If We Could…

…we would shout from the rooftops, put your names on billboards, and announce our thanks on Yahoo’s Homepage!!  The “FUN-draiser Festival” for JustUsFriends in Grapevine, Texas on June 4 was a HUGE success.  So many of our Friends donated their time, talents and resources.  Simply put, we are overwhelmed by your support.

Jana Moon and Moon Healing Arts:  for hosting the festival and turning an idea into reality!

Karla Bass:  for help with promotions and organizing an amazing entertainment line-up.

Aeron Goldhart and Mark with Tesla Energy Lights

Diane & Eugene Bell, Rosemarie & Bennett Boggess, Ann & Ken Hollingsworth, Tina & Tom Hoffman, Danielle Swieter,  Mary Strange, Deanna Rowland, Kristi Barron, Alyce Payne, John and Mason Tatum, Angelina Szysh, and Ian:  for soliciting donations and working all day at the festival to ensure that it was a huge success!

Special thanks to our entertainers:

Santiago – flute;  Annie Benjamin – Guitar and vocalist;  Patrick Glynn and Kent Multer – Rhythm Tribe Drummers;  Quinn Eaker – Didgeridoo

Many thanks also to our wonderful venders who participated in the “FUN-draiser” to make the day such a success!

And finally, thanks to all our new friends who came out to support us.  We are truly grateful!

Simply thanking you on our blog or in our upcoming newslater doesn’t begin to demonstrate how thankful we are for your dedication to the children at Good Hope School and Orphanage.  Because of your selfless dedication to these kids and the surrounding community we will be able to bring the Tesla Energy Lights to Tanzania!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

200 x 20 x 20

Our group of friends is growing by the day!  We have 266 Facebook friends, thousands of visitors to our website and our blog has a strong following that grows weekly.  We are so excited to share with all of you that construction on the medical clinic you helped build in Arusha, Tanzania, is nearly complete!!  We can’t thank you enough – without your help the children at Good Hope Orphanage would not have access to medical care when needed.

In conjuction with the upcoming Fundraising Festival sponsored by Moon Healing Arts in Grapevine, TX, we are launching a fundraising initiative for our out of town friends.

Here’s what we are looking for:

200 People to Each Raise $20 in 20 Days!!!

That’s it, friends.  Just $20.  Nothing extravagent.  And judging by the following JustUsFriends has, we should reach our goal in no time!  So, here is where you come in: visit the JustUsFriends website and donate your $20 securely via PayPal.  Your $20 donation will provide one of the orphans with vaccinations and any necessary medical treatment.  

Our goal is to stock the new medical clinic for a year.  Check back to the blog often for updates on our progress.  We have 20 days to get 200 people to donate $20. 

And as a little extra incentive, we have some great looking new JustUsFriends t-shirts that we are dying to give away.  If we reach our goal of $4000 (200 x 20) in 20 days, we are going to randomly draw the names of 10 friends to send one of the new shirts to. 

Today is Day 1!!  Be one of the first to get our “out-of-towner” fundraising event off to a great start!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Look Out Tanzania!

Jasen Benton, the visionary who came up with the idea for JustUsFriends, is back in the country!  I had the pleasure of being able to Skype with him a couple of days ago and he was so excited to tell me about all the progress that has been made on the new medical clinic at Good Hope Orphanage.  Construction work is on schedule and the building looks fantastic!!  We also already have two doctors signed up to help Jasen in the clinic for the next year.  The amount of help JustUsFriends will be able to provide to the orphans and the surrounding community is immeasurable.  Thanks so much to everyone for your help and support!

For those of you who live in Texas, don’t forget about the upcoming Fundraiser Festival hosted by Moon Healing Arts.  (Check out their link to the right).  Yes, I know Texas is a big state, but if live anywhere in the Lone Star State you should find a way to get to Grapevine on June 4.   After all, as a Texan friend of mine always say: “Texas takes care of Texas!”  So hit the road – this is an event you don’t want to miss!  As for those of you who don’t live in Texas, you can still help JustUsFriends raise the funds to provide medical care to the orphans at Good Hope Orphanage over this next year. 

Don’t forget to check out the updated photos of the construction site at www.justusfriends.us  We think you’ll love what you see!  And keep checking the blog weekly – or better yet subscribe to receive updates on our new posts.  We have some exciting news coming up in the next couple of weeks!!

