Helping the Children--A Blessing Indeed!
During Christmas season 2004, I watched an episode of The Oprah Winfrey Show titled "Christmas Kindness in South Africa." I was emotionally struck by the needs of the children shown on the program--many of whom have lost their parents to HIV-AIDS--and I wished there were something I could do to help.
Then last July 2005 I was given the opportunity to participate in a mission trip to Tanzania in eastern Africa to help build an orphanage village. It was a dream come true for me, and an answer to prayer.
The trip was organized by Global Vessels, an Adventist-run organization headquartered in Columbia, Maryland. Twenty-nine other volunteers and I from the Emmanuel-Brinklow and Takoma Park Adventist churches in Maryland, and the Capitol Hill church in Washington, D.C., left on July 6 for Arusha, Tanzania, for a 12-day mission trip to begin the process of meeting housing needs for orphaned children in the region.
Global Vessels is building a Havilah, or "land rich in gold" (see Genesis 2:11), orphanage village on the campus of the Adventist University of Arusha (Tanzania Adventist College). When complete, the village will consist of 10 homes and a multipurpose building, and will house, educate, and train about 100 children who have been displaced. Most of these children are homeless as a result of the high HIV-AIDS epidemic death rate in Africa.
Global Vessels has a history of mission activities in Africa. In 1998, 30 members of the organization built a church in the village of Bekwai, Ghana, in western Africa. The next year, 14 members returned to Ghana to build a library. In 2003, they were instrumental in constructing a girls' dormitory for the Bekwai Seventh-day Adventist Secondary School. And in 2004, Global Vessels members traveled to Tanzania to add an extension to an existing medical and dental clinic. It was during this last trip that they encountered the many homeless children, and made a commitment to return and fill the need for housing.
Our group of energetic volunteers was able to complete the foundation and the outer walls of the first home. Other groups will be traveling to the area about twice a year until the project is complete.
The University of Arusha campus also boasts an elementary and secondary school, so children living in the orphanage village will have access to education from the elementary through the university levels--without ever having to leave the safety of the village.
The work we did was very hard; making mud bricks and passing them to one another in a "brickline" is hapana mchezo--Kiswahili for "no joke." We were dirty and tired much of the time. But each day ended with a sense of accomplishment and continued bonding--not only within our group but also with the Tanzanian people with whom we worked side-by-side.
The trip, however, wasn't all work; we also got to do some sightseeing. We spent a day at the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, home to the largest unbroken caldera in the world--the famous volcanic Ngorongoro crater. This crater is a microcosm of eastern Africa scenery and wildlife. As part of our visit we also spent time with the local Masai Adventists, visiting their school, seeing their homes, and talking to their children. What a beautiful, poignant experience that was!
Our toughest day emotionally was the one we spent at an orphanage called Good Hope, in which 42 children are living in four rooms. No clean running water, no electricity, no shoes. They cook over a fire in an enclosure behind the orphanage. A hole in the ground serves as a latrine. There's virtually no medical care, and nothing that we consider necessities of life. No child should have to live this way. No child--anywhere.
While in Arusha we purchased clothing and new malapas (slippers) for the children. We also carried a 55-gallon container to the orphanage using a tractor, and filled it with water flowing down nearby Mount Meru. Caretakers on campus built a fire to heat the water in the drum so the children could take warm baths. We separated the girls from the boys and into separate cornfields we went--each child with his or her change of clothes and new slippers. We bathed everyone; they loved the soap and the lotion. We treated their ringworm, played games, and gave hugs and kisses. We left them with shining faces, big smiles, new toothbrushes and toys, and tears in our eyes. Nakupenda Sana, meaning "I love you very much," was how we parted.
Silence pervaded the bus as we rode the hard, dusty dirt road back to our compound. No one spoke. You could almost hear the Spirit whisper, "Now that you've seen, what will you do?"
Experiences like the one we had have many layers. On the surface, in the first layer, the dirt and dust sting your eyes; the lack of infrastructure and immense poverty make you cry. But if you keep digging, what you find is that the dirt that bites your throat is some of the richest, most beautiful, and most fertile in the world--and that the souls of the people are as rich and deep as the land on which they live. Their industriousness and diligence amaze me, but they still have gratitude, joy, and an unconquerable spirit.
I will never forget the lessons learned while there. I pray that these lessons will continually help me to serve others where I live with patience and grace.
For more information about Global Vessels, go to www.globalvessels.org.