Volunteers of MAD

thoughts on Africa

Court Ballinger

Africablog

I have found a place of reflection, a place to learn and grow, learn from others and face challenges I never thought I would over come. This place is in East Africa,Tanzania. To be in another’s culture is to be able to realize your own, as I fear many people in my country, still seeAfricaas a place of danger, backwardness and despair, it is much more then they project. I can say from my short time of four weeks over a time of two years the thing that brings me back are the people I meet. People such as Theresa Grant, a women who has awaken to herself her destiny. She is the mother of not her own, but to orphans that have been lost to the tragedy of HIV/AIDS or abandonment by their own families. Yet these children have been given a special opportunity, a chance of empowerment by education. Education is the greatest gift a child can receive, while in the states is it sometimes taken for granted education will come and will be a major factor in a young child’s live, inAfricamany children, thought not orphans do not receive adequate schooling and may not ever attend school. In light of this situation, the children in Theresa’s care are able to attend a private school, where they have a much higher chance and indeed do excel academically and socially. Already out of 22 total orphans, 6 are in primary school and 3 more will graduate from primary school, this year. The long term goal though is to get every child through college, which would be a reversible to where the children are coming from. Out from small villages, farming communities, where life is to be a slave to the land. And of course sending 22 kids to private school and college will not be easy, though with the help of volunteers from around the world, we climb mountains in a spirit of support, I climbed Kilimanjaro, the roof ofAfricato pay for the orphan’s school fees.

More on the children themselves, they steal your heart when you first meet them, with nothing, no video games, TV or material things, they play. All it takes is a soccer ball and the day flies by. They are all smiles and warm hugs, laughter, curious, kind and like you imagine children to be, seem almost normal, yet have no family to bring joy to. They are strong and in love with life and whoever comes to visit.

Memories ofAfrica

I remember my first night inTanzania, I arrived jet legged and was driven by a quiet man that I failed to strike up a conversation with. I arrived at the main house and meet Theresa, greeting someone in Swahili can be confusing, as I was after flying for so long. I was taken to my host families house and before I knew it I was sitting across from two people I was not sure knew very much English and that I knowing nothing of Swahili. I was served soda and cake, very odd to me to be having at around midnight. As I was eating feeling nervous and not quite sure what I had gotten myself into, I happen to look around the home of the host family. My eye’s fixed on a painting of Bob Marley smoking a large joint, “well,” I said, “ I guess you enjoy Bob Marley. For about an hour afterward, I engaged in discussion with my host father about Tanzanian music taste, international politics and his own views onAfrica. So began my experience inAfrica, little did I know that my morning would consist of a symphony of chickens calling to each other and the booming of American rap music.

My idea ofAfricahas grown and fluctuated in my time in hear. Africans are just like you and I, with families and beautiful children. Working amazing hard to provided a life that most of us take for given.

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In Africa life is the opposite ofAmerica, there is real community, life is slowed down and seems to be 30 years in the past. Yet for a young American like myself, I have lost feelings of strong anxiety that I feel inAmerica. Life I feel is so fast, at times we are too busy to care for one another, relationships seem hollow or meaningless, strangers are everywhere, an image based society with cites built for cars and not people, in Africa we get a feeling of what life once was. I am saying that to be in Africa can bring a kind of peace to a busy stressed out life, where day to day living is truly possible and how much money we have and the things we own are not as powerful influences on our lives or how we judge others. Though I have only been in Africa two different times and now have some understanding of what it is like to be a Mexican illegal immigrant in the USA, I think I see Africa in my future.

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Volunteers of MAD

We Came Here To Give, But We Get So Much In Return

I often struggle with the self-awareness that every time I give, I am actually being selfish. Isn’t the act of giving at least partially motivated by wanting to feel good about giving? It’s a bit of an existential dilemma that I sometimes torture myself with. As a MAD volunteer, I can’t decide who is “getting” more, the wonderful kids with whom we work, or us, the volunteers.

I arrived in Moshi about 5 days ago after a fantastic whirlwind journey across Southern Africa. I quit my corporate law job of 5 years to come to Africa and, well, Make A Difference. My thinking was: if I can make even a little bit of difference in even the tiniest way for somebody or something, I will have succeeded in my goal. With MAD, I have a fantastic opportunity to make a difference – in even the most minuscule way – in the life, or even the day, of a kid who needs something different to happen for him or her. We are 100% making a difference to these kids, daily, but they are also making a difference for us. I am trying to teach them how to read and speak English better, and I am even teaching them some yoga, just for fun. But in so many ways, I am learning so much more from these children than they could ever learn from me in the few weeks I will spend with them.

These are just a few life lessons I have learned in the short time I have been with these kids:

First, I have re-learned the joy of simple happiness. Though these kids have almost nothing, in many ways they have so much more than many American kids. These kids have the invaqluable gift of knowing how to be happy with simple joys. They don’t have Guitar Hero or iPads or cell phones. But they have each other, and they have a soccer ball, and they have song and dance and imaginations and a big old yard to play in. And they are genuinely happy. In this way, I am sad for kids in America who seem to have lost the ability to find joy and excitement in simplicity.

