The Plaster House


October 12, 2016


Join me to kick off my fundraising tour for The Plaster House when I read my story, “Little Man Nuru,” about returning four-year old Nuru to his village after corrective surgery for clubfeet and successful rehab at The Plaster House. I will be joined by four other Bozeman writers chosen by Thunderhead Writers’ Collective.

The reading will be held in the Weaver Room at the Emerson Cultural Center in Bozeman, Montana.


Do you know Gail Weingart? Deb asks me.

You have to call my son, he travels to Tanzania all the time. Janet tells me.

Have you talked to John and Laurie? They have a safari company?

Talk to everyone you know who fundraises. I mean everyone. Sarah, Deborah, Vanessa, Eric, Carl.

Do you know Mary Mathison?  You must connect with her. She has twenty years of experience with international non-profits.

Did you get your 501(c)(3) figured out?

Make your introduction to Jon Fielder.  What’s the time difference between here and Nairobi again?

Call Jim and Steph Taylor.  You should invite them to dinner.  They loved Tanzania when they went last year.

Follow up with Christine Drinan in New York.  She visited The Plaster House over Christmas and painted with the kids. Loved it! Said she’s going to write an article. Maybe you can connect with her when you’re there in April?

Okay, okay, okay.

Check, check, check.

Oh my God!  I’m having tea with Christine in her apartment. What am I going to wear? She she wants to host a fundraiser for us in October in New York!

The ball starts rolling.

Continue Reading…

The Plaster House

The Right Thing

February 11, 2016
Elesante and Sarah copy 2

Sarah Rejman, The Plaster House Director


I sit straight-backed and stiff in my KLM economy seat watching The Intern. Movie number three. When I tried to recline hours ago, the man behind me yelped, “Ahh.” His blue-jean-covered knees wedged against my seat back.

Robert De Niro, the intern, is saying to Ann Hathaway, “My favorite quote is ‘It’s never wrong to do the right thing — Mark Twain.’” Hmm. Catchy. Cute. Too cute?

But it’s Day 5 in Tanzania and I can’t shake that line. Is coming here the right thing? My mind has danced with the doubting monkey these past months; flirted with the same questions raised by family and friends. Is The Plaster House legitimate? Will the money reach the kids? Do you trust these people? This trip isn’t just about volunteering and shepherding filmmakers for a capital campaign. I needed to come and put my toe back into the water.

Continue Reading…

Plaster House, Tanzania

We’re Off!

January 29, 2016

Yeah! It’s time to go back to Tanzania. Seems like we’ve only been home a short while but we’ve stayed tight with our friends and Plaster House and they are calling us back.

Quick catch-up. Some of you may remember that last summer my oldest daughter, Anna, then 13, and I spent the month of June volunteering at The Plaster House in Arusha, Tanzania. Anna’s essay, This I Believe, appeared on this website, A Writer’s Space, in the Fall 2015. Pictures of the children we got to know and love are on the website gallery. This time my youngest daughter, Layla, 10, and I are headed back to volunteer.

Why now?

A team of surgeons from Colorado travels to Arusha twice a year to perform reconstructive surgery on children with clubfoot, cleft palette/lip, burns and to train local surgeons and anesthesiologists, gratis. These children rehab at The Plaster House. The doctors arrive February 5 for one week and Layla and I will be there to help in any way we can.

CO Surgeons copy


But there’s a little more to it.

Two documentary filmmakers are coming with us. Lane Brown and Tom Attwater, of the University of Montana digital filmmaking program will be filming one child’s journey from her home, to Plaster House, to the Arusha Lutheran Medical Centre for surgery, back to Plaster House for rehabilitation and, eventually, back home. Lane has filmed in Africa before. Abdulai documents a day in the life of a Ghanian patriarch (, password screener). Lane and Tom together created Woodfire. Filmed near Missoula, it follows Casey Zablocki, through the long process of firing a traditional anagama wood-fired kiln. Woodfire will premiere at The Big Sky Documentary Film Festival in Missoula, February 26.

And, there is still more.

We’re taking fifty snuggly hoodies to the Plaster House kids thanks to my friends Addie, Cheryl, Cindy, Jen, Julie, Lydia and Stacie. And we have lots of clothes and shoes donated by Layla’s classmates.

And, there’s still more.

When Anna and I left Tanzania last summer we vowed we would figure out how to help Plaster House grow. At present, Plaster House is a breathtaking cluster of Spanish mission-style buildings perched on Mt. Meru, an almost three-mile-high volcano that dominates Arusha. But it’s full. And when the Colorado surgeons are in town, tents and cots fill the interior courtyard. I cannot overstate the danger of flu or meningitis. Sarah Rejman, the director of Plaster House, has plans for a new dormitory and volunteer housing on land adjacent to the current buildings and owned by Plaster House. I have been dedicated to learning about what it will take to raise the $350,000 needed for the project. It’s been a steep learning curve. I am now educated on 501(c)(3) non-profits, crowdfunding and, website design, social media, annual reports, five-year plans and oh so much more. I am grateful for my friends who are professional fundraisers and have accepted my invitations to coffee.

