I’m in Africa surrounded by happy, laughing children. We’re teaching them to blow kisses, and they are all puckering up and giggling. They’re orphans, aged two to four, with wide eyes, teeth white against their beautiful black skin, and huge smiles that light up their faces. I’m astonished. These kids have next to nothing, not even parents, yet they’re playing and having fun. It was a special moment. Even though dressed in cast-offs, some without shoes, these kids were joyful. It taught me a life lesson, one that I promised to bring back home.
The Majengo Orphanage lies in the village of Mto wa Mbu in northern Tanzania, a beautiful area in the shadow of the Rift Valley. I am helping with the ongoing building of the orphanage. Several months ago, I decided to take a holiday that eschewed hedonism and let me make a difference while also learning about an exotic part of the world. Together with a friend, Judy, from Oakville, Ontario, I signed up for a 17-day voluntourism trip.
Once we had decided to go, we sought donations for the orphanage. Many people generously contributed money, which I used to buy clothes at Value Village, especially underwear for girls. I also purchased school supplies such as notebooks and crayons, and building tools. It felt good knowing that 100 per cent of our donations and supplies were going to the orphanage. I crammed these supplies into a super-large suitcase, which the airlines allowed without a baggage charge. Judy found a church group that sewed dresses and dolls for the girls, and an Ontario company donated running shoes for the boys.
The “holiday” consisted of working at the orphanage for two weeks, with a two-day break in the middle to go on a safari. At the end, we had three days in Zanzibar as R&R before returning to Canada. The cost included airfares, transportation, room and board, tours, and a donation to the orphanage.
We met our group in Amsterdam airport, then flew to Tanzania, landing at Mount Kilimanjaro airport. Three of our companions, Rhonda, Jennifer, Ashley, were from Newfoundland. The sixth person was our leader, Michelle, from Oakville. As the others’ ages ranged from 29 to late-40s, I was concerned as Judy and I, in our late 60s, were considerably older. Could we keep up?
Jet lagged and tired, we drove through the dusk to Arusha. The roads were filled with people, many on motor bikes or bicycles, with the women perched side-saddle on the back.
The next morning, we headed north to Mto wa Mbu through the dry and dusty countryside. We had our first glimpse of majestic Maasai men walking roadside, dressed in their distinctive red and blue plaid robes. In the fields, small boys watched herds of goats and cattle.
Abdul, our driver, explained that because of the AIDS epidemic there are many orphans in Africa.
The Majengo Orphanage was started by Canadian Lynn Connell in 2008 to replace several corrupt “children’s homes,” where the operator was using/abusing the children to make money. Land was donated by the Tanzanian government, and they give a small stipend for each child, but funds for construction and materials are raised by Majengo Canada, a charitable organization and its US partner. Currently, Majengo is overcrowded with 84 live-in children from age three to teenage years. More than 30 additional pre-school children from the surrounding area come for day classes. The construction of the orphanage was still in progress, which explained our presence.
We finally arrived in the village of Mto wa Mbu, and found our accommodations at the Twiga (giraffe in Swahili) Motel.
The next morning, Abdul delivered us to the orphanage at 8 a.m. I was shocked by the primitive conditions. A few buildings stood looking lonely in a large field. With no electricity and only one water tap, there was no running water or flush toilets. The children sleep in rooms with large bunk beds, often two per bed. Cooking is done over an open fire by a team of four ladies who spend all day cooking, serving food and cleaning up. A “mama” for each house cleans, washes clothes, and looks after the children.
All of the children get an education, are seen by a doctor when necessary, have nutritious meals, and are loved and cared for. When their school days are over, arrangements are made for further schooling, or for training and jobs.
The children were lovely: friendly, happy, and a pleasure to be with. We discovered most of these children had never had toys, so their delight at the small, hand-made dolls was wonderful. It was heart wrenching, yet satisfying to be helping.
Our team of six women got to work. We moved dirt and helped build a garden. We built a goat enclosure. And we sieved sand, and mixed and poured cement for post holes for a new water tank. I was proud to earn the honourary name of Bibi Nyundo (Gramma Hammer in Swahili) for my prowess in pounding nails.
Our main job was to sand the walls of the new dining hall and then to apply two coats of paint inside and out. The work was primitive and all by hand as there were no power tools. Long sticks cut from acacia trees served as poles for the rollers. And, being just south of the equator, it was hot. At the end of the day I was tired, but pleased that Judy and I were able to keep up with the younger women.
For our lunch break, Helema and her crew served us hot meals. After each long working day, we went back to the motel and cooled off in the swimming pool. Being in the village gave us an opportunity to see life in this part of Tanzania. Although conditions were poor and rough, at no time was I worried about my safety.
After one week, we had a two-day break and Abdul took us on a tour to Ngorongoro Crater in the Rift Valley. It was astonishing with exotic animals, all running wild in their natural habitat. We saw lions, hyenas, gazelles, monkeys, giraffes, hippos, and many more. The following day, we visited Tarangire National Park where we, again, saw more amazing animals, including elephants, and enjoyed lunch at the luxury Rift Valley Lodge.
After two weeks of hard work in the hot sun, we said a tearful goodbye and flew to Zanzibar for three days of relaxation. We lounged poolside, went for a cruise, and enjoyed the smells and colours at the spice market.
I’m home now, but memories of Tanzania keep returning. The dining hall is now used daily, goats thrive in their new quarters, and bougainvilla plants have been planted along the fence with each child caring for one plant. My heart fills with pleasure whenever I think of Majengo, and that I played a small role in improving the living conditions of those beautiful children.
If You Go
To donate or sponsor a child’s education: http://majengo.org
To go voluntouring: http://givegetgo.ca
Visas: Canadians must have a passport (valid for six months after departing Tanzania) and a visa, available upon arrival for US $50.
Electricity (220 volts) and sockets (British BS-1363) are different than in Canada. Be prepared.
Vaccinations: Shots for thyphoid and hepatitis A are recommended. Additional vaccines may be recommended by a travel medical office.
Money: 1 Canadian $ = 1,623 Tanzanian shillings
NOVEMBER 2015 INSPIRED SENIOR LIV
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