Growing up in the 90’s in the United States was exceptionally protected. “Don’t talk to strangers”, “Don’t get in a car with a stranger”, “Don’t take candy from strangers” were and are mantras that each adult has uttered, and children have heard. It took 9,788 miles to see these concepts turned on their heads.
When I volunteered to work in Tanzania, I was placed in the Tupendane Orphanage. Tupendane is a 90 minute ‘dala dal a’ (a public bus which is actually more of a van) ride and a 15 minute walk down a dirt road from the bus stop, and so vastly removed from anything I’d ever known before. Another volunteer, Lindsay, helped me find my way to the orphanage. She showed me the way, and led me past a playground her fundraising built, and as soon as we went through the door, I was greeted by a loud chorus of “Good Morning, Madam”. Before I could respond, there were 27 children surrounding me. Their smiles, and shouts of laughter were moving and the only response I could muster was a giggle of my own.
Over the next few months, I learned the gratitude and generosity of children. The group of 27 kids between the ages of 3 and 7 all crowded into one room helped one another with their English and Math lessons led by Lindsay. When it came time for the children to work on their own in their workbooks, the older children were very good about asking for help, and having their work checked. They obviously wanted to learn and were excited for the opportunity. The younger ones were more difficult to keep focused, but when mixed with a healthy dose of play, they loved it!
During recess the small playground was crowded with laughter and joy. This struck me as exceptional. There were no iPods, no PlayStations, no GameBoys, and none of them cared. They played and ran round in the hot sun pulling Lindsay and me in for a round of games and a sing-along of Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes. One little girl in particular, Lusia, favored us with her smile and aptitude for English.
After recess, the kids helped us pass out Lunch (typically maize, or rice and beans), and they settled down for a nap. While they snoozed with their pillow, Lindsay and I cleaned up dishes and watched over them while they slept. I was struck by how trusting these kids had to be, and how eagerly they gave themselves to someone willing to help. In those brief few hours, I saw so much of the potential they have, and how much help they need. I found myself thinking about my own childhood, and how much help I received. I was excited to give these kids the love and support they deserve. Never before had I been so glad that these kids trusted a stranger like me.