I know you guys get this in your email but have you been to my website? I learned when I returned last summer that most readers never go to the site to see the pictures and other stories that are posted on different pages. I dare you. Click here. Enjoy.

I’ll be in touch.



Plaster House, Tanzania

This I Believe, by Anna Eby

September 10, 2015

By Anna Eby, Age 13, Freshman at Bozeman High School

Shouting, laughing. The sound of happiness overwhelmed me as I walked past a wall covered with colorful, African themed plaques with names of donors on them. I continued walking. In front of me was a small grassy field, a play set with a slide in the middle. Concrete and tiled benches lined the edge of the lawn. Everywhere I looked there were children. Newborns to 18 year olds sat on the grass and benches talking, sliding down the yellow slide, playing board games. A group of boys were playing in the middle of the lawn with a four square ball. One boy kicked it, undeterred by the casts on both his legs, another boy headed it onto the red metal roof with crutches laying on the ground beside him, forgotten. Something brushed against my leg. I looked down to see a small boy standing next to me, a slightly deflated volleyball in his small, dark hands. “Unataka kucheza kwa mimi?” He asked nervously. Do you want to play with me? I nodded, showing I understood and he tossed the ball into my hands. We threw the ball back and forth a couple of times, before some other child took it, and ran away with it. We stood there together, not talking, just looking around. Feeling slightly awkward, I asked what his name was. “Jina lako nani?” He mumbled something. I leaned closer.

“Nuru.” He said.

“Twende, Nuru!” Let’s go! He took my hand and we walked around the field passing other children playing checkers with lego pieces or shoots and ladders. He walked with his little six year old legs and sat down on one of the concrete benches next to a tiny girl with casts on both legs.

“Mzungu!” White girl. squealed the little girl. She slid off of the bench and waddled over to me. “Mzungu, mzungu!” She grabbed onto my jeans and giggled.

“Jina lako nani?” What is your name? She just giggled more. I lifted her up by her armpits and carried her over to the bench. She sat next to Nuru and smiled at the ground, occasionally laughing to herself. I watched the two of them smile, laugh, and talk in Swahili that was too quiet and fast for me to understand.

I had no idea what these children had been through. In their small life they have probably endured more pain and hardship than I ever will. And for the first time, I didn’t feel sorry for them. After all of my life being told to feel sorry for the poor African children, I didn’t pity them. Because they had something I did not, something that I, and most people, seek quite dearly. Pure happiness. These two children were the happiest people I have met in my life. And they sat next to me on a concrete bench, the girl with both legs in casts, the boy with scars on his arms and face. They chewed on stale bread, and watched another boy in a wheelchair tossing a ball to my mother. They were happy.

I believe that happiness can be found in some of the saddest, dirtiest, poorest places on earth. These children don’t have much, they know that. They are very grateful for what they have. They’re minds are not weighted and riddled by greed. They have difficult lives so they make the most of everything.

Nuru once had two casts on both of his feet like the girl does, his bones bent inward from the water he drank. His legs are now perfectly normal. He is happy, even though he spent six months of his short life away from his mother. He appreciates the chance he was given and loves the new opportunities he now has.

The girl, who’s name I later learned is Ebenezer, has clubfoot. She is happy even though she goes between sitting in a bed all day, and hobbling on bent and plastered legs. She is happy even though she has to balance on two feet that are at a 45 degree angle from her knees. She loves life more than anyone I have ever met.

It is hard to remember what I have learned from these two since I have been home for a couple of months. But sometimes I will get flashes, when I see little American kids, the same age as Ebenezer and Nuru whining about this or that. I remember how appreciative Nuru and Ebenezer are. I learned more from those two about happiness than I think I will learn in any psychology class. I strive to be more like them everyday. I believe we all have a lot to learn from them. I believe in happiness.



Joyful Time

June 18, 2015
Kid's Feet


It’s dreary outside this morning. No outline of the mountain at all. And fairly dark for 6:30 a.m. I awoke before dawn and had the rare chance to lie in bed and listen to the birds as they too awoke. Only a few bird songs. Winter is curious here. All slows down. Fewer birds. Fewer people out and about. All hunker down even though the low at night is a mere fifty degrees. Perhaps all bodies need a season of rest, no matter the temperature.

We are winding down our second week at Plaster House and have our eyes on the calendar now. Only two weeks left here in Tanzania and there is still so much we want to do and people we would like to see “just one more time.” Time is fleeting.  But it is oh so full.

