For years an African safari was a strong goal of mine. Last May I finally took the steps to make it a reality by booking a safari in Tanzania, joined by a friend. Little did I know what an impact the trip would have on me and how the safari would take second place in the richness of my experiences.
As someone who left a corporate career to do work that makes a difference in the lives of others, I stay alert to new ways that a difference can be made. Synchronicity played a role in the trip’s agenda as my friend and I both found the MAD volunteer opportunity on our travel agent’s website the same week. We each immediately knew we wanted to participate in volunteering, so traded plans for a two week safari for a week of volunteering and a 5 day safari.
Although the safari was an amazing experience, after spending time with the children, the highlight of the trip was no longer about the safari – it was about the children. Working every day with these beautiful, smart, funny, creative, and heart-warming children was a blessing. We helped plant trees at their school; played basketball in the yard at the orphanage; watched the joy they had in snapping pictures with our cameras; learned about their chickens; helped them make cards and write letters to others; shared with them the power of vision boards; shopped, lunched, watched a movie, and celebrated the successful test results of the older children; watched them dance and sing (and joined in at times); shared pictures from our safari on our return to town. We were always greeted and said goodbye to with abundant hugs and a ton of joy. We noticed their politeness to us and each other and appreciated their prayers for us as we left on our safari journey. Each day of our volunteer work we visited the orphanage, interacted with the children, and were blessed by the experience.
The children truly touched my heart. How could you not love the dimples of Omega and Upendo (whose name means love); a sweet child named Gift; the smile and hugs of the youngest child, Peter (who I called my snuggle bunny); the warmth and courage of Neema (whose name means Grace, as mine does); the funny and spirited Eliano, who always had a huge smile; the tenderness and creativity of Revo; the quiet strength and helpfulness of Deo (who graciously forgave me when I called him Devo); the seriousness of Juma (who loves soccer), the curiosity and gentleness of Christopher; and the quiet interest of Joseph (who helped his brother, Peter, find a place in the orphanage).
I am grateful to MAD, its donors, the volunteers, and the MAD team who support these twenty-two children with complete and quality care. House Mothers Macrina and Magdelana are constant, loving people in this family. Erasmus, the executive assistant, was easy to work with and always helpful, polite, proactive, efficient, and patient and informative with the tons of questions we asked. He’s a jewel and his caring for the children is obvious. Pina, the guest house manager, was a joy to be around, has a beautiful voice, and always cooked yummy food for us (we especially loved her banana bread and learning to make Ugali), and Kandu who cheerfully drove us to and from the orphanage each day.
I have traveled to many places in the world but this was the first time I’d done volunteer travel. Even while doing project work that didn’t directly involve the children, knowing it impacted the children made the work meaningful and makes me want to do more. The experience was so rich that from home I’m now planning to volunteer a few hours each week to help support the organization and shifting future travel plans so I can come back and work again with these children who touched my heart.
Nancy Grant http://www.nancygrantcoaching.com