It must have been the hyenas. On my first night in Betsy’s House, I could hear them out there in the dark talking about their day in their unique howling “Whrrrooooooooooop” noise. Switching off my solar lantern, I lay there thinking #1, this is just SO cool and #2 about my own day and the beautiful journey and the beautiful young woman that brought this little Kitenga cottage to fruition.
In 1999, Elizabeth ‘Betsy’ Greene died from colon cancer at age 30. She was feisty, funny and a true feminist and had been my best friend since infancy. As the years passed and we came to terms with her dying, it became important to me to find some way to keep her bright spark coursing though the world. It wasn’t until 2013 during my first visit to Kitenga that something finally clicked. Back then the campus was two disparate classroom buildings, a crumbling dorm foundation and rutted out truck track. I remember Anne holding the paper master plan and pointing into the distance, “So, there’s where the library will be and over there the science labs and there the dorms…” Way down on the list was a ‘perhaps someday’ dream to build a modest guest house that would relieve visiting researchers, tech experts, teachers and friends from the time-wasting cycle of leaving campus at the end of each day for the nearest town and making the arduous trip back the next morning. Staying/living on campus would allow folks to immerse deeper, mentor longer and teach broader creating a global community for the campus and the girls. I saw the long term impact a little house could have for this project and a seed was planted.
In November 2015, on what would have been Betsy’s 47th birthday, her mother, Susan Russell, her brother, Tim Greene and I launched a fundraising campaign bringing family and friends together to build what would be known as “Betsy’s House”. Mr. Immanuel and his team broke ground last spring and the completed house had its official ribbon cutting and blessing a just few weeks ago on February 22, 2017. On that day this little cottage, which up until this point had held just me and Anne, was packed full of Sisters and friends singing, drumming, hugging, dancing, laughing and eating amazing Tanzanian food including a huge, homemade chocolate cake carried all the way from Musoma. To say there were just a few tears would be an understatement. It was the most glorious day; Betsy’s House, truly a dream come to life.
From a wide and welcoming veranda the solid wood front door opens into an airy but cosy, colorful, light-filled space. The big kitchen table is solid, the sofas large enough to double as beds and the multi-striped, papyrus club chairs (papyrus is a renewable resource, natch) are handsome and just right. Two individually decorated bedrooms have comfy beds, kitenge wax print curtains and each has their own tidy bathroom hand plastered in beautiful jewel tones. But don’t be fooled by all this prettiness. Four simple walls built as a testament to love are now powerfully poised to take in opportunity, creativity and possibility for this amazing campus, its teachers and staff and, most especially, the girls. So karibu (welcome) to Betsy’s House! Please sign our beautiful, new guest book when you visit and enjoy those hyenas.
P.S. Hear great hyena noises here.