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Texans for Tanzania committed to helping others

By Jennifer Lee Preyss
Dec. 9, 2013 at 6:09 a.m.

Ruth Dickey, of Victoria, speaks with a disabled Tanzanian woman and her children in the village of Msoga. Dickey visits Tanzania yearly on mission trips, in which she helps with microenterprise projects aiding women among other service projects.

The first time Victoria resident Ruth Dickey returned home from a mission trip to Kenya, she remembers feeling dread, hoping her nurses had issued all the necessary shots.

It was the first time she had witnessed devastating poverty, hunger and mass disease.

She was "ill prepared" for those conditions, she said.

Dickey spent 10 days in 2007 assisting a medical team from Virginia that treated 10,000 Kenyan villagers for everything from pulling teeth to testing for HIV.

Still, Dickey, 67, was a spectator. Her heart was not yet invested.

That changed when she changed course the following year and traveled to Tanzania.

"That's where everything changed for me," she said. "I went from being a do-gooder to someone who deeply cared about the people I was meeting."

Dickey now leads a mission team to Tanzania every summer, working in the Swahili-spoken villages of Msoga, Tukamassasi and Matuli, helping to build education opportunities, providing uniforms and desks, building wells, teaching about physical wellness and guiding children and adults in their spiritual needs.

"We don't do the same thing every year. Some years, we do gardening and farming; other years, we focus on education," she said. "When you're there every year, you see things change. You build relationships with the people, and you leave with a real sense of responsibility to their needs."

Dickey jokes today that she feels like she was "tricked" by God into traveling to Tanzania, knowing she would fall in love with the people and desire to make a difference.

Dickey said she's building up the same team each year, knowing one day she's going to pass the torch.

"There's going to come a time when I can't go anymore - when I get too old and can't travel," she said.

Part of that team will forever include Victoria residents Sherry Schaefer and Donna Beck, who have committed to the needs of their Tanzanians for as long as God allows them to travel abroad. All three women attend Parkway Church.

"I'm in it for life," Schaefer, 46, said. "Every year I go, I'm building relationships and expanding them. God is laying more responsibility on me each year."

Schaefer said she and her husband are moving to Saudi Arabia in January for work, and she'll be only about four hours from her work in Tanzania.

For Beck, her commitment is equally solid.

Her faith is stretched each time she travels, and she realizes how much she takes for granted each time she returns to Texas.

"I realize that Americans are very spoiled and that we have everything. We can eat whatever we want and get in the car and drive anywhere," she said, pointing out that the government of Tanzania does not assist its people with education or financial handouts. "There's no other help for them besides what people like us can give them. Nothing. There's no other way. And now, when I hear people complain, I think, 'You know, we got it good.'"

The ladies said anyone who may be interested in taking the trip with them in 2014 can contact them directly.

"These people are incredibly courageous. Their stories are not about how poor they are, but how remarkable they are," Dickey said. "It's amazing what God does in you while you're there and what God brings you to - it's never what you're expecting."



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