|Students at Faraja Primary School. Source: Living Lutheran|
Nestled in the shadow of Mount Kilimanjaro, Don and Joann Tolmies have helped make the seemingly impossible possible for a community of children. Thanks to the couple’s generous gift, they were able to launch Faraja Primary School, an elementary school that serves children primarily with physical disabilities.
The Tolmies story began as high school sweethearts in their hometown of Rock Island, Illinois. Raised in Christian homes, they credit their parents with instilling in them a sense of generosity, compassion, and love for missions.
In 1999, Dwayne Westermann, pastor of their local Lutheran Church in Roanoke, Virginia joined him on a mission trip to visit the Northern Diocese of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania (ELCT). Don, 71, and Joann, 69, at the time were initially reluctant, but after prayerful consideration, they agreed.
While on mission, the Northern Diocese’s bishop at that time, Erasto N. Kweka, was prioritizing special needs ministry and education as one of his core diocesan initiatives. Despite the Tanzanian government guaranteeing education to all children, many of the schools were not equipped for students with physical disabilities.
Despite not having the funding to support a school, Bishop Kweka had blueprints developed in the hope that God would provide funding for a school that would cater to special needs students.
During the Tolmies initial meeting with Kweka, they expressed concern at the plight of the children in East Africa. Joann said, “My mother was a teacher for physically disabled children in Illinois, so I knew the difficulties these children face.”
Prompted by the Tolmies’ concern, Bishop Kweka shared the blueprints he had drawn up several years earlier when he first came into office. “Don suggested that we build the school in memory of my mother,” Joann recalled, “to honor her work with physically disabled children.”
After speaking with their children, the entire Tolmie family gave it’s blessing and pledged their support.
“We committed to our parents many years ago that we would continue the mission of Faraja Primary School,” remembered John Tolmie, the second of the couple’s three sons. “During our family discussions with my parents and our children, our dad would talk with the eight grandchildren that they need to prepare to continue on once Dave, Paul and I are not able to continue an active role with the school.
“My parents had a generational approach to ensuring Faraja Primary School could continue as long as there was a need.”
When the school officially opened in 2001, near the town of Sanya Juu in northern Tanzania, it was dedicated in honor of Mabel Swanson, Joann’s mother. Opening with just 15 students through the continued support of the Tolmies, the school now boasts more than 200 students.
Alumni have gone on to become doctors, teachers or other leaders in their community.
Source: Living Lutheran