Hello readers! Today my sister Rebecca is sharing her volunteer experience in Tanzania where she worked with orphans and spent time at a hospital.
Hey everyone, thanks for taking the time to read the blog and allow me to share my experience in Tanzania with you all. I have wanted to volunteer in Africa for as long as I can remember and although I had made several efforts in the past to make the trip there were always other priorities in my life where I did not have time.
Just over 2 months ago I married the best human alive, and he supported and encouraged me to make this trip. The reason I mention this in the blog post is because without his kindness and selfless love I may not have been brave enough to chase this long lived dream. His act of kindness allowed me to spread love to others. So much gratitude for my husband!
After researching various organizations I finally decided to go to Tanzania where I would work with abandoned children in an orphanage located in a small town called Moshi. My childhood and family friend Samantha also made the journey to Tanzania with me and together we made the 40 minute walk (one way) to our volunteer sight.
The culture in Tanzania is of course, much different than what we are used to seeing in the US. The native language is Swahili so I anticipated the language barrier and diversity with the children, but nothing could have prepared me for the emotional toll that I would experience. Upon our arrival dozens of children (no older than 3) greeted us with huge hugs and wanted nothing more than to be held, played with and loved. The orphanage, warmly named “Upendo” which means love in Swahili desperately lacks resources and volunteers. A small group of women work around the clock just to keep the children clothed, bathed and fed but there is a sincere need for emotional attention to these children. Unfortunately, due to lack of funding, time, and resources the children are often left alone and not given nearly enough attention. The sanitation and cleanliness of their living quarters is poor and infection cycles non stop between the orphans. Many of them have lost their mothers to HIV/AIDS and their fathers drop them off at the orphanage, usually never to be seen again.
Due to the lack of staff it’s extremely evident that these beautiful babies are suffering from unhealthy development and show clear signs of emotional and behavioral issues. We spent our hours doing various activities with the children (games, books, etc) and basic care needs (showers, feeding, changing). Many times the children would exhibit negative behavior to their peers and I would try my best to communicate to them a more appropriate reaction but the language barrier made this aspect of the work very difficult. More often than not, the children wanted to be picked up, hugged, cuddled and most of all: loved. One major challenge was giving enough time to each child because they would cry for attention and craved physical contact more than any young, developing toddler I had ever seen. It was heartbreaking not to give them enough of what I knew they needed and at the end of the day, you had spread yourself so thin but felt like you still had not done enough. The emotional reality of the situation tested my patience and strength and by the time we walked back home we were completely filthy, exhausted, and even frustrated. You cannot comprehend the magnitude of 55 babies who have no one to call their own, and the way it makes you feel when they call you “mama.”
Even though I would often feel discouraged because no evident changes were being made in the short 2 weeks I was there, I understood how important it was to be a positive presence in their lives. Samantha and I realized we needed to put a better effort in making our time there meaningful and memorable so we decided to teach them new games. Without speaking a single word of Swahili we were able to teach the children “ring around the rosie,” “duck duck goose,” and “if you’re happy and you know it clap your hands.” Watching the children hold hands with one another, smile and sing was one of the biggest highlights of my entire stay in Africa. It’s a beautiful feeling to be able to provide joy to any human being, but meant even more because these tiny humans deserve to feel that happiness in their childhood every single day.
Although I learned a lot about myself, the orphanage, and the culture of Africa in the two weeks I was there, I took home one very important lesson. I realized that there is so much life going on around us at any given moment and in that life is someone who needs to be loved, hugged, or simply greeted. The theme on this blog is just doing something and everyone can do something. I was fortunate enough to help people in Africa where the need is more desperate but I am more aware than ever that love needs to be spread exactly where we are every single day. Since I cannot travel to foreign countries on a regular basis I realize that my wish to help can be fulfilled in my hometown, or by providing needy children with donations and spreading the word about their story and how they are still surviving. I will forever carry the children of Upendo in my heart and through their love, I will continue to spread mine to others.