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

I Bet You Didn’t Know…

 …these facts about Tanzania:

►The country is a little more than two times the size of California
►The population just under 43 million people
►It is currently home to over 500,000 refugees
►Life expectancy is 52.85 years
►5.6% of the population is infected with HIV/Aids
►It is one of the most peaceful religious melting pots in the world with a population that is 35% Muslim, 35% Indigenous, 30% Christian
►Swahili and English are the official languages
►Gained independence from Britain in 1964
►Ranks near the bottom at #202 out of 228 countries in the world with $1500/GDP per capita
►Only 57% of children ages 5-14 attend school;of the 57%, only  87%  reach Grade 5
►Less than 21% of all students even get invited to enter Form 1 (high school)

Under government mandate all public school institutions teaching the U.S. equivalent of grades 1-8 teach classes in Swahili.  Ironically, all high school classes are taught in English.  Let’s look back at the numbers for a moment.  Out of 100 school age children in Tanzania, only 21 of the children make it through what we would call Grade 8 and get accepted to high school.  Of these 21 students, only 7 of them actually received a passing grade on the English portion of their National Exam.  The other 14 students entering Form 1 (high school) have a small – if any – chance of completing high school due to the fact that they can’t even truly understand what is being taught to them in English.

To state the obvious, it doesn’t make sense that the government mandate be to teach classes in Swahili to the younger children and in English to the older children.  But I digress.  I’m obviously not going to change any Tanzanian government regulations today.  Instead, I am sharing this insight with you to emphasize how important schools like Good Hope in Arusha are to the underprivileged orphans in Tanzania.  As an outsider it is easy to look at some of the obvious benefits:  the school rescues orphans from the streets, provides an education and a family-like atmosphere that nurtures the children.  Thanks to the help of JustUsFriends the kids are even able to receive medical care to ensure that they are healthy enough to stay in school and to protect them from life-threatening, yet treatable illnesses, like malaria or the flu. 

Here is something I bet you didn’t know:  privately funded schools supported by friends like you provide children who were born with nothing, the best chance to create a bright future for themselves.  You see, unlike the government run schools, Good Hope and other private schools like it teach the students English from the first day they walk into the classroom.  JustUsFriends is proud to partner with an organization like Good Hope that is committed to setting the orphans it serves up for success.  Like you, I am just another friend and supporter of JustUsFriends.  The only difference between you and I may be that I have had the fortune of visiting the country of Tanzania and witnessing the work Good Hope Orphanage does with my own eyes. 

The message of this post is simple:  I thought you’d like to know JustUsFriends isn’t in the business of building clinics or schools or orphanages, just to build them.  Instead, they are dedicated to the careful selection of viable projects that show true potential – projects that can truly change lives.

Thanks to you, JustUsFriends, Ally, and Good Hope, the orphans have a better chance than most Tanzanian kids to be one of those 7 out of 100 children.  They have a chance to beat the odds.

Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments

What Can You Do?

Sometimes I need a little inspiration to jumpstart my latest daydream, project, or assignment.  Most of the time I hope on my GoodSearch search engine and type in a few random words in the hopes that I will find someone else’s great idea that may help to inspire my next move.  (And in the process, every time I hit “search”  I raise another penny for JustUsFriends. Yes, this is another shameless plug for GoodSearch.  If you’re not using it – start.  It’s so easy and, as we all know, a little bit goes a long way in Tanzania.)  Anyway, back to the point of this blog.  Our friends at Moon Healing Arts in Grapevine, TX are helping out JustUsFriends by hosting our very first Fundraiser Festival on June 4, 2011!  We are so excited about the day and hope you will all put it on your calendars.

One of the great things about JustUsFriends is that many of our friends our scattered all over the world.  The downside to this is that it may be difficult for us all to gather on June 4 to enjoy the festivities in Grapevine.  The good news is that we can all still help make a difference that day!  So here is where I need your help:

Instead of using GoodSearch this time, we are asking you – our friends – for some great fundraising ideas.  And don’t tell me you don’t have any!  I know we’ve all probably taken part in at least 50 fundraisers in our lives.  So think back, maybe even way back to the second grade bake sale you were a part of, and share with us some of the most creative fundraising activities you have been a part of.  Whether you came up with the idea yourself, took part in the fundraiser or just couldn’t say no and had to donate to the cause – we want to hear about it.

