6:50 a.m. and the children are parading in to my room for morning kisses and cuddles. We will have breakfast (mandaze [a doughnut], and chai). I asked them if they preferred to have mya (eggs) now or badaye (later) with their picnic and they prefer badaye!
Our home is a gracious two story stone structure which was built as an investment by a tour guide operator. The real estate market here went flat and the house had sat empty, unfinished for a number of years, until I found it and offered what I could afford to pay for the rent. I chose this place, not because of its’ grandeur but because it is a two story, which has the smallest footprint and therefore, the most outdoor space, allowing our children a place to play.
One of the first things we needed to complete was the perimeter wall surrounding the house, which is needed for security. Unfortunately the seven foot wall creates a barrier, literally, and reminds us daily of a sense of being contained. I am not complaining because we are extremely fortunate to have what we do, rather, I would like you to understand my vision for starting Tumaini . . .
We have changed the lives of our Tumaini children in so many wonderful ways. . . oh so lucky are they to receive nutritious meals daily and quality education and love and I send my heartfelt thanks for your support . . . BUT! Nutrition and medical attention and security gives a child energy, and ours abound in it now . . . pole (sorry), I had to stop for a moment! The children were shouting for me to look at Liadi . . . who, this morning, and with Kelvin’s assistance, has learned to ride a bike!
We jumped up and down in celebration and Kelvin is still helping him bank and turn but our youngest is riding and he’s not yet three!
Which, brings us back to nutrition and medical care and energy!!! By the grace of God our children’s lives have changed dramatically. They are now strong, for the most part healthy, and have energy to burn! Our youngest live every day behind these walls and our older children do the same upon returning from school. They, and by extension, we, sometimes experience a form of “cabin fever” and today I am treating them, and the children of Mana OVC to go swimming at the pool of a closed resort here in Usa, and yet, I have doubts, for the first time, about sharing this with you. We have been criticized recently for creating too much of a “coddled” lifestyle here at Tumaini yet I will ask that you remember an enormous disparity exists here between the “haves” and the “have nots”. There is opportunity for people fortunate enough to access education, medicine, and the comforts of a stable home . . . food, shelter and clothing, and I ask you to remember that our children were living in terribly desperate situations when I met and began helping them. Some, I truly believe, would not be alive today had we not interceded. Having said that, I did intervene, I chose children whose situations were desperate, dangerous even, and I started caring for them and I went home and asked you to help me help them . . . and you have, in such beautiful, loving, generous ways, and for that I can only say thank you.
It has been my vision since conception, to build a home full of love and all forms of support (educational, medical, nutritional) where our children will thrive . . . where they will feel the security of a safe place to sleep and constant and nutritious food, and discipline, and play! They will stop being afraid that today’s meal is their last, that sickness (HIV or something else) will kill them before they have a chance to dream of a life. They will learn responsibility and accountability and kindness, because our children didn’t begin their lives in a kind world. They had lived in fear and hunger and sickness until we met and I began helping them with food and medical care . . . and then, with your help, they came here to our pretty, stone, Tumaini House and we gave them nice clothes donated by you, and they began to learn that they will eat every day and that if they get sick, we will take them to the doctor and that they have a responsibility to put their toys away, because they now HAVE toys, and that they must SHARE because there are things TO share, and that they must respect themselves and each other and help and protect those more vulnerable than themselves because each of us has worth. (We had quite a discussion with Priska and all of the children about being gentle and loving and caring to those smaller, or weaker or less fortunate than ourselves, after she discovered a baby bird, fallen out of a tree and thought it “fun” to try to pull off it’s wings. The discussion backfired on me, for, after explaining to the children that we must be ungwana (gentle) Jenny picked up a butterfly and ever so carefully brought it to me to “save”. . .)
With all of these changes it is only logical that the child too will change. How he or she thinks, perceives the world, looks down the road at opportunity. We do try to protect our children and we do try to remove the obstacles which prevent our children from reaching for a dream, to become a doctor or a teacher, or a mother or father who is equipped to better raise a family with a sense of responsibility for the life of a child. It is in that vein that we expect our children to not only survive their lives but to LIVE them, fully, and by extension, to contribute to the futures of other children, of this country. It is with that vision that I encourage you to understand that we have become a family and not just an orphanage. We are building a home (yes, we currently rent but hope to one day build our own permanent home and school, with a field where the children can play futbol and burn off some of that energy!! It is with that vision, that we hope to provide our children (who DID begin their little lives oh so desperately) with a real opportunity at a future. Many of you have volunteered here already. Many of you have met our children and can appreciate the changes in them and have witnessed their development. You recognize that WE recognize we cannot change Africa, but perhaps only the lives of our Tumaini children and some sixty odd orphaned children struggling to get by in the village (Mana OVC) and that “only doing that” is just fine. For those of you not fortunate enough to visit us here I first welcome you, with the caveat that this is not the place for everyone. There ARE bugs. Dust and pollution abound.
The food is hearty and nutritious if not a bit repetitive, but you fussy eaters can find what you need in town and bring it home should you wish and Neema is happy to make you whatever you ask her to prepare if you cannot eat the same food as we do. Accommodations are basic and the house is chaotic at times, and for some volunteers, the combination simply doesn’t work and so local hotels are happy to put you up. For the rest of us, we live here and we love it! I couldn’t miss my six a.m. mornings with the kids or tucking them in at night. I love to eat with them (yes the same food) and I love to take them on adventures!! Like any loving mother, I find joy in their happiness and for the most part, our children are VERY happy and once again, I thank YOU for playing a very large part in that. Your gifts at Christmas gave the children a sense of family, of self worth, of identity. Our celebrations and travels took us (all of us, as a family) to a village where there were other children with less and we gave to them . . . I thought it was beautiful! The children are beginning to learn that they are fortunate and with that good fortune comes a responsibility to help the next person in line and so on, and so I ask that your confidence in me and my initial vision for Tumaini continue and as you witness the children’s development, their growth you feel the same sense of accomplishment as I do when I witness one child reaching out to another.
Life here at Tumaini House is no longer typical of an orphanage. We HAVE become a family, living in our home, with good food, and stability and responsibilities and dreams. We are not a perfect family and never will be . . . but we do our best, with your help and with your money (and we will need your assistance for awhile yet) and please, do know, that I so very much respect how difficult it can sometimes be to send that money every month and how very grateful I am for your loving generosity and I give each of you my word, because, in the end, that is all I can give, that I use your dollars respectfully, appreciatively and effectively to advance the opportunities for our children as you wish. The “extras”, the confirmation dress, the burgers, the swimming and picnic we so enjoyed today (it is now 8:12 p.m. and I’ve just finished tucking the children in) are gifts from Mama and Baba and paid for by us, or, in some cases, donated with specific instructions to be used for the children “for something fun”.
Many people have asked how I found the courage to fly, alone, around the world to begin helping just a very few, desperately needy children in a small village in Tanzania. I cannot answer the question except to say that, at the time, it was simply what needed to be done. It is approaching two years later, and the answer is the same. It is still, simply, what needs to be done. The needs are different. The quality of the lives of the children here at Tumaini has dramatically changed as you can imagine, as I had envisioned and as past volunteers can attest to, and for that we should be happy. My friend, and fellow Tumaini supporter Dr. Pat is here visiting and I asked her what she expects to see here in the long run. Her answer is growth. Intellectual, spiritual, natural, physical growth. I couldn’t agree more and I hope that you do pia, (also). Lala Salama! (Goodnight!)