Children have a way of being able to cut right to the core of what is important and live for the present. They tell you exactly what is on their mind and how they are feeling. Maybe it’s because of the way they see the world, but I have truly grown to admire it. Recently I received a care package from some incredible students of mine from St. Joseph School! They sent me pictures, told me they missed me, they were praying for me, they said to have fun teaching and sent me lots of candy.
There is nothing more that I could ask for and I could not be more thankful. I know for certain they are doing well and they are happy because they tell me so. What is so incredible to me is that every day I receive the exact same wishes and receive the exact same message from my children at Stella Maris. They smile, tell me to greet my friends in America, we pray together, we say how happy we are to see one another and they tell me they are happy. The more time I spend in Tanzania the easier it is for me to focus on the things that make our communities so similar rather than what separate us. Before I ever came here I thought many things about Africa, many of them were wrong. I couldn’t imagine so many happy children, so much smiling and I did not know they were the same as the children in America. Through many discussions with people over the years since first traveling to Tanzania I know that I shared so many of the same misconceptions that many people hold about Africa. The reason I know I was wrong now is because the children told me so.
One of the greatest misconceptions about Africa is that it is a sad place. There is poverty, and it is greater poverty than anything you can ever imagine unless you have seen “poor” here. There is greater daily struggle than we can imagine all over the region because they simply didn’t get enough rain, and now they don’t have enough food. There is hunger and malnourishment which you see in the bony arms and ribs visible through their skin on our children’s bodies. There is poor support at home where generations of families never make it to secondary school and do not value education. There is unclean everything, food, water and people that is simply impossible to ignore. But with all these things Africa is still not a sad place, it just needs help. When you look upon our school and around the community you do not see sadness. Around the community you see people smiling, talking with one another and laughing. In spite of what they face daily, people here are happy. When I reflect on a day in school, I do not think of the suffering but rather the joy and laughter we shared in the classroom, just like in America. Our ideas of Africa are so often built from 30 second commercials set to sad music with crying children and stories in the news about African warlords giving children guns. That is a part of Africa, yes, and it needs to be stopped but that is not what should define Africa. There is so much joy within this continent and so much more joy is possible with help. My students at Stella Maris, just like my students at St. Joseph laugh, smile, play, act goofy and are just children. The reason I know they are happy is because they tell me so, and I can see it in my pictures just like students in America. Maybe we need to look at our children as an example for how we should view our world and carry ourselves every day.
Over the last 2+ months the children and I have taken many pictures. These pictures, the faces of Stella Maris, show the children in their candid moments, when they are silly, playing and just happy. They are not people to be pitied but rather celebrated. These children did not ask for and do not need our sympathy for their plight but rather our continued support and help to give them the opportunity to succeed. They do not worry about the past, but smile today because today, there is plenty to smile about.
Next week I will answer the personal question I probably get asked most often: as a 25 year old guy in Tanzania what do you with all your free time on the weekend??
God bless all of you and have a great week!