At the end of 2005 I made my second trip to Africa. I traveled with a church group and we visited both Kenya and Malawi. I’ve worked in the field of Early Childhood for over 20 years collectively, and my heart is with young people. The reality is I would much rather spend time with children than most adults. I love their wondrous view of life, and their complete honest reactions to everyday life. There is NO guessing to what they truly think, and I LOVE and respect that. You want an honest answer? Ask a child! In my countless hours of spending time with little ones – the truth is that they have the ability to teach me WAY more than I could ever teach them.
When I was first asked to travel to Africa my immediate response (out loud ) was “there is NO way I can go”. In my mind I immediately heard “why not“? So I began to list some of the reasons:
- I don’t have a passport
- I can’t afford the vaccinations
- My children are too little to be without me (my sons were 6, 9 & 11 -I think)
- Robbie will never agree
So I confidently went home and told Robbie about the trip and said “I know I can’t go” and he cut me off and said “why can’t you go?” – (not the answer I was expecting). Long story short, I applied for my passport and have taken a total of 4 trips to Africa to date.
I was a little afraid to travel over an ocean, but the idea of meeting and working with large groups of children won out. In Malawi, children make up 51% of the population. Perfect place for me! I loved visiting the villages and slums. Learning a different way of life, how they dealt with challenges, overcoming obstacles, but through it all remain happy and trusted God. Completely amazing to me.
This particular day, I sat in a building made of dirt bricks and a thatched roof. We were in a village sitting with the community leaders, adults, and children. I would guess (not including my group) there were around 80 people, and more than half were children. Theresa, the founder of Somebody Cares, spoke to the group in Chichewa. We couldn’t understand what she was saying, and sat quietly. Her words were strong, powerful and long. She looked around the room at everyone except our group, and had such a presence that I admire to this very day. At the end of her speech something unexpected happened. All at once, every child in that room began to cheer and clap! Very loudly! Theresa said one more thing to them, and then turned around to us.
She told us that she spoke to the community about the importance of working together to change their circumstances. That God was their true source of help. She said she had directly addressed the village chief and leaders and said “if anyone of you continue to hurt or harm these children I will personally come after you. I will go to the police, bring them here and press charges against you.”
It is important to understand most of these children are orphans and under the mercy of adults. Some of these adults are cruel and abuse them, because there is no one to protect them. Watching these children applaud and cheer did something to me that day. I completely identified with each of them. I looked in their eyes and could see their souls – we were the same! I too had cruel and abusive adults in my life that touched and used me however and whenever they liked. There was no one around that was willing to help me. I needed a fearless leader and there wasn’t one to be found.
I absolutely LOVE the children in Africa! They have so many obstacles and challenges in life. I’ve met children who only eat once a week because food is so scarce. Children who are forced to become the parent for their younger siblings with no means of support. Children who cannot walk to school because of the fear of being raped on the way. My challenges as a child in NO WAY compares to the issues they are forced to deal with everyday. If you were to meet them you would see smiles, laughter and a zeal for life that hasn’t been stomped out inside them. In my heart, I feel completely connected to these beautiful human beings, and desire to tap into their resilience and joy.
They say it takes a village, but I truly think it can take just one voice! Someone who stands up and says “this child counts” and “you will have to answer to me”. When I was young I never found that person or even knew they existed. Now as an adult I want to be that voice, that protector, that advocate. I want my eyes to be open and alert, and ready to help change the course of children’s lives for the better. It’s possible for each of us to become that one voice!