John McCauley and the volunteers at Tanzanian Heavenly Homes.

‘Lifechanging’ trip to help people of Mto Wa Mbu

Regardless of age, ethnicity, gender or status, being able to share a smile and hold one another is what really matters. That’s according to John McCauley of Tanzanian Heavenly Homes, who in July travelled with 14 volunteers from the Mullingar area to Mto Wa Mbu, to continue the work he started there in 2012.

This now includes the new 2.4-hectare working farm to supply fresh produce to those living in the Tanzanian Heavenly Home complex, which houses 12 elders.

“Climate change is a big concern out there, it hadn’t rained for about two and half years, that has never happened before,” said John. “The cattle and the goats had died in the fields, everything was brown. “It usually always rains in February March – and this year they did eventually come, after more than two years.

“Our idea with the farm is to combat that. Two items are absolutely necessary, food and water, for humans and animals, so we said we’d buy this plot of land.

A singsong for the elders of Tanzanian Heavenly Homes.

“We were there to get the farm up and running. We purchased a bit of land a few months back, it’s roughly two and quarter hectares, and the aim was to get it ploughed up, manured and seeded, and to build a fence around it

“We were able to achieve that with the help of those who came out with me, and also with the help of the locals. The local ladies were keen on helping and as we didn’t have much machinery, they made a huge difference. We did eventually find a tractor to plough the fields, but we had no machinery to spread manure, so the ladies came and asked if they could help, and they put the buckets with manure on their heads and went off down the fields. And they did that for three days, 16 of them – they all got paid, so they were delighted because they had money for their own households.

“Within a week of returning home, I was sent photos of the plants that we sowed that are starting to come up. We have a river flowing through our farm, and every day for an hour we’re able to block it and flood the farm. Then you lift the dam and you let it go to the next farm – that’s the way it works. The water is coming from a mountain area and we hope to dig a well in time and use solar power to pump the water,” said John.

The local ladies at work on the farm.

“The people of Mullingar were so generous that it enabled us to do that, and we’ll have plenty of vegetables now, we sometimes have eight to 10 men staying with us in our compound, Tanzanian Heavenly Homes, so we’ll have plenty of fresh vegetables to feed them, more than enough, no more costly buying. We’ll also able to supply some of the very poor families in the area, and we’re also planning to set up a little vegetable shop in the village. And the revenue from that can book back into Tanzanian Heavenly Homes, towards the upkeep of the compound, and the men that are housed there, looking after their needs.”

John explained that there are now seven buildings in the Tanzanian Heavenly Homes compound.

“We’re able to house 12 men, two to a room. It’s lovely and clean, they have toilet facilities, which they never had before, there’s also the kitchen dining area, and they have three meals a day. If the weather is fine, they can sit out under the trees, chatting and talking, playing cards and drafts.

Riley Sheehan and Stephen Smith bring a new bed to a family

“You have to understand that these people would have come from a situation where, when they woke up in the morning, they never knew where their next meal would come from. Now, they have a roof over their heads, they have fresh clothes to wear, and food to eat, and that’s all down to the generosity of the people of Mullingar and surrounds who support our charity.”

John links in with the charity Senior Hope in Tanzania, and while there they visited other families in the region, as well as people living with HIV, to distribute food and goods. “We spent two days delivering food. We had the use of a flatback tuk tuk and we bought maize, beans and rice, with help from the local government, because you can’t do it without their involvement. We were taken up to a HIV area, mud houses among banana trees, they were lovely people. I went in and sat down with them and talked with them through the interpreter and we found that they had nothing. Some of them hardly had a pair of shoes on their feet, but above all they had no food. We were able to give them a couple of weeks of food, and we were also able to get some beds made for them because most were sleeping on cardboard on the ground.

Rachel Maloney make a delivery of food

“In the photos, you can see one of the ladies jumping around when a bed was delivered because she never had one before in her life. She was so delighted. Support from Mullingar has done this, and you feel good that you were able to achieve that. To see the joy in their faces from knowing someone cares about them. To give them dignity.

“I had 14 people accompany me on the trip this year, and were loveliest group of people I’ve ever had on a trip. All ages blended well. They had fun, and were always very courteous to the poor, and very helpful to me. They played a bit of music for the elders on the last day, and had a bit of a singsong. It helps those people to see that someone cares about them, and every human being needs that.”

Riley Sheehan getting ready to make a food delivery

Rozlyn Daly (19), Crookedwood

“Visiting Mto Wa Mbu with John and the rest of the group was an unforgettable experience. The trip was full of different emotions – we shared happy and sad days, frustrating and tired days, but most of all rewarding days, all of which contribute to memories of a lifetime.

“One particular memory that stands out for me was meeting Emmanuel. We were delivering food to the poorest of the poor on this day, and, walking along after the food truck we bumped into him. Emmanuel, a man of about 70, was on foot and a good way from home.

“He was having some trouble walking as one of his legs was sore, so we accompanied him back to his house. When we got there, we realised that although he was not on our list of people to visit that day, this man needed help.

