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Tanzania volunteer work brings new perspective

November 25, 2012
By Josh Moniz - Staff Writer , The Journal

NEW ULM A group of 18 Minnesota missionary volunteers, including seven from the local Our Savior's Lutheran Church, recently returned from their trip to Kikatiti, Tanzania, where they have been working to improve Kikatiti Secondary School for over decade. The group returned Nov. 14 after 16 days of volunteer work on both the school and delivering medical supplies to volunteer hospitals around the country.

Bill Koeckeritz, leader of the group during the trip, said the trip went great and the group was able to be very productive in helping students at the school. He said that the work they work they do over there is a life-changing experience.

Volunteers in action

Article Photos

Carol Koeckeritz (left) does an eye exam on a student with an auto refractor. Assisting with the exam is Kathy Runk (right).

The group provided extensive volunteer work for the students at the school and the people in the surrounding community. The group used an auto refractor machine, donated by Dr. Steve Arke or Arke & Clark in New Ulm, to administer eye exams on 650 to 700 individuals, many who had never before received an eye exam. The auto refractor was subsequently left with a volunteer hospital in the region for future use. The information gathered with the machine was used to match up 250 pairs of donated glasses with people of similar prescription that needed them. The group that was most benefited by the donation was the elderly villagers that participated in the screening. The group also took back additional 150 glasses prescriptions that could not be matched with donated glasses to the United States with them to order in the country and ship back overseas to those that needed them.

The second major project was the preliminary work for drilling a well at the school in Kikatiti. The students at the school currently rely on water pumped from a nearby mountain several miles away, which can only provide a set amount of water each month to the school. When the mission group visited, the school had spent the three prior days without water, forcing the students to stop schooling for a period to seek out unfiltered water from other people's wells just to bring it back for basic drinking water and cooking. The five-year well project is designed to give the school a permanent water supply. So far, the mission group has raised $22,000 of the estimated $30,000 needed for the project. During their visit, the group worked with well digging company set out the plans for the project and they are now waiting to hear the bid on the work. Once the well is eventually dug, the group will then turn their focus to determining the best system for removing fluoride from the water to make it safe, since the substance saturates the ground and leaks into the water.

Other minor projects included providing some painting at the school and teaching some practical skills, like sowing, to teachers, who could both teach the skill and use it if they move onto other work.

Changed by the experience

Koeckeritz said he learned that anybody who travels to Africa ends up coming back a different person. He said that seeing first-hand how many have almost nothing and most work daily to meet basic needs like food and water gives perspective to even those that assume they have little. He said the people's ability to radiate joy even with the little they have likewise gives a new ability to learn to truly appreciate the things you already have.

The school teaches 841 students from all over the region. An estimated 350 girls and 150 boys live in the dormitories at the school, many on a somewhat permanent basis due to them being orphans. Since space is limited, many live 10 students to a room with two kids on the top and bottom beds of each room's two bunks bed and two sleeping on the floor. The girls tend to stay in the doors in higher numbers because of the dangers of traveling alone. They learn the essential classes at the school, such as mathematics and geography, and have just recently been able to introduce classes like chemistry.

The students, similar to the subsistence farmers that live in the area, have to stop schooling periodically to work the crop fields on the school's land. The food grown in the fields is essential to assisting the usual food supplies for the school in making them last long enough feed the students each cycle, particularly due to the rising cost of basic food supplies. Each student similarly does their own laundry while at the school.

"It really recognize how blessed we are in this country. The [students at the school] have to regularly interrupt their school just to do the basic things to survive," said Koeckeritz.

He said that the people living in the land around the school were also farmers who mainly worked just to feed their homes.

Keep the school growing

Koeckeritz said the best thing for him has been seeing the school expand and grow over the last decade. He said the school had gone from a basic building with only walls to a larger facility that features dormitories, a lunch room and even a library. He said that over that decade, the missionary group has raised around $250,000 dollars to pay for tuition costs for many of the students at the school.

He said that his focus going forward will be to work on establishing more infrastructures here to better serve the school, such as raising awareness by establishing a website for the mission group.

"For even just a dollar a day, you can fundamentally change the lives of people over at the school," said Koeckeritz.

People wishing to volunteer or donate to the school can contact Koeckeritz at 507-276-2211 or via e-mail at

(Josh Moniz can be e-mailed at



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