Our time at Plaster House has been full and rich. So much so that I will surely need time to digest these experiences.  What I know now? That working with children means being present and aware each moment, a yoga practice. And that working with children also means giving. Giving of ourselves each and every moment we are there. But the gift we bring of ourselves every day does not match the gift the children present to us each day. The gift of joy and magic and smiles and song and play.  Continue Reading…

Family Stories

What’s Up?

May 26, 2015
hippo fight

Hello Friends,

Quick update. I write from Paris where we have been enjoying the sights and fabulous French food since Saturday. Alex and Layla will head back to the U.S. on Thursday, May 28th. Anna and I will be flying back to Arusha, Tanzania the same day.  Anna and I are returning to work with children at Plaster House. Please check it out. We will be back in Bozeman, Montana on July 5, 2015.

ALAS!! — the latest round of Serengeti photos are up in the Gallery.  Access them at

We had the time of our lives with our incredibly knowledgeable and now great friend Max Isaya. This photo essay takes you through a day in the life on safari with Max. We also made a new friend in Emanuel Melubo who is featured in some of the photos. He is of the Maasai tribe and co-owner of Sidai Designs with Eszter Rabin. They have created a non-profit benefitting urban Maasai women. Please check out Eszter’s stunning, beaded jewelry designs available at boutiques and museum shops around the U.S.  All of the beading is done by Maasai women.

Tutaonana tena!  Until we see each other again.



The Mountain Gorillas of Rwanda

May 6, 2015

The odor is thick. The kind that sticks in your nostrils. Strong musk. Just shy of skunk. I look at our park guide. I can smell them, I say as we move deeper through the bamboo and dense undergrowth. Bosco leads our small group of six. Roger, a second park guide, accompanies us as well as a tracker carrying a machete. The bamboo cracks beneath our feet. We duck under low hanging vines and there, lying flat on their backs, in a small open area not more than 10-12 feet from us are what we have come to see. The Mountain Gorillas — the species brought to the world stage by Dian Fossey almost 50 years ago. The silverback is behind the bush, Bosco says aloud – not in a whisper. A foretelling of the tone of the visit which is about to unfold. I sidestep to the left and the great Agashya comes into view. His long silver back outstretched; his front facing away from me. He is sedate. Chill. Almost as chill as the females sound asleep surrounding him.


Bosco motions for us to follow him further left and deeper into the foliage. Come, black backs are playing here. Black backs are male adults whose backs have not yet grown their silver hair and who are beta to Agashya’s alpha and not permitted to mate. Only Agashya will father the babies of this group.

The word Agashya in the mother tongue of Rwanda, Kinyarwanda, means “special.” Our education about the Mountain Gorillas and this special group started very early that morning.


 “Good morning!” Lawrence our host at the Bambou Lodge belted out along with a powerful wake-up knock on our rondele door. It’s finally 5:30. I had been awake for who knows how long. I felt nervous about the hike – high altitude and no way to know how far until the trackers found the gorillas.   I was also somewhat fearful of being run over by a gorilla. I had felt the power of a baby panda bear when I held one in China. A gorilla’s unleashed, animal strength must be greater.

Continue Reading…


Why are we going to Rwanda?

April 17, 2015
640px-Flag_of_Rwanda.svg copy

By Alex Eby

If Rwanda conjures any meaning for you, it most likely has to do with mountain gorillas or genocide and perhaps Don Cheadle. Now I’m no historian, so what you read here has not been exhaustively fact checked. I’m simply trying to make sense of what I’ve read, heard and learned and then offer that to others.

Of course there was a colonial period – Belgium and King Leopold in this case. Lots of nuanced historical factors influenced what happened for 100 days 21 years ago, but here are some basics. More than 200 years ago there were two main indigenous groups here, the Hutus and the Tutsis. Intermarriage was abundant and so by the 1800s these distinctions were economic or class based, not ethnic. This is important, there were and are still generally two groups, but they aren’t ethnically separate.

The wealthier (determined by number of cattle owned) were Tutsis and were a significant minority, but they were put in power over the Hutus by the Belgians. Every person was assigned an identity card. This of course led to resentment. After independence from Belgium in 1959, the Hutu, by shear majority took over; there were atrocities then and many Tutsi people fled the country.   Over the years there were attempts by Tutsi to regain some standing in the country. In 1994, this all boiled over for 100 days. What resulted was indescribably brutal. It saw people that knew each other, neighbors, attacking one another. Mass murder was committed with machetes on a very local level by many, many people. No other countries came to help, including and especially the United States.

