I cried today.
Being brought up in Africa, I grew accustomed and somewhat impervious to the suffering and poverty around me. Interviewing children who have lost one or both of their parents, who in some cases have AIDs, who have such immense hardships and challenges to face in their lives, is sad, but the callouses I grew as a child are still in place, and until today I haven’t felt any great amount of emotion when interviewing the children here.
My last interview was in Airport this afternoon; a six year old boy named Bokini who had cerebral palsy. He could barely walk unaided and was helped into his seat by Gibbons, my translator for the day. The photograph on his form showed him leaning on crutches and smiling with genuine delight, but as he sat across from me, he seemed distracted and distant.
I’d barely started asking questions when Sharon came over with another member of our team, and introduces Bokini to her. Some years ago, when she and her husband were married, they asked for the money given to them at their wedding to go to a child with exceptional needs in Tanzania, this boy was the recipient of part of the gift. Three years on this year he took his first steps unaided.
As I continued with the interview, it became apparent that, despite his expression, he was alert and interested. He answered all the questions on the form, and how many six year olds in England would know the name of their community leader or whether their home was owned or rented? When it came to his favourite game, he said he enjoyed football, and despite his disability he has made every effort to join in with the other kids.
Thanks to the gift he’s received, he’s been given the chance to attend a specialist school, but he’s not the only youngster here facing such difficulties. Without an effective national health service, very few will be offered the opportunities young Bokini has.
I can feel my eyes itching as I type this, so I’ll stop here.
Food being prepared for the feeding programme
Some words from the more seasoned members of our little troop in response to a couple of questions. The answers are given as a sort of anonymous compilation to avoid a repeat of yesterday’s rather long posting (apologies for that, and well done anyone who waded through the whole lot. Is it just me, or were those last two entries worth the effort?).
What draws you back to Tanzania?
“Because it gets under your skin.”
I couldn’t agree more. I have this theory that there is this as yet undiscovered parasite, like malaria, that gets into your blood when the mosquitoes bite you. Once it’s in there, you can’t help but keep coming back to Africa.
Quite a few people said it was because of the friends they make here, the people of Mbeya and their spirit. Almost everyone said it was because of the children, and having the chance to see them grow and develop over the years.
Geoff told how the child he sponsored was very shy meeting him on his first visit, but the following year he came along as one of the translators for the team.
Several talked of how they could see the difference the presence of Grassroots makes, and how good it is to be a part of the work. John talked about Emmanuel, one of the translators this year and formerly on the programme, who’s just qualified as a medical technician. Dee said, “You see what you achieve here. You’re aware of how good things are at home and by contrast how bad they are here. Coming once makes you want to do more.”
A few talked about how they felt they belonged here. Howard said, “I didn’t think I’d be coming this year, but I felt God say don’t worry the money will come. It did, so I feel this is where I needs to be.”
Janet meeting with one of the children she and her husband Simon sponsor
What would you say to encourage people to come out with Grassroots?
“I wouldn’t. If you have to be persuaded, you shouldn’t come.” This was a response from several of the team. It’s not a suggestion that people shouldn’t volunteer, but rather that the choice should come from them first.
Having said that, Janet’s advice is not to think about it too much, but to go for it; get out of the boat. Ruth’s contribution was to say, “Why not? No matter what your previous experience, no matter what kind of life you lead, you’ll definitely get something out of the trip.”
John – “It’ll be tough in some ways. It’s not a holiday, but in the end you feel you’ve done something – made a difference.”
Howard – “Don’t be discouraged from coming just because there are problems in Africa. You’ll find, not only will you enjoy it, but you will be welcomed by the locals because they are a loving and Godly people. And you will definitely feel you’ve achieved something.”
Dee – “It’s an amazing eye opening experience. Brings you down to basics and makes you appreciate what you have more when you get back. Gives you a sense of calm while you’re here because all the little niggles of day to day life back in England go out the window when you’re here. A way of realising that there are a lot of major benefits we have at home that we take for granted – like clean water on tap, houses that are sealed to the elements, supermarkets etc”
Renata – “It’s wonderful to come here It’s wonderful to see the children. What’s really wonderful is meeting the child you’re supporting. It’s the difference between a few words on a piece of paper and meeting a real person, discovering their genuine needs.”
Geoff – “It’s an experience that makes a deep impression on you. Privilege of seeing other families and seeing how they cope with difficult circumstances.”
So, here we are at the far end of the journey. The weariness that has been building through the week seems to have evaporated this evening, and spirits are high. We’re aware of a long job well done, and are looking forward to a day’s R&R before flying home on Monday.
Look forward to seeing you on the next trip, maybe.