een veilige plek waar ze kind kunnen zijn

Richard's impression

01-11-2016
‘Learn. Earn. Return.’ These are some of the first words that the former Chairman of Happy Watoto, Matti Emondts said to me, after meeting him to find out a bit more about the charity a few months ago. Those words stuck with me for days after. But was I ready for really committing to ‘Return’ more than being a person, like most of us, who always tried to be decent to others and who made a few charitable donations here and there. Was I ready to commit a lot of my time, energy and emotion to it? I decided there was only one way to find out – visit Tanzania and see first hand what the charity did and see what I felt whilst I was there.
 
At the end of September I flew to Kilimanjaro to visit the three sites ; Kikatiti, the children's home for fifty young children aged three to six, Ngorika, the primary school for three hundred six to twelve year olds, and home to a hundred of those, and Lerai, an area close to Ngorika, with a football pitch and a vegetable patch, that helps feed the children.
 
First up Ngorika –  twenty  minutes off the main road on the bumpiest, dustiest track I’d ever been on. Finally I reached a large site with lots of buildings and am welcomed by a guard with a huge smile and a friendly ‘welcome to Ngorika’. The following three hours continued in the same friendly, happy vein – children sneaking a peek at you as you stand outside their classrooms looking in, the team of cooks laughing whilst preparing todays lunch using two of the largest pots of boiling water I've ever seen, the teachers busily marking homework and preparing for class in the teachers common room. All with the same big smile. This was a happy place. A happy place, with very well behaved, focused children, teachers that were teaching in such a motivated and yet joyous manner, a level of education comparable to my childrens in the Netherlands, and a home for children that felt loved and cared for. I next spent some time with Matthew, the finance manager and Mary, the head of the social work department, getting to know them better and understanding what they did. It was at this point that I realized from what I'd seen that I could actually be hands-on helpful with Happy Watoto - they desperately needed someone to build an electronic system for storing the children's personal records (currently all on paper), so if there was a fire or flood, highly important information about next of kin and medical records would not be lost. Hey, this is not so different to the work I was used to – as well as wanting to help, maybe I could actually do something useful as well!
 
I joined some teachers for mid morning break when I met the physical education teacher – a giant young man called George who invited me to join in the P.E. lesson. I was really happy with this – I love sport, and I love getting involved rather than just looking on. First up was a tug of war, which I had not done since I was about ten years old. I joined the side with one person less and thought ‘I'd better take it easy here, it wouldn't be the done thing to drag a bunch of African children that I'm meant to be helping through the dirt’. By the end of it, it was I who was being dragged through the dirt even after trying with all my might to win! These guys were strong! Next was a game of volleyball which was great fun except for the humiliation of losing again! Sadly I left shortly after – I had a date with Kikatiti.
 
Nothing prepared me for what I saw at Kikatiti – it could be the definition of joy itself. No sooner had I crossed the threshold, I had a throng of twenty small children around me, wanting to hold my hand. The only problem was that I only had two hands! Quickly we solved that by everyone (sort of) lining up on a raised platform, and taking turns at me swinging them off the platform and landing them on the ground. I did that for twenty minutes – if I'd done it for twenty hours I'm convinced there would still have been a queue. So much joy derived from such a simple pleasure! After a tour of the immaculate facilities – classrooms, kitchens, dormitories with bunk beds – we reached the dining room, where lunch was being served. Lots of tiny tables, with tiny chairs, and tiny people sitting on them, all with a plate of food, but no one eating – why? The answer soon came, they were all waiting for the last person to arrive, a short prayer and then go!! We joined them for lunch on the same tiny tables, sitting at the tiny chairs and eating something green with some kind of starchy potato and a sauce of some sort. It tasted pretty good! After lunch a few of the children stayed behind, fetched brooms that were twice as big as they were and spotlessly swept the dining room. I've been trying to get my (older) children to do that for years – I took a video to show my children when I got back home so they could learn from a few three year old Tanzanians how to do it properly! What was I doing wrong as a parent – or rather, what were the fabulous ‘matrons and patrons’ of Kikatiti doing right?
 
My final experience was to visit the original homes of three of the schools children. These relations looked after the children for a few weeks in the holidays but couldn't cope with them full time. This was going to provide an insight into the life these happy, healthy, loved children would have had if it was not for Happy Watoto. I knew it would be a heavy day, but boy oh boy.
 
First we visited a grandmother who had four children living with her in a small, badly build room measuring about three meters by three. One of the four was a child at the Ngorika school. The grandmother was so happy because a few months back a Good Samaritan from Happy Watoto had bought her a bunk bed for everyone to sleep in. Prior to that everyone had been sleeping on a hard, cold floor. Next we visited a mother who lived in an even smaller room – she wouldn't let us into the room – she was too proud and too humiliated by where she lived. She had HIV and had no idea how she could pay the rent for the tiny squalid room she was living in. Her greatest wishes were that her son got a better life than her, and that she could find enough money to rent a ‘vegetable store’ on the corner of her building so that she could support herself, and be strong enough to cope with the HIV drugs she was needing to take. The vegetable store was nothing more than a few planks of wood attached to the side of a building.
 
There was worse to come. The final lady was one of the most noble ladies I've ever met. She was petite, and had a very fine beautifully shaped face, with a broad smile. She desperately wanted to offer us tea, but she simply couldn't afford any and she was visibly shamed by that. She had beautifully braided her hair. And she lived in a rented shed two meters by two that she couldn't afford. And she had HIV. And she couldn't afford enough food to cope with taking the HIV drugs she desperately needed. And her husband had left when he found out she had HIV. And her son had HIV. And her mother had eye cancer and had lost her sight. And she had a boyfriend who helped her a bit….and also got drunk and beat her regularly. She talked us through this and finally started crying when she spoke of the fact that her mother was very ill, and she wanted to move to be closer to her so she could help better. She gathered herself and told us she was so proud that her son was at our school and that he could have a better life than her. She proudly showed us some schoolbooks that he worked on when he came to stay for a few days in the holiday.
 
These are the places that the children that on the previous day I'd seen so happy and healthy in a fabulous environment with great education, fabulous care and love would have been living in if it was not for Happy Watoto, its outstanding staff in Tanzania, it's voluntary board and its generous donators.
 
Learn. Earn. Return. It starts having a real, tangible shape after a few days in Tanzania and seeing what I'd seen. So, did I decide to commit myself into helping Happy Watoto after my trip ? What do you think?

 
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