This is Neema.
Her story has taken a bit longer to write.
Not because I wasn’t interested in writing it, but because I didn’t know how to properly describe her and my experience with her.
Neema is from the Kitiwo village in the Kilimanjaro region.
I had the chance to travel to this village with Neema to visit her relatives.
She was raised by her grandma and aunt.
Both of her parents passed away when she was young.
She doesn’t know how her parents passed.
The village is lush with trees bending under the weight of succulent fruits clumped at the top.
The houses are made out of clay and mud, usually with one room for people and another room for animals. The two rooms are connected.
Pathways to different homes in the village are lined with thin trees hosting large, thick green leaves.
Neema hadn’t seen her family in a year, since she left for the University of Dar Es Salaam in Tanzania. When she returned, it was as if she had just went for a walk down the street and returned. No running towards one another or big hugs. Seemingly no celebration.
I thought, maybe they aren’t that close?
Later, I learned that this is a cultural thing. You remain relaxed, and often the people you are most excited to see, you give the least amount of attention to.
It’s like a hidden code of respect.
In reality, her family is very close and loves each other very much. However, emotions are kept on the inside.
Neema spent the first fourteen years of her life in the Kitiwo village before going to an orphanage. She was sent to the orphanage in hopes that Neema would gain access to a greater education.
She was supported by Make A Difference Now.
She was able to attend a private school and set the course for her dreams in pursuing higher education. Now, she attends the University of Dar Es Salaam for finance.
The educational system in Tanzania is very different from the United States of America.
When Neema applied for university, she was able to select 5 interests.
The university then looks at these 5 interests and drop down the list until they find one that can accept students. Most of the majors are full.
She got her last choice.
Her first choice was in fashion design.
I asked Neema if there is a way they can change that, like changing majors.
Neema has very strong facial features and exudes confidence. She smiled a charming smile and said, “No we can’t change it. I must just work hard. I am in university and that is the good thing.”
Talk about being grateful.
In the future, Neema hopes to visit the USA and meet the people that have sponsored her way to higher education. She also wants to visit “Mother Theresa”, who is the founder of Make A Difference.
You can check out MAD’s website and profiles of the children they sponsor by going to: http://www.GoMADNow.org
Words and photos by travel writer Emilee Struss, @emileemaestruss