Third World lessons

Published 6:28 am Thursday, July 17, 2008

“It was like stepping back 150 years in time…”

Daryl Prihoda can’t entirely believe where he was and what he did this summer and last fall.

Back home, Prihoda said he has developed a different appreciation for the comforts he and his wife, Jane, enjoy in America, but “less of an attachment to those things.

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“I could very easily give up quite a few possessions,” he said.

What did he learn about himself in leaving the comforts of his American lifestyle?

“What I learned was I have been gifted and blessed, not for myself, but for what I can do for others,” he said.

The last time the utility lineman paused to gaze from atop a tall pole, it was southwest Austin.

Earlier this summer, it was directed toward a school for 270 students in the south central highlands of Tanzania on the east coast of Africa.

“It was really rewarding to see a group of 31 diverse people come together as a working group, a spiritually connected group and as new friends,” he said of the mission project that took him to Africa.

Some screaming about bugs, primitive living conditions, including an open latrine, no running water, no electricity, but no whining accompanied the Lutheran volunteers’ visit to the African nation.

“We knew we were going to a Third World country and we had a job to do,” he said.

Prihoda has been a line worker in the electrical department at Austin Utilities for 18 years.

He and his wife, Jane, live on an acreage outside of Austin. They have two grown sons.

Members of First Lutheran Church in Blooming Prairie, they learned of the mission opportunity from Jane’s sister, Marlene Harty, who attends Trinity Lutheran Church, Stillwater.

The church sends a group of 30 or more volunteers to Tanzania.

Prihoda was part of a group who visited the African nation in October 2007 before the June 10-25 trip this summer.

The group’s destination was a secondary school equivalent to an American high school at Bomalang-Ombe in the south central highlands of the nation.

“They had the opportunity to bring electricity to the school for the first time ever. They’ve never had electricity,” Prihoda said. “Their secondary schools are basically private schools. The government provides primary school through the sixth- or seventh-grade. To go on from there, you have to pay for your schooling.

“They are mainly African village children in ages ranging from 14 to 30 years old. School is more a product of opportunity than it is of age,” he said.

Tanzania, officially the United Republic of Tanzania is a country in East Africa bordered by Kenya and Uganda on the north, Rwanda, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of the Congo on the west, and Zambia, Malawi and Mozambique on the south. To the east it borders the Indian Ocean.

Tanzania has its challenges: soil degradation, deforestation, destruction of coral reefs threatens marine habitats, recent droughts affected marginal agriculture and wildlife threatened by illegal hunting and trade, especially for ivory, but it enjoys stability unknown to other African nations.

It is among Africa’s most popular tourist destinations.

Step out into the vast open plains of Tanzania and one suddenly feels very, very small.

Prihoda, who was joined by his wife, Jane, on the June trip to Tanzania, had never been outside the United States before joining the Stillwater’s mission trips.

“Tanzania at this time is quite stable right now,” he said. “These are developing countries. They are coming out of imperialistic rule, communism and everything else that has been mixed up in those countries.”

Prihoda said he felt it was a “calling” to go to Tanzania.

“Indeed, I did and that was a big part of it,” he said. “My sister-in-law had been there in June 2007. At that time, they worked on a water project. The school never had running water. Never had well water. They had two water holes where they walked to each day to bring back all the water they needed to cook, bathe and clean with from open water holes. They carried the water up in 5-gallon pails.”

The Tanzanians connected to a well from a nearby factory and the Stillwater Lutheran volunteers helped them to connect to a dependable water supply.

At the time, the volunteers and their Tanzanian hosts discussed bringing electricity to the school.

“When they were leaving, they found they could get some funds for poles and to start the electrical system,” Prihoda said.

The Stillwater church decided to return in October 2007 to begin the electrical system project and set poles for a powerline.

“It was one of those deals where you think you would say something like ‘I’ve got to sleep on it and think about it,’” Prihoda recalled, “but for me it was just like the Lord said to me, ‘I have prepared you to go and you need to go,’ and I just said ‘yes.’”

Prihoda’s first mission trip to Tanzania was a success.

“The Tanzanian people are so friendly and so accepting,” he said.

In the span of six days, Prihoda and the electrical system crew set 30 poles.

“The holes were dug by hand, the poles were stood up and set in the holes by hand, tamped by hand and moved around all by hand,” he said.

He worked side-by-side with students from the school.

An Italian development group was contracted by the Tanzanian government to assist in rural projects. The group build a dam on a river and constructed a hydroelectric plant to produce the electricity needed in the region.

Prihoda called the Tanzanian workers “incredible.

“They are hard workers,” he said. “They are job orientated. They are a sponge for learning. They watch every move you make, because they have never seen this work done before. They respected us for knowing what we were doing,” he said.

Because most of the Tanzanians who helped Prihoda and the other volunteers were students, it created an even more difficult situation for the Tanzanians than their normal school day of 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.

“They came out and worked when they had breaks between classes,” he said. “Teenagers and young adults.

“The girls were just as hard a worker as the boys,” he said. “These people are used to working this way. The girls are used to working hard at home.”

Going to Tanzania not once, but twice made a different in the lives of school children in a very big way.

“A friend who just returned from Kosovo after being there a year and my wife and I were talking about how we were changed by the experiences we had,” he said.

“Jane asked the question, ‘Did you notice how much we have by being there in Kosovo or Tanzania?’ and he agreed he did.

“We’re just so blessed, but I think sometimes we miss it and take it for granted,” he said. “They appreciate what we’re doing so much.”

The electrical system was completed and needs only to be inspected to become operational; the community will then have electricity for the first time in their lives.

“The mission leaders from Stillwater were very knowledgeable. We did some very good work under their leadership,” he said.

Last words?

“I want to thank everyone who believes in projects like this, who believe in helping others who are less fortunate than us and the people who believed in me and trusted that I could go there and get the job well done,” he said.

For more information about the Tanzanian mission project, call Prihoda in the evening at 437-6277.