Jasen didn’t tell me to write this.  I’m just another friend of JustUsFriends – like you – and I won’t be able to make it down to Grapevine, TX on June 4.  But wouldn’t it be great if friends around the world ran their own fundraisers in their own communities to support the JustUsFriends Fundraising Festival?!

Maybe you want to make an individual donation.  Or maybe you already have an idea and you’re starting to brainstorm what you can do to get it started.  Some of you may want to partner with other friends of JustUsFriends to run parallel fundraisers in different cities.  Get your kids and relatives involved!  This could be big!  I believe that together we can raise enough money to support the new medical clinic at Good Hope Orphanage for the entire year.

So, I’m going to get us started.  Here are a few fundraising ideas that even kids can do:       *  Organize a Soup Sale at your place of worship.  Ask your pastor if you and your family can sell quarts of soup after the service to raise money for JustUsFriends.                             *  Are you crafty?  Sell your crafts on Etsy.com and donate a % of all of your sales between now and June 4 to JustUsFriends.  Advertise your products to your friends on Facebook and let them know their purchase is helping to support a great cause!

What else can we do?  Your friends want to hear from you!  So before you go back to checking your email or making dinner, take a moment to share with us your suggestions by posting a comment below.

We want to know:  What Can You Do?

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

What’s it like to volunteer? Part 2 (The fun stuff)

In my opinion, Tanzania is the most beautiful, diverse country you can visit in Africa.  Now granted, it is also the only country I have actually been to in Africa (minus a layover in Ethiopia), but I’m going to bet that there are plenty of people who would agree with me.  Think of the geographic wonders you know are in Africa:  the Serengeti, Ngorongoro Crater, Mount Kilimanjaro, Lake Victoria, the island of Zanzibar, beautiful beaches on the Indian Ocean.  They are all in Tanzania!

As a volunteer you will work long, hard hours during the week.  It often feels like there is so much need and so little you can do to address all of it.  I have two pieces of advice:

  1. Don’t focus on all of the people you can’t help.  Instead, focus on the lives you are are changing.  To these people you mean more to them than you can even imagine – they will never forget you.
  2. Take advantage of your downtime!  Relax, fellowship with those around you and go out and explore!

JustUsFriends has many friends in Tanzania who are excited to share their country with you.  They know safari guides who are safe, reliable, and experienced.  With their help, the sights you take in will take your breath away.  The last morning on safari, our Range Rover ascended into the Ngorongoro Crater at sunrise.  It is a memory I will always cherish.  The rainbow of colors, mist, and endless beauty of the crater below are scenes etched in my mind forever.

There are a plethora of things to do in Tanzania.  You can visit a Maasai Village to watch an ancient tribal welcome ceremony.  Or camp in the middle of the Serengeti, falling asleep to the sound of lions and hyenas in the distance.  You can hike through unspoiled jungles with a Chagga guide, discovering hidden waterfalls created by the melting snows of Kilimanjaro.  There are coffee plantations to visit and beautiful beaches where you can soak up the sun.  The markets in town are vibrant and full of color.  Even the red dirt, that seems to keep you constantly filthy, becomes a part of why you fall in love with Tanzania.

Like a said, Tanzania is a beautiful country filled with many well-known, as well as hidden, treasures.  But don’t take my word for it: Lonely Planet, Travel + Leisure, and Budget Travel have all recommended it as a top travel destination for 2011.  JustUsFriends gives you the chance to pursue your passion to help others, while enjoying some of nature’s most beautiful gifts – all in one trip!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

What’s it like to volunteer? Part 1

Here’s the thing about volunteering in Tanzania:  It is an experience that will never leave you.  As a matter of fact, it will change you.  I’ve told dozens of people about my trip since returning, blogged about it and even had the chance to speak to high school students about life, culture and current events in Tanzania.  Yet, no matter how many different ways I tell the stories, I can never seem to accurately convey how truly beautiful the sights, sounds, and people of Tanzania are.

