“Lalafofofo” is a playful Swahili expression that means “sleeping peacefully.” When verbalized, it often results in a smile from most locals. We appreciated its double meaning, and that it could be remembered easily by English-speaking kids back home.

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A Bridge, A Pipe and Lunch: Our Story

Laura and Brannan Vaughan and their three sons, Sam, Reid, and Tate were seeking an experiential and service learning experience. In January 2015 the family chose Moshi, Tanzania, and moved there for six months in January 2015.  Here is how the Vaughan family founded Lalafofofo.

Silicon Valley, California is home for us, and we thought that living and going to school for a semester in a less developed country would be character-building for our kids. It turned out that service learning would be the key to unlocking the Moshi community for us, as well as the link that kept us connected to home. “A Bridge, A Pipe and Lunch” and, ultimately, Lalafofofo, were the result.

A Bridge:  The “Bridge to Kimashuku” was originally a collaborative building project between the Japanese government and local organizations managed by our Moshi Neighbors, Steve and Anne Street, and Kimashuku’s village elder.  The bridge allowed villagers of Kimashuku to cross the Weruweru river safely during the annual rainy season when runoff from Mt. Kilimanjaro runoff cut villagers off from getting supplies. But this critical footbridge was in serious disrepair, making it dangerous for to use. Our youngest son, Tate (then nine years old) raised more than $6,000 in two months to repair the bridge.

A Pipe:  When we first visited Mlima Shabaha, a village west of Moshi, there were members of the Maasai tribe wearing distinctive traditional clothing, living in thatched huts, and herding goats. We toured the Mlima Shabaha public school and met with the principal. Noting the lack of drinking faucets and a huge stack of plastic water containers, we learned the school had no running water and students had to carry water jugs in every morning.  Reid (then ten years old) raised $3000 in four weeks to install a pipe, bringing running water to the school.

Lunch: Still at Mlima Shabaha School. there was a classroom of students similar in age to our thirteen-year-old son, Sam. After speaking with the students, Sam learned that they had a breakfast of tea at home, then walked to school and spent their day without food—there was no money to provide student lunches. Our neighbor, Steve Street, said it would be beneficial to buy enough corn, beans, oil, sugar, and salt to provide 150 Mlima Shabaha students with lunch for a year. Sam raised $1,500 for the lunch program in seven days and decided to keep raising funds for food supplies for the next five years.

Our sons’ set up and managed individual fundraising campaigns for each project. Friends and schools back home in the U.S. and Europe responded generously. In addition to donating funds to the boys’ online website, they planned bake sales, involved their school leadership groups, posted our story on their Facebook pages, and sent information to school and local newspapers. We were overwhelmed and humbled by the positive responses and inquiries about how they could help. It was then that we realized a great potential existed for other families and children to participate in this experience—without traveling to Kilimanjaro for six months, kids back home could still gain an understanding of Tanzanian culture and people by participating in projects that were affordable, small-scale, and tangible. 

Hence, from our service projects, which we collectively dubbed “The Bridge, A Pipe and Lunch,” we started a nonprofit in Tanzania and California called Lalafofofo to keep connecting kids back home to small-scale “micro-projects” in Kilimanjaro. We hired a friend in Moshi to oversee and monitor the projects.

Planting trees to reforest Mount Kilimanjaro to provide locals with a source of firewood; buying mattresses for an orphanage for disabled children and albinos; building houses for Maasai widows shunned from their community; fixing roofs of government schools that can’t even afford to pay their teachers, and providing inexpensive solar lanterns to bring light into huts with no electricity at night are just some of the projects that are currently needed. These projects are affordable for most U.S. families, and they allow Americans kids to learn that they can help others in a specific, tangible way. Hopefully, they can also learn more about Tanzania in the process. Through Lalafofofo, our family is maintaining a connection to the Kilimanjaro community long-term, ideally for years. Since returning to the U.S. from that first trip, we’ve returned twice and will continue to return annually. This is our way to say thank you to them for their generosity and help when we first arrived.