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