"Children are one third of our population and all of our future. "
~Select Panel for the Promotion of Child Health, 1981
Last week three other interns and I went to an orphanage in a rural area just outside of Dar es Salaam. It is run by a British couple named Mary and Rob Notman who have lived in Tanzania for approximately 12 years. There are 15 kids living in a house on acreage where they grow their own vegetables and have lots of room to run around. Besides Mary (who doesn’t live at the orphanage) there are two women, or Mamas, there to care for the children. There is also a two room school house on the property for local kids to attend. Mary doesn’t want the kids to feel as if they are living in an institution, but in a family home, so there are no signs or anything to indicate that there is an orphanage there. It’s down a long dirt road with fields and trees on all sides. If they can't be with their parents this seems like a pretty good place for children to grow up.
A stable place to call home is very important for these children. Most of them are orphans because one or more of their parents died of AIDS. According to Avert, an international HIV and AIDS charity, there are presently over 1.3 million children in Tanzania who have been orphaned as a result of AIDS. Over 100,000 Tanzanians are infected with HIV every year and quite a few of the children at the orphanage are HIV positive. Some of them have other disabilities, such as the set of twins who were born with club feet, or the baby with deformed legs who came to visit. When we were at the orphanage the twins had recently undergone surgery to correct one foot each and both had casts on. One of the twins had to back go to the hospital on the day we visited because the open wound beneath his cast had started to bleed. If it wasn’t for Mary and her organization who would make sure these kids received medical attention? Probably no one and they would be left to suffer. This breaks my heart, but at the same time I’m so happy that there are people like Mary and the Mamas here to care for these amazing kids.
When we first arrived at the orphanage in the morning we spent an hour or so at the school on the property. The kids couldn’t have been any older than five, but they were so smart. I helped them with the alphabet and they knew most of it (in English). They mainly just had problems with M and N. And they knew all the colours in English as well. The teacher just had to point at something in the classroom, and they could name the colour. This success has come without the use of any school supplies other than a blackboard, some coloured chalk, and a couple posters with the ABCs and some animals on them. The kids sit on the floor and they have no books or pencils. There are not even doors or windows on the building, so when it rains the classrooms are full of water. I have to give a lot of credit to any teacher who can successfully teach in such a bare-bones classroom. These kids are so great though, I think it would be a joy to teach them in any setting. When the kids went for their break we played a game called follow the leader, and I immediately had two little girls clinging to my hands. I had comforted one of them earlier when a classmate was hitting her, and she just stuck to me after that. Maybe I just don’t spend much time with kids in Canada, but these kids seem so much sweeter and just eager for somebody to pay attention to them.
The kids who live at the orphanage are especially great, and I spent the most time with them. After my morning in the school I spent the entire rest of the day with the kids and easily formed an attachment to all of them. Despite many of them being HIV positive they all seem like happy and healthy kids, even if they are a bit small for their age. We played games with them all day and they even attempted to teach me and the other interns how to sing and dance. That must have been entertaining for them, considering how little rhythm we have and how well they can all dance by the age of 6. They also braided our hair a lot; I think they loved having four girls with long hair around, as their hair is all cut short. We ended up with some pretty interesting hairstyles. And of course they documented the whole thing once they found out we had cameras. I love the things kids takes pictures of: dishes, a corn stalk, somebody’s foot. They are so good at entertaining themselves with so little. These kids have a big yard full of sand that they play in for hours, just drawing or building things. They have a couple books and free magazines to read. They have one soccer ball and a basketball hoop, a couple drums, and each other. And that’s all they need. They’d never say no to some new toys, but no video games are needed for these children. Kids in Canada could learn something.
PS: We will probably be making and selling a calendar later this year to help send the older kids to secondary school. Secondary school is not free in Tanzania, even in government schools where tuition is 15 USD per year, plus fees for everything imaginable. To even get into a government secondary school a student has to pass a standardized national exam. If they fail they must pay to go to a private school, where tuition is usually around 500 USD. This makes it extremely difficult for orphans like these kids to get an education. They’re so smart, and they just need that little bit of extra help. I’ll keep you posted :)
"It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men. "