Olympic fun and so much more!

August 8th, 2012

This year our time spent in Tanzania was truly amazing, even more so than previous years. The day we left Nyla and I started crying out of nowhere. We felt so silly because we had the greatest week and were unbelievably happy, we were just sad to leave all the people we connected with. We pulled it together and boarded the bus to Nairobi. This 7 hour ride allowed me the time to digest all that happened over the past week and really process the mix of emotions I was feeling. I will get to my conclusion… but first, I will tell you of the series of events held in Tanzania.

We began the week by meeting for dinner with James Nathaniel, the Director of Tanzania Children’s Concern and the Headmaster at St. Timothy’s School. While catching up with James I noticed a certain ease about him that I hadn’t seen in previous years. He gave us updates about the children, their current needs, and future goals for the St. Timothy’s compound. We were very pleased to hear the students had placed 4th in the region for high test scores. James informed us that the students had just finished testing and were now on break from school meaning we could spend much more time with them. Our eyes lit up and little light bulbs began to go off as we thought of all the fun activities we could plan!

On day two we went to visit the students at school. As we drove up they were waving and shouting, their familiar faces enlivening as we got closer. When we got out of the car, I looked around at the school, and I was in awe at the immediate transformations that I saw. What once was barren dirt surrounding the school building is now occupied by all sorts of trees, shrubs and flowers. The school is now green! After giving many hugs, high fives and never ending smiles the kids took us on a school tour where we discovered that they now have a vegetable garden, a papaya tree farm, and chicken coup with about 20 chickens and some ducks. The new addition of a borehole to the compound is now allowing for these income generating activities . The rest of our time was spent dividing the 180 kids up into teams/countries and coloring flags. Because the following day the whole school was going to compete in the St.Timothy’s Olympics..

The long jump.

The Olympics were INSANE! The kids were so into it, screaming for their countries and teammates as they competed. They even made skits about their country which they performed in front of their peers and teachers. I never went to summer camp, but I can imagine what it was like and I feel this was as close a comparison to being a camp counselor. It was orchestrated chaos. The teachers were super into it also, playing the scorekeepers and judges, getting up in arms when someone tried to cheat. It was wonderful interacting with the teachers in a spirit of play rather than work.

The next day we surprised the kids with a trip to Arusha National Park. We piled all 180 children into two buses (one being the new St. Timothy’s school bus that transports the 60+ children living at the Children’s Center to school everyday). The expressions on the kids faces as they saw giraffes, zebras, baboons and the many other animals which inhabit the savanna were priceless. You can’t fake that type of joy. So pure, so contagious. Ironically, my favorite part was when the school bus broke down in the park. As we were driving to the park exit about to head home we suddenly hear a huge boom and feel the bus jolt as the rear drops unexpectedly. Within minutes we are asked to exit the bus because the wheel has been punctured. Two of the male teachers take their jackets off and crawl under the bus. Immediately, I am thinking this is bad news but in-front of us is a beautiful lake which we guided the children towards to keep them occupied and away from the commotion.

Looking out over the water, surrounded every side by children in green uniforms, I saw giraffes grazing in the background and thought to myself “this is my life… really?” For the next two hours we just hung out with the kids; played games and developed deeper bonds. I cannot describe how special just ‘being’ with one another was. The teachers, who apparently had hidden mechanical skills, managed to fix the bus and soon we were on our way. I immediately dosed off with a little girl asleep on my lap, two boys by my side and a smile on my face.

Looking out over the water, surrounded every side by children in green uniforms, I saw giraffes grazing in the background and thought to myself “this is my life… really?” For the next two hours we just hung out with the kids; played games and developed deeper bonds. I cannot describe how special just ‘being’ with one another was. The teachers, who apparently had hidden mechanical skills, managed to fix the bus and soon we were on our way. I immediately dosed off with a little girl asleep on my lap, two boys by my side and a smile on my face.

Playing the Tanzanian version of Ring Around The Rosie… but crazier!

On our last night in Tanzania we did a big group dinner with the 60+ kids that live at the St. Timothy’s Children’s Home.  We ate in a church that was under construction but that night it was transformed into a mess hall. We lined up to get food scooped on our plates then sat on the rows of benches with all the kids. After eating we set up a table in the front of the room, brought out Bryce’s computer, plugged it into two large speakers and did a film screening of all the videos we’ve made over the past two years of the kids at the Children’s Home.

This moment was pure magic! The kids were wide eyed and open mouthed as they watched themselves for the first time on television like their favorite movie hero’s. This may not seem like such a big deal to you, but for kids who  only watch movies during community showings at a local restaurant… this was huge! Nyla tells me to look at James and I see him dabbing his eyes with his handkerchief. He tells us later that he was so moved at seeing the wonderful way we had portrayed him and his students. At the end of the videos the kids clapped and cheered. When we said our goodbyes to the kids, teachers and James, all of us knew that this would not be goodbye forever but just until the next time we return.

On the bus leaving Tanzania I thought back to all these moments and knew exactly why Nyla and I were crying. This was the first time in Tanzania that we were also at ease.  The community was no longer struggling. Sure there is still more to do in this community, like building a health clinic, a computer lab, etc. but overall people are secure and happy. This trip we were not completely bogged down with project work which allowed us to just ‘be’ with the people that inspire us to do this work. At Mama Hope we always say it is about the people first, then the projects. Behind every school we build, well we dig, or center we create; there are people, with faces and names that we know and love. And these trips to Africa are so that we can expand and deepen these meaningful relationships.

As we crossed into Kenya and our bus ride neared it’s end, watching the sunset on the Savanna I thanked the universe for my time in Tanzania and for reminding me what is at the core of my career, my passion and my life.

Kwahari,

Amy

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