Second, I have reaffirmed my belief in the magic of human affection. Some of the children we help are absolutely starving for affection and they don’t hesitate at all to run up and hug you and hold your hand. Some of the children are a little shy when it comes to affection, but when you reach out to them, you can tell right away that they are also just hungry for it. A simple hug, a back rub, a handshake, a head leaning on your shoulder – the ability for humans to comfort one another simply by contact is truly remarkable. In our American society, we spend so much time trying to keep ourselves away from people around us – we need our space, right? – that we forget how much better our lives and the lives of others might be if we just melted each other with affection once in a while.

Third, I am touched by the amount of respect these children show for their elders. In American society, we have shamefully forgotten the debt of gratitude we owe to our elders, and we neglect to recognize how much we can learn from those who have lived longer than us. These kids have an instinctive appreciation for those who have been around the block for a while, so to speak. One of our volunteers is a great-grandmother, and the children not only love to have her around, they treat her like a queen. And that is the way it should be.

I volunteered for several projects across Africa, hoping to make some sort of difference, and it wasn’t until I got to Kilimanjaro Kids Care that I really felt like I was doing something truly positive that had an instant (and long term) tangible impact. These kids don’t want anything but your attention and love. Plus, the joy I feel from just talking to the kids about their day, or teaching them a new word in English, or just sitting and holding hands for a while, is indescribable. I suppose I’m beginning to re-kindle my ability to feel joy in simplicity again. Thank you, Kili Kids Care kids, and thank you Theresa and MAD.

– Steph Johnson

Volunteers of MAD

Gabi

We often take for granted the small things: a simple Hershey’s chocolate bar, toilet paper in public restrooms, and constant electricity. However, here in Africa a cheaply priced candy bar is pricey, you must bring your own toilet paper with you while out around town, and coming home to a pitch black house with no electricity is just something you become accustomed to. But I think that’s what makes it so special to us spoiled westerners.

I’ll come clean. I’m one of these spoiled westerners. When downloading tv shows off of itunes and the download time is longer than 30 minutes I get angry. I’ve always been a little impatient but after a week in Tanzania I expect to come back to the US with an unequaled level of patience. “Pole Pole”, the unofficial national saying of Tanzania, is a reality I never expected to be to the extent that it is. A friend of mine who had been to Tanzania last summer warned me, “Sometimes things don’t go the way they are expected and it takes awhile to do something that would usually take 30 minutes but that’s just the way it is”.

I experienced this firsthand within my first few days here. I arrived on the crowded (and completely freezing) KLM flight from Amsterdam at a few minutes after 8. After going through customs, which took some serious gesticulating and help from multiple other tourists I got my volunteer visa and set off for Moshi with Theresa toward my host family. I remember her saying “This is Moshi!” after about 45 minutes in the car as we drove into darkness. I could see a few people walking around but other than that I didn’t see anything since there were no lights to guide my eyes. I was a little worried that there wasn’t any electricity at all in the area but looking back on that it might have been better if that was the case.

I soon learned that there is in fact electricity however there are constant outages and you just really can’t count on it. Instead of learning how to live without electricity, the people of Moshi live with it on half the time and off the other half. However, since I’ve been here it’s been more like 30/70. To convey my experiences in Tanzania and with my host family fall into two categories: the nights with electricity and those nights without.

A typical night for me with the fam, when there is electricity, is what I would call a little bit of insanity. The two little girls, Clara and Joanne, are wild childs waiting to be unleashed. While Mama Clara, my host mother, prepares a huge feast for me, these two girls are up on the couches, shaking their booties and rocking out to Shakira, Beyonce, and Rihanna as it blasts through the family’s small stereo system hooked up through their TV. After each song, they usually change their outfits to ones that more properly fit the song (at least in their minds). As Beyonce’s Single Ladies starts, Joanne races to her room, does a quick outfit change, and emerges in a pink cat suit with a kitty on the front, a tail attached to the back, little ears on the hood. Giggling and working it under the blue fluorescent light bulbs in the living room, these two girls entertain me as I make a failed attempt to do some summer reading. However, this mini concert is short lived. Within the hour, the power is off, the girls are in their room quietly waiting for dinner and I find a lantern to actually do my summer reading. The rambunctious night quiets with the electricity shortage

Volunteers of MAD

Monique in Tanzania

07-06-2011

Hand Written by: Monique

Typed by: A MAD Volunteer

I had a blast in Tanzania. I would say it was one of my favorite places. I thought it was really cool to see a completely different lifestyle. Most people don’t have electricity, people live in huts, and most people don’t have running water at home. At home I never really put thought into how much water I used because ever since I was a baby, I always had it. I also never realized how lucky I was and am to sleep in the bed I sleep in, in the home I live in, in the town I live in. But seeing how many children have nothing was very new to me. The kids live in small huts or if they’re lucky they live in a small house, but even then its nothing like what we have in America. I noticed that the people that live in huts have no electricity so they just use day light and go to bed before dark. The kids have dirty clothes with holes in them. Girls would wear boy clothes and boys would wear girl clothes and it wouldn’t matter. They barely had any clothing. Where I live people frequently go to the mall for a fresh new wardrobe or to get something new for a date or a dance. When I went to the orphanage I saw that the kids had very little, but were still very happy. I imagined what it would be like for the people where I live if they were in their situation. I would think it would be very hard for them. Where I live most people have it easy. Most of us go to nice schools, live in nice homes, and have good money for basic needs and extra. Being in Africa was a touch of reality and exposure. I am very grateful that I had the experience to get that because I feel that that will make me appreciate more and might have even made me a better person.