Continue Reading…

Family Stories, Tanzania

Goodbye, For Now

April 12, 2015

I opened a book this morning that Sarah gave to me a couple of mornings ago, Journey to the Heart, by Melody Beattie. Sarah told me to open the book to any page and read and discover a little something about me, my day, a deeper look into the present. Today’s title, “See How Each Soul Has Touched You.” The section talks about the significance of a relationship unnoticed until later. It talks about such a relationship as a dance, quiet interactions, themes barely noticed. Appropriate for today?

Sarah left for Nairobi yesterday to be with her Mum and Dad. Her Mum, who is 75, found two lumps in her breast last week and this past weekend had a mastectomy. The surgery went well and we are hopeful that she will be released Tuesday or Wednesday. Sarah will help her get settled at the “the club” in Nairobi and return home on Wednesday.

Sister, Denise, is here. Close by. Planting the farm along with the farm workers. Getting the beans, barley and grass seeds safely into the ground. The rains have arrived and the farm is alive with growth, tractors and farm workers, mostly women dressed in traditional colorful, multi-patterned clothing. I am teary-eyed knowing that we will be saying goodbye to our friends in less than two weeks.

It’s not difficult to “see how each soul” here has touched us. Sarah, Denise, Di and Chris. First friends, now family who took us in, provided us with a real home, flowers in the vase at the center of the table, birthday party for Layla, surprise birthday cake in the fridge for me, welcoming, warm invitations to dinner at their houses, much, much needed challenging conversation about pretty much everything under the African sun.

By staying here and settling in with this family who has lived in Tanzania since before independence, we have experienced Tanzania as we would not have other wise. Some things as simple as the truly hidden away restaurants — turn left off top road, head past the rock quarry (where the most extreme poor sit and crack rock upon rock) and you will find Damascus restaurant, an oasis with a swimming pool and an unrivaled view of Mt. Meru. Head further up the “road” to Zanzibar-style homes owned by some of the wealthiest of Arusha. And, don’t forget about Abyssinian, also off top road. The best Ethiopian food prepared by your Ethiopian hosts. And, of course, Khan’s chicken-on-the-bonnet, I described in an earlier post. All places most expats have never been too.

But there are more serious conversations that have taken place here too: the hard, hard, hardships of doing business in a developing country in Africa where new taxes are levied regularly and applied retroactively; the cycle of poverty of the citizens of Tanzania – where the average worker’s pay does not allow for saving even a penny for something as necessary as a child’s education in a non-government school where teaching English is THE priority; the convoluted politics of the upcoming election in November, including the new anti-foreign worker law; the fact that women must get their husband’s permission to get birth control or choose to be sterilized and hence family planning in this overpopulated country is non-existent; that most of the well-meaning NGO’s of the last four decades have created a culture of dependency where hand outs have become the norm and the newest concept of macrocredits continues to fail because most of the population has never had to repay a “handout.”

We have come and now we will leave — with a much better understanding of Tanzania. What will each of us do with this new knowledge? We will have to wait and see. But, what we will do, feel, and think of our new family, I hope is not a mystery. I write this now as a promise to myself to never lose Sarah, Denise, Di and Chris. Wherever you are, we are with you.

The sun is just starting to peak through the clouds on Mt. Meru. Another African sunrise. I hear a safari vehicle headed down the farm road. Probably coming to pick up the Israeli family staying in House One for the last couple of nights. That’s going to be us in just twelve days. My heart aches. So much ahead and leaving so, so much behind.

New story in Travel Shorts about our visit with the Bushmen (fun and funny!) and photos in the Gallery.



April 3, 2015

Apparently on islands in the Indian Ocean there are no wells, only rainwater and of course, the ocean – the turquoise, translucent green, Tiffany blue, silent white foam in the far distance, ocean. All salt water; only salt water. Drinking water is transported to the islands by boat or plane for the tourists or the inhabitants who can afford it.

What I am getting at is that there is no such thing as a cleansing, refreshing, not sticky freshwater shower. Day four and my skin and psyche have not adjusted. One more day to go. At how many days does the skin stop itching? At how many nights will I no longer be awakened by the sensation of sheets being peeled off my legs?

I’m not sure I want to know. The words of a spoiled, white girl from the comforts of the U.S. who has only been to the westernized islands of the Caribbean and Hawaii. Imagine the surprise of stepping into a saltwater shower, brushing your teeth with salt water.  Something I only did one time before darting to the other end of the beach bungalow for the mini plastic bottle of water the hotel provides free of charge. Blech!! And I thought I was nauseous on the snorkeling boat.

I’m not complaining. I’m really not. I am just learning new things about myself and about the world. Islanders of the Indian Ocean eat, bathe, hunt, fish of salt of the sea; storing rain water for drinking. Me, I am a white girl with skin sensitivities I had been unaware of and way too tight to buy enough bottled water to bathe in!!

Oh My God! A tropical downpour! Layla! Go grab our shampoo!

Please check out new pictures in and new Travel Shorts.  Cheerio!