertile land. Woods, banana plantations, and every now and then views of the Kenya plains in the distance. Near the small village of Leto, close to the market town called Usseri in the Rombo district, thirteen Tanzanian sisters of the Ursuline order take care of the children of CNCC.

CNCC is founded by the son of Cornel Ngaleku, Michael Shirima. He is the founder and boss of Precision Air, a small East-African airline. He used the land he inherited from his father to build this children centre. Shortly afterwards, the Dutch couple Olga & Pieter de Haas met Michael Shirima, and soon they came to work together. During the first years the Dutch couple spent lots of time at CNCC and they even live on the CNCC compund during European winter. Sister Ritha, the ‘sister in charge,’ tells us they will be back in Tanzania on January 16.

The care of the children in the children centre is the responsibility of the Ursuline sisters. Upon admission there is no distinction based on religious backgrounds or denomination. Sister Ritha, sister Juditha and their driver were waiting for us at the bus stop in Usseri with the big pick-up truck of Ngeleku. After arriving at the children centre sister Ritha showed us the house for volunteers, also for us to use, and then she showed us the whole centre. The dorms for the sisters and for the children, the playing yards, the kitchens, the offices and also the farm that is located on the compound, with cows, pigs, chickens, turkeys and goats. The gardens are beautiful and vast, with bananas, mangos, sun flowers and lots of vegetables. She also showed us the machinery that produces the sun flower oil and that grinds the maize for the ugali (maize porridge, the main food in Tanzania). The children centre is selfproviding to a very large extend. Periodically you hear the sisters singing together in the chapel.

We walked off the dirt road to the little shop the centre exploits at the street, and bought ourselves some refreshments. On another part of the terrain some new buildings are being built: CNCC is building its own lodge. It is called Maktau Mountain View Lodge, and occupiesfour separate buildings, for tourists and also for visitors of the children centre. There even is a swimming pool planned. It’s a perfect base for Kilimanjaro climbers. The income from the lodge will be used for the support of the children in the children centre.
We asked sister Ritha if we could join her and the sisters for dinner. The volunteer house has its own kitchen, and the volunteers normally cook for themselves. We were not prepared for that, it’s our only night here, so we were very glad to have the opportunity to have dinner with the sisters. We were joining the long table with the sisters in their grey dresses, as honoured guests. The sisters were having their food from a very big pan containing fried bananas and meat. There was rice with vegetables and chicken for us: most people from the west don’t particularly like the fried bananas.

In Early August there was only one volunteer, a girl from Arusha. Mostly volunteers come from Holland, because of the involvement of Olga & Pieter de Haas and their supporting Dutch foundations (with also a Dutch website).

The volunteer house is a very nice place. It has its own living room, a spacious kitchen, its own private facilities with a warm shower, and three bedrooms. There also is a lovely porch to spend your rest hours on, with view on the gardens and the chapel. Early in the morning you hear the devotional singing of the sisters in the chapel. In my thoughts I compared it with the prayer announcements of the imam in the Mosques in Tanzania every early morning and (although I am not really Christian myself) it came to my mind that I like it much more.

A little later in the morning we visited the children of the Cornel Ngaleku Children Centre. CNCC takes in children from zero to seven years old:Children that cannot be taken care of by their own parents or other family members. In most cases the children are orphaned. Also, most of the time CNCC still takes care of them (financially and also during holidays) after they have left the children centre to go to primary school maybe even secondary school.

The children got their maize porridge for breakfast. The sisters are strict but sweet. We are very surprised to see they’re all quite manageable and precocious. Children tend to be able to walk when they’re only 9 months old. I don’t think that’s the case in Europe & America. also, you don’t see children here that are older than one and a half year and are still wearing dipers.It really made Sister Ritha smile of wonder when we told her about how this differs from the children in Europe and America.
We are quite impressed by the atmosphere and the situation: it is so normal to them, so unfamiliar to us. There are two babies smiling at us. They both just came in last week. Sister Ritha tells us their heartbreaking background story.

There is more to contemplate about CNCC and its specific characteristics; considerations that you will have to take into account, because theywill definitely influence expectation management for the volunteers that want to work with a project like this. You’re part of a social life with all its routines with the catholic sisters, there is no specific mundane adventure to experience (unless you take the bus and take at least a day or two) and last but not least: what are the specific tasks of the volunteer working with the children?
Thirteen Ursuline nuns are working with the thirty-one babies, toddlers and nursery school children. Furthermore, there are the primary school children that go to school in the village, and the children that are Ngaleku-children as well, but that attend a boarding (secondary) school somewhere else and only come home to CNCC during holidays.

It’s very obvious to me that this is a beautiful project all its qualities. This is no made up care situation; lost children get a new perspective, new chances in life. For people who are looking for contemplation, this is really a beautiful place to live and to work. It is totally different from the places, the projects, that I saw before: a very valuable addition to my observations and experiences of and about organisations working with volunteers in Tanzania.

When I came home in Holland I had an extensive telephone conversation with Olga de Haas. Of course we dove deep into the specific situation of the volunteers. Olga emphasizes that volunteers really would do good to come with two or three, because it could tend to be a little bit lonely if you would be here all by yourself. It’s better to be able to share your experiences and your stories together. I think Olga is very much right.

Furthermore, Olga tells me there is an absolute added value of the volunteers. Volunteers normally bring different behaviour than the sisters. The sisters are working with the children on a professional level, but they do that from their own culture and their own orientation on life, being nuns. There is less emphasis on the individual attention and on creative development. The way a volunteer brings a different perspective and a different attitude is really valuable, Olga tells me. But it’s still just additional to the care they get, day by day, from the sisters and never a substitution. CNCC is not depending on volunteers.

Justification of ethics (correct volunteering) and costs
The Cornel Ngaleku Children Centre (CNCC) loves to work with volunteers and has had very good experiences with volunteers in the past. CNCC expects that volunteers commit to work at the centre for at least two months, preferably even longer than that, because it takes some time to get adjusted both ways: the volunteer needs to get used to the children, and the children to the volunteer. Also the cultural differences and the completely other way of life as compared to the western lifestyle focus on the usefullness of an adjustment period.
The very special thing about CNCC is that it is a purely Tanzanian centre, initiated by a Tanzanian family. They finance the daily costs of the centre.
The caring of the children is in the hands of the sisters from the Ursuline order, with whom the owner, Michael Shirima, has signed a contract.
Besides that, people are employed to work in the garden, the machinery, the kitchen, laundrette, school, garage, shop, and of course also in the farm. These are all local people. Some of them live intern at the centre, bus most of them live nearby in the village.

In 2005 the Dutch CNCC foundation started. This foundation takes care of financing and sponsoring other projects in and around the centre. Besides these centre-related projects, there are also projects for the community in the nearby villages, such as the water supply.
Now that this all has been realized, the Dutch foundation is aiming at financing the tuition and living costs for the children that attend primary and secondary boarding schools.

The CNCC is a charity foundation and is to a large extent depending on sponsorships en donorships from Tanzania, The Netherland, Australia, USA and other countries. Also, because life is getting more and more expensive in Tanzania, since 2012 the CNCC has been asking 5 USD per day from the volunteers to pay for the use of the accommodation. Volunteers can take care of their own food. Internet is available on a personal stick, available in town or uploadable via mobile phone.

So you can count on living costs of about 10 euro per day, altogether. But it’s up to the Volunteer how much he or she wants to pay, because there is always need for sponsoring specific projects.

Website Cornel Ngaleku Children Centre  
Informatiom about the Ursuline Order 

NJW, August 26, 2015

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