During my month in Moshi, I had the privilege of living and volunteering with 14 other volunteers from all over the world.  Some of us brought years of professional experience and skill to share; others came with little more than a benevolent spirit.  No matter which end of the spectrum one was on, we were all able to make a huge impact within the community in a relatively short amount of time.  Many of us quickly became the “experts” in our field.  Nevertheless, if you had the opportunity to listen to any one of us share about our trip, you wouldn’t hear much about what “we did” for Tanzania – you would only hear about what Tanzania did for us.

It it logical that a visitor to Tanzania would get more than is given during his or her time there – it is the Tanzanian way.  Tanzanians inherently give to others before taking for themselves.  What you see in Tanzania is more than hospitality – it is pure selflessness.  I met a chef and safari guide named Moses who explained it best:  When a worker finds a way to make some money in Tanzania, he does not keep it for himself.  Instead, he divides his earnings among struggling family members and friends, always thinking of himself last.  When a visitor stops by during mealtime, she is offered a seat at the table and a full plate.  Despite the fact that nearly everyone you meet has so little, they are so full of life and joy.

I’d like to take a moment to share with you a vivid memory I have from Tanzania:  A bunch of of were sitting in the living room of the house we were living in one night.  The room was dimly lit and filled with several mismatched chairs and couches.  A few people were sitting at the computer trying to send an email on Tanzania’s incredibly slow internet.  Our host mom, her daughter and a family friend were watching a movie on the 13″ TV screen with a couple other volunteers.  Two of the girls were sitting in the corner journaling and Jasen Benton began to tell me about his idea for JustUsFriends.  He shared a lot that night, but the moment I remember most clearly is when Jasen told me that he wanted to provide an opportunity for volunteers who were passionate about helping others and committed to the work to be able to volunteer FREE of charge.  I’ll be honest, at first I just sort of smiled and said something to the effect of, “Well, that’s cool.”  I never really thought that could happen though.  But here’s the thing I’ve learned about Jasen:  When he says he’s going to do something, he does it.  He is a man of his word.

Jasen’s philosophy is that if someone has a heart of compassion and wants to give freely of their time to help serve JustUsFriends, they shouldn’t have to pay to do it.  He knows there are many people out there – maybe even some of you – who have dreamed of volunteering in Africa, but could never figure out how you could afford to leave your current job for six months to a year, let alone pay to do it.  The financial support JustUsFriends receives not only builds clinics, it provides opportunities for dedicated volunteers to provide the skills needed to serve the people of Africa.

Taking a volunteer trip to Africa was a lifelong dream of mine.  Many of you, no doubt, share the same dream.  One of my favorite things about JustUsFriends is that, just like our house in Moshi, Tanzania, it brings together people – friends – from all over the world who share similiar passions, desires and goals.  I hope you all find it as inspiring as I do to interact with each other!

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment


Stop what you’re doing for a moment and reflect on your day.  How much money have you spent today?  Now think again.  Did you remember to add in the $5 you spent on coffee this morning?  Or the $.75 you spent on a newspaper?

While I was in Tanzania one of the things I was constantly reminded of was how much money we spend in the U.S. without evening thinking about it.  Don’t get me wrong, we work very hard for the money we make.  We should enjoy it.  Nevertheless, I am confident that if more of us knew how much of a difference just a little bit makes in the lives of our friends in Tanzania – or other parts of the world – we would probably buy one less Frappuccino and one more school uniform.

JustUsFriends was founded on the concept that people inherently want to help other people.  We are so grateful for the donations we have received so far.  Only a few short months ago, the medical clinic at Good Hope School and Orphanage was a dream.  Now the foundation has been dug and the walls are being built!  Incredible.

Our next goal is to raise the funds needed to supply the clinic with medical supplies for its first year in operation.  Did you know that the $.75 you forgot you spent on a newspaper this morning is enough to purchase amoxicillin needed to heal a bacteria infection in one of the orphans?  Just 33 cents buys a bottled of water and about $10 pays the water bill for an entire month.  16 cents pays for public transportation into town to sell goods at the market or purchase supplies.  And you can buy a large bunch of bananas for less than $1.

The list goes on and on, but you get the point: a little bit goes a long, long way.  Imagine the difference you could make if you took just $10 out of each paycheck and donated it to our friends in Tanzania.  You only have to look at the smiles on the faces of the orphans on our “Pictures” page to know that you are truly improving lives.

