Blessed to be a blessing

Thursday was by far the toughest day for me personally.

I think that's one of the reasons it has taken me so long to even attempt putting down my thoughts into words. Another is the wi-fi, power/generator issue here, but that's another story.

Thursday was supposed to be the "easy day." We agreed to not wearing our "uniform" and "going casual". However, it turned out that I was the only one who stuck to the plan. No matter. I was easy breezy in my long "missionary skirt" as per usual.

First, we headed to Bethel Primary School to see the headmaster, Golden, and speak with him and his staff about how Character 101 could help them. They were so happy to see us and had fond memories of the team's visit last year. We came bearing three bags of items for the staff. I think they might have been the most excited about the blow up globes that were donated by my girls' scout troop in Clovis. They kept handing them to the geography teacher one by one and each time he was handed one, his eyes got bigger and bigger.

To say he was grateful would be an understatement.

The teachers echoed most of what we heard.

School supplies

More textbooks so that the students can share 2-3 to a book instead a handful of books per class

Storybooks. Please, we need storybooks!

And, the one that we loved to hear. Teacher training. Could you please help us learn more about teaching the children. Would they be willing to stay after school for 2-3 hours or come on a Saturday and attend a teacher workshop?


The headmaster told us about some rescue centers that the church attached to the primary school was sponsoring and he was overseeing. He asked if we wanted to drive out and see one of the orphanages. I said, "of course!" Joel and Rylie may not have said yes as quickly, but I just had to go.

As we walked out to our car, I asked to slip down to the classrooms and playground area. Although school was not in session for a few weeks for the Christmas holiday, the sight of what they have to work with weighed heavy.

While it's better than some of the schools we have seen, it was very sparse. Then I walked outside to the playground and saw the saddest view.

When deciding between textbooks and playground equipment, you will choose textbooks every time. However, that sad little swing ripped my heart up. One little chain wrapped around the top pole. And then I looked over to the "slide" that was really a ladder to a 6 foot drop off. I didn't even walk up the stairs. I could see that the teeter totter was more totter than teeter and that there were no seats to sit upon. Only bare post.

As a mother, I couldn't stand it. I told my uncle that we HAD to get that swing fixed before we left. That it needed be something I could leave knowing I left behind. School is important. Education and learning is important. But swinging free and high. That's important too.

There are no city parks here. There are no roller rinks or skateboard parks that I have seen. If you can't play in your own school's playground, where do you play?

When we got in the car to head to the rescue center/orphanage called, Shalome House, Joel told the headmaster that we wanted to fix the swing and could he arrange for it to be fixed in the next few days. He said he could and I settled back in my seat for the "twenty kilometer" trip.

However, as with everything, nothing takes the time you budget for and think would reasonable if you were in the States. What we failed to take into account is that going "across town" in Arusha is an exercise in a persistent but very halting experience. Traffic lights are new and partially obeyed. Private run buses "dala dalas" stop everywhere and anywhere to disgorge and take on passengers. Construction is everywhere. When we finally got out of Arusha city on the country road, we found that it was under massive construction and we had to take constant "diversions" on bumpy, graveled road. When Joel asked about the 20 km thing, we found out it was 20 km from the edge of town. 

So, it took at least 45 minutes to get out to a little piece of land that held a walled off compound of sorts. Inside the walls, was a nicely built building built by a Rotary Club in the States.

It housed a resource room of some books and a "study area" for the center's children and those in the neighborhood. We were shown the "kitchen" which was an outdoor but enclosed cooking area in which the "auntie" was serving up the standard Tanzanian fare of rice and beans. For the 58 children who live in this center (runaways, street children and orphans), it cost $700 US to feed them three meals a day (mostly rice and beans each meal). 

We then got a peek into the dormitory, which is when I started to break down a little.

Somehow seeing these bare rooms devoid of any personal belongings and touches hurt my heart so deeply. A walk to the "recreational center" sealed that feeling in my heart. 

The sight of that bare room save one small and lonely t.v. in the corner (unpictured) was like a stab to the heart. When I asked what they did in that room (hoping that there was a hidden stash of board games, balls and coloring books), I was told that they did their homework and had their nightly meeting/prayer time.

A bright spot was the chickens that they are raising to help self-sustain the center. They raise them from hatchlings to six-weeks old and then sell them for 6,000 shillings, or about $3.75 per chicken. While it's something, it's not enough to feed all of the children and to pay for their school fees, etc. When they told us that it takes about $100 for a child to be taken care of for the year at the center, I was astounded. 

That's all.

$100 a year.

For food.

For clothes.

For security.

For hope.

They have an onsite social worker who is available to talk with the children whenever they want it. After all, living on the streets of Arusha or being orphaned will take it's toll. I was so grateful to hear that.

While I reminded myself that there is something to be said for shelter and safety when you are being saved from a life of abandonment, I can still see those children lined up alongside of a building, slowly eating their lunch and looking like they had nothing in the world to do, nowhere to go and nothing to look forward to doing that day.

As we got ready to leave, I begged Rylie to run to the car and grab some frisbees out of the back that my uncle had brought over and was saving for I'm not sure what. But, in that moment, those kids HAD to have those frisbees.

He brought three and threw one out towards the children -- startling them.

One of the kids bravely picked it up and tried to toss it back.

Upside down.

We all laughed together. Rylie showed them a few times how to do it. Then we had to go. They gave the frisbees back to Rylie -- wistfully, I might add. He handed them back and said, "these are for you."

When we walked out of those walls, those frisbees were seeing some serious action. And that made me happy.

But as we bumped back down that road under construction back to Arusha, I had the thought, "this hurts too much to cry."

But, I was wrong. The tears began to flow. While it was hard for me to see the apparent lack those children had, the entire week caught up with me in that moment. And it came out my eyes and dripped down my chin. It kept coming.

Beautiful Tanzania. 

Your people have so much heart and love for their country and each other. But you need so many things -- basic things that every person should have. And I have so much. Too much. So much that I don't even value it or give thanks for it.

The tell-tale sound of air escaping signaled a flat tire. 

So, we pulled off of the highway (thankfully it was on the paved portion) and I took the opportunity to sit on the side of the bank and eat a Clif bar (and don't think that I didn't feel a measure of guilt about that) and read the wrapper about the founders quest for simplicity.

I resolved right then and there to de-clutter, de-stuff my life and pour as much as I could into putting my efforts, money and time into things that really and truly matter. Because time is so short. And the need is so great.

I know that I can't constantly feel guilty about being born where I was and for having the life I do. But I have come to the absolute knowledge that I have been greatly, terrifically, abundantly blessed Not for myself and my family. 

Rather, I have been blessed to be a blessing.

And at that moment, I felt God whisper in my soul that the smallest ray of light can penetrate the darkest cover. And then he showed me.

(the rest of this Thanksgiving Thursday to be continued in the next post.)

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