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Plaster House

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.