So, next time you buy that Frappuccino, considering making a matching gift of $5 to JustUsFriends.  No gift is too small – as a matter of fact, it’s much bigger than you may think.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Heavy Lifting

This past week we broke ground on the new medical center many of you helped to financially support!  We are so, so very excited – and it goes without saying that Ally and the kids are even more excited.

Building a clinic in the poorer areas of Tanzania is nothing like building even a garage here in the States.  The laborers helping Good Hope Orphanage do not have heavy equipment.  They are hand-digging ditches and the foundation.  It is, almost literally, back-breaking work.  Many of the workers are friends or local workers, putting in their time and effort for less money than many of us make in an hour.  When I first visited the site, Ally showed us the well he and his cousins hand-dug.  Can you even begin to imagine digging your own well?  Much less by hand?  We are so very fortunate here in the U.S.  And yet, across the world, in Arusha, Tanzania, these workers are grateful for the work and so very thankful that the kids will have access to medical treatment.

When you have a moment, take some time to view the pictures of the kids on our “Photos” page.  They are absolutely precious.  I will always cherish the memory of the first moment I met the orphans at Good Hope:  one by one, each child stepped forward and proudly introduced him or herself in perfect English.  The children were  so very proud to be able to communicate with us in English.  Their smiles were contagious.  One of the things that impressed me the most while in Tanzania was the value every child I met placed on his or her education.  One of the first things you would hear from a young boy or girl was the grade (or form) they were in and what their school grades were.  School in Tanzania is a privilege – even for the middle class.

The children, who are so fortunate to have been given a chance to succeed with the help of Good Hope School and Orphanage, still have a long battle ahead of them.  Sickness and lack of medical treatment are some of the biggest obstacles to keeping kids in school.  In the past, a doctor could often only come visit the orphanage one day a month to provide check-ups and treat sick children.  Now, thanks to your donations and the work of the JustUsFriends’ community, the medical center will keep the kids healthy and in classes.

Keep an eye on the building progress we are making at www.justusfriends.us You will find pictures of the build on the website.  We will continue to post updates here on the blog, as well.  We hope to have the medical center up and running by the end of May.  And we have a grand opening celebration scheduled for October.  More on that in the weeks to come.

Thanks to everyone for doing what you can to make a difference.  You are truly changing lives and opening doors of opportunity for these children.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

It’s only the beginning…

…but so far we have made incredible progress in a short amount of time.  It’s hard to believe that not even three months ago, Jasen Benton arrived in Moshi, Tanzania, with an open heart and a big smile, ready to serve where needed.  In less than a week the seeds for JustUsFriends were planted.  Needs were assessed, phone calls were made, and in a house full of volunteers from all over the world, conversations about a new nonprofit organization began to take place.  Jasen wanted to create a way for people to help people, regardless of limitations such as geographic location or economic status.  If there is a need, he wants to meet it.  If someone wants to help, he wants to provide the opportunity for a volunteer to do so.

Many of you have already followed the progress of JustUsFriends on our website and Facebook pages.  We have been granted 501(c)3 status and have already raised enough money to fund our first project: a Medical Center for Good Hope Orphanage and School.   To all of our sponsors and individual donors, we send an enormous thank you from JustUsFriends, the volunteers, and most importantly, the orphans, whose lives you have changed forever.  We can’t wait to share updates and stories with you about the impact your donations are making around the world. 

JustUsFriends is excited to launch our new active blog site and we hope all of our friends will join in the fun.  Enter your email address to the right to receive an alert when we post a new blog.  Leave us comments with suggestions about where we should volunteer next.  Share your most memorable volunteer stories.  Inspire us by posting your favorite quotes.  And don’t forget to keep an eye out for upcoming contests!

We are grateful to have you as friends and we are excited about the journey ahead of us.  Jasen’s mom, Fredda Wilson Benton, said it best when she said, “We all just want to leave this world feeling we made some sort of difference.”  Together we will join Jasen in reaching out to meet needs whereever needed –  and in doing so, we will meet our own needs, as well.

So sign up and stay tuned.  We have some exciting announcements about the progress of our first project coming in the next few days!  Until we meet again…

Posted in Updates | Tagged , , , , , , , | 6 Comments