Taking a break from North Branford's day-to-day management was no easy job for Town Manager Mike Paulhus, who opted to spend his two weeks off volunteering in Tanzania to help children in need at an orphange and school.
Paulhus has returned from the November trip determined to help raise $6,000 to bring materials that will build two sustenance fish ponds on the grounds of the rural farm that provides for the children of Baboab Home orphanage. He's established a GoFundMe page where contributions are being accepted. Visit the page here
The trip to Africa wasn't the first for Paulhus, who took up residence in Tanzania with the U.S. Peace Corps from 1989 – 1991.
"I had done my language and cultural training in Bagamoyo [Tanzania] as a Peace Corps volunteer back in 1989. In Swahili, [Bagamoyo] means 'Lay Down Your Heart.' It was one of the major ports on the Indian Ocean for the slave trade," said Paulhus.
Back in his Peace Corp days, Paulhus spent two years building fish ponds in remote villages near the Usumbara Mountain. The ponds enabled villagers to raise tilapia, an indigenous fish that rapidly reaches maturity, as an added protein source in their diet. In 1998, Paulhus returned to Tanzanian to visit the village area with his wife.
Earlier this year, "I just happened to see the website for the Baobab Home and the school," said Paulhus. "I said I would love to get back; and started communicating with Terri Place, an American who's director and founder of the home."
Located on a farm just outside of Bagamoyo, Baobab Home has been helping children and families affected by HIV/AIDS and poverty since 2004. Baobab Home includes among its programs Stephen Tito Academy, a school serving the home's orphans and also offering students from the community a quality, safe alternative to the area's overcrowded classrooms.
When he arrived at the farm in November, Paulhus dusted off his Peace Corps fishery volunteer skills to help determine the best plan for a project that will bring in two fresh water fish ponds, to add tilapia to the diets of children served by the Baobab Home.
"They are on a mission to be self-sufficient," said Paulhus. "They have a solar system for power and a bio-gas system for cooking."
As for putting in those fish ponds, Paulhus first had to help overcome some hurdles.
"Once I was there on the farm, we started to plan and survey, and did some testing. The soil there is too sandy – it wouldn't hold water for more than eight hours," said Paulhus. "So we toured a local government branch for fisheries training, and they advised us we have to build concrete and cement ponds if you want long term stability. I started working with marketing person and administrator on site there and began to put together the GoFundMe idea and a plan to come back [to the U.S] and raise funds."
Plenty of labor is available to install the ponds; but it's gathering the materials to be engineered and constructed and transporting them that adds up to $3,000 per pond. Paulhus also notes Tanzania is one of the poorest countries in the world, with an annual per capita income of $3,100.
In addition to developing strategies to bring in fish ponds, Paulhus assisted with drilling a well for water, helped install a small water filtration system in a facility kitchen, and also volunteered in the classroom, reading with students. The school has 110 students and the orphanage is currently home to 10 children.
"It felt really good I could go with some skills," said Paulhus. "I know a little about fish ponds, so I can help in some way; plus having the school there, I was able to spend a little time in back of classroom and help children to practice reading to me in English."
Paulhus said he is grateful for North Branford's support in allowing him to take the time to help out in Tanzania. Town Engineer Kurt Weiss filled in as acting Town Manager while Paulhus was away.
"I feel fortunate I'm able to do that; and the town's been great. It just fit with the schedule; and I was able to get away and recharge the batteries and feel refreshed and inspired," said Paulhus. "For me, it just was an opportunity to sort of recharge the soul, so to speak; and give something back. These kids, I've learned, have hearts of lions. They've gone through so much, and keep persevering. The need is so great; it's one of the poorest countries on the planet. They're dealing with so much, and yet they're able to overcome so much."