Grace Gunning, Edel Glennon and Micheala Gibson bring some food to the local people

“He had barely any food in the house. His bed was a dirty, worn foam mattress on the floor and the house was dark and dusty. I was struck by how proud he was of the house, however, he didn’t start flapping and excusing the ‘mess’ like we would here in Ireland if visitors called unexpectedly. He was just happy to have his own house, something that belonged to him.

“Some plants were growing at the front door but none were harvesting food at the time. We left him a supply of rice, corn and beans. That wholesome food should keep him going for around a month.

Siobhan Darcy and Irene Fallon and Orla Wallace making a food delivery

“He was so grateful and thanked us profusely. The bed situation was assessed by John and the rest of the group and we decided that we should try to do something about it. He had one bad leg so I can’t even imagine how he was managing to stand up each morning.

“Every time we passed the house over the next two weeks, we checked in with him to see how he was doing. Our last day in Tanzania was bed delivery day and on that day we made a special delivery to Emmanuel’s. He got a brand new, clean, comfortable bed. We set it up with basic sheets, pillows and blankets. He lay back and was just looking up, into space really. Although it’s difficult to communicate via Swahili/English, that man didn’t have to say anything because his face said it all. He had a smile that nothing could wipe away, simply overjoyed with emotion.

“That evening as we headed to Kilimanjaro airport it was around 10pm. I was starting to get a bit tired and it reminded me of the events of the day. I couldn’t stop thinking about Emmanuel and how he must have felt like a king in his new bed right at that moment. I’m sure he had the best sleep of his life that night. It really didn’t take much to change this one life. Without a doubt, he will never forget the kindness of the people of Mullingar.”

Carmel Byrne playing with some of the children in Tanzania

Orla Wallace (17), Mullingar

“Before I left for my trip to Tanzania, I had no expectations of what was to come or how it was going to affect me. I spoke to my mam about the journey while we looked at photos John McCauley had given me. My mam got a little upset seeing the circumstances people were living in, but I was numb to it.

“I remember feeling worried that when I got to Mto Wa Mbu with the group that I wouldn’t be able to resonate with how the others were feeling and I would be the ‘odd one out’. Turns out, nothing could be further from the truth.

“The saying, ‘you just had to be there’ is very true. Standing with these people, hugging and holding the beautiful people of Mto Wa Mbu, is hard to describe. Witnessing the difficult and devastating situations these people live in, but the love and happiness they show, the welcome we got from the locals was outstanding.

Some of the local group taking a break with their new Tanzanian friends.

“Whenever I entered a home or a shelter, there was always positivity, no matter the extreme poverty. The smiles and laughs that came from those homes was heartening.

“We got to make big changes in lives of those living in Mto Wa Mbu by providing food, beds, clothing and education, but that couldn’t have been done without the generosity of the people of Mullingar.

“The biggest change I saw during the trip came from within, being able to sit and speak to a person made such a difference to both me and them – the simple things of sharing a laugh or a smile with someone, is what I truly believe made a real difference.

“I never get lost for words but I am now, stunned by what I have experienced, and cannot express my gratitude to the people who supported me and my crazy dream at 17 to travel 17,000 miles away to help people who need it most. While we made a difference, there is so much more to do, so please, if at all possible continue to support Tanzanian Heavenly Homes. The amazing things that can be made possible with a single euro are astronomical.”

John McCauley chatting to some of the elders that his charity supports.

Carmel Byrne, Kinnegad

“From the moment we arrived in our village, I knew I was in a special place. It is a place filled with mixed emotions. The people are so special and the elders and poor are exceptionally important in the work of Tanzania Heavenly Homes. My first impression of the elders’ dwelling was that of peace and tranquillity where the elders are enjoying listening to music and watching television, all provided thanks to the kindness of people from Mullingar.

“They are very happy in their environment and live a simple life. They have shelter and comfort and are happy people. They are so grateful for the little pleasures and love when they see the group arriving from Ireland to spend time with them, and they enjoy the traditional music that’s played for them.

“They will forever hold a special place in my heart, and I miss all the elders and people we met for those two short weeks, dearly. But there is comfort knowing they are happy and doing well at Tanzanian Heavenly Homes.”

Riley busy at work.

Irene Fallon, Cullionbeg

It was a privilege to go to Tanzania and walk in the footsteps of my daughters Emily and Kate, who had travelled out there previously. Our main goal was to connect with Senior Hope and to use our resources to aid them with money donated by our family, friends and neighbours. We all have a lot to learn from these people. The joy, hope, love and sharing are innate in these people and I was privileged to be part of it.

“I’d ask people, if they can, to please support the €3 monthly appeal. It goes towards wages for the staff and gives stability to this project and hope to others who live in the area. Every euro counts out there. I know I will return to Tanzania one day.”

Michaela Gibson, 26, Crookedwood

“I gained more knowledge and compassion for people, the people of Mto Wa Mbu, in those two weeks than I have in my entire life. I was so moved when I saw the improvements that John and Tanzanian Heavenly Homes have made to the lives of so many people, while also being so honoured to be able to contribute on our trip and, hopefully, going forward too. This was the experience of a lifetime and one I will never forget.”