The past two and a half weeks for me have been a whirlwind of adventure, cultural exploration, stretching my comfort levels, and falling in love with Tanzania all over again.
I spent a week in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania in March with a passionate group of leaders and students from the school I work at here in New Jersey. Something in my heart both broke and swelled while in TZ. I found it difficult to explain the burning desire I had to return and dig deeper into the culture and life there, but my family was kind enough to grant me a return this summer. Within a week of my March trip, I had booked a ticket for a 2-week stay in Dar es Salaam with friends who invited me to stay with them.
Meet Yusuph. While I’ve been the voice here in America and leading the fundraising effort for the Kurasini Orphanage project, Yusuph Tandiko has been the brains on the ground in Dar. A social worker and frequent volunteer and advocate for the children at Kurasini, Yusuph knows the system and has a good relationship with the people who manage the orphanage. There is no way this project could be successful without him, and I’m so thankful for his communication skills and smarts for how to go about managing the details. But mostly, I am overwhelmed by his love for the children at Kurasini, and by the way he so naturally interacts and builds bonds with everyone he comes in contact with.
We also partnered with The Ocean, an international community church in Dar. The Ocean is doing so many things right. I was fortunate to visit The Ocean twice for Sunday morning worship services and immediately felt so comfortable and at home there. I was welcomed by so many people who instantly felt like friends. The Ocean partners with Kurasini already, and is the church where Yusuph regularly attends, so it was a natural fit. The Ocean is doing some amazing things at Kurasini already including running a regular Sunday afternoon program of music, dancing, lessons, and art for the children there. They are also teaching ESL (necessary for children to be successful in Tanzanian public schools), have developed a medical team which cares for the basic medical needs of the children, tutor and provide homework help, and are looking to the future for further program development. In the works is also the dream of building a Resource Center, a room at Kurasini with books, computers, learning toys, tables, and a place for children to excel at their studies, be inspired to learn, and help them break free from the poverty they have been thrust into, through furthering their education. If you are interested in providing funds for any of these projects, please contact me at shepley.amy @ gmail.com to learn more.
My first Sunday in Dar, I visited Kurasini to survey the property and meet Mama Beatrice, the woman who is ultimately responsible for the day-to-day management of the entire center. She lives on site and carries the majority of the burden of providing for the 75+ children under her care. Kurasini is one of two government-run orphanages in Dar es Salaam. While there are many orphanage centers run by private owners or NGOs in Tanzania, there are a few which still exist under the control of the government. To be clear, every orphanage in Tanzania can use more funding and more volunteers. However, typically, privately managed orphanages do have contacts in the developed world, have fundraising budgets, websites, etc… Kurasini, however, has none of these things. The government provides minimal funding for the care of the children, but it isn’t enough, not nearly. The deficit is widely known, and Kurasini does receive a good deal of help from outside sources, helping to close the need gap. And you and I got to be a part of that through this campaign to help provide hygiene items to the kids there.
Make no mistake – Kurasini continues to have great needs, which I saw firsthand. It was a privilege to do this small work, and to partner with so many who supported these efforts financially, through prayer, or otherwise. It is in my heart to see how I can continue to provide for the needs of these beautiful children, so we will see what the future holds.
When I arrived at Kurasini, Yusuph gave me a walking tour of the property. I am in no way an advocate of poverty tourism, so taking photos was difficult for me, but important to document this project. Finding that balance was tricky at times, both at Kurasini, and while we were shopping for supplies.
Here are some images from my walking tour of Kurasini:
There is a lot to be done at Kurasini. During my visit, I had time to sit down with Yusuph and Mama B to discuss their current and most prominent needs. The list ran the gamut from bus fare for children to get to school, to toilet paper, to uniforms and shoes, to dictionaries and watches, to vinyl gloves for the employees. It seemed at times that the list of needs would never end, and I felt overwhelmed by how to make wise decisions on how to use the money we had, just around $4000 USD.
Remembering the cause we built this project on, feminine hygiene, I continued to press back on the list. Yes, all of these things were necessities, but we came together for a purpose, and it was important for me to honor that purpose first and foremost.
To be fair, we might have been able to meet every need on the list with the money we had. However, in a month’s time, they would have needed gloves again, menstrual pads again, toilet paper and toothpaste again… In places like Kurasini, there are two ways of looking at giving: Give to meet the immediate need no matter how short-lasting, or give to provide in a way that can create lasting change. And while it was difficult to say no to some of the immediate needs, I maintained that providing items that keep kids healthy, sanitary, and in school was our goal in the beginning, and would continue to be my goal as we spent this money.
When Mama B asked Yusuph if she could use the money for food, our hearts broke. I stepped out of the office and stood under the African sun and let the tears come. It was the only time I let myself cry in this process. There are more than 7 billion people on this earth and only 75 little souls live at Kurasini. How small is that number?! But how important are these parentless babies? Every bit as important as our own kids, as our nieces and nephews, and as we were as children. And how privileged are we that we could leave that place and come back with supplies that could improve their lives? It was truly one of the most blessed moments of my life. And I wanted so badly to remember the promise I made to each of the donors: To make you proud with how we spent each penny of the money.
A few days later, Yusuph, Mama B and I set out to Kariakoo Market, the largest market in Dar. When I think of Kariakoo, I think of Times Square, but if every store was participating in an outdoor block sale. It’s every bit as crowded and busy with just as many people asking you to buy things. Being white-skinned in Kariakoo adds a whole other level of attention being drawn, but I love the hustle and bustle of the market, and engaging with the people is one of my favorite parts of travel, so this was easily my favorite day of the entire trip. Getting to shop was icing on the cake!
**Taking photos in Kariakoo is highly frowned upon. No store owner wants anyone taking images, especially if you aren’t buying, and even more so if you look like a tourist. No matter how much I want to feel like a native, I don’t look like one. So all my images are a bit sneaky. This also means they aren’t great. But I hope they give a feel for what this shopping day was like, and all we accomplished.
From Mama B’s wish list, we narrowed down our shopping list to the items we felt fit our mission and vision best. But we were thankful to have her with us to help make decisions about what she best needed. First stop: mosquito nets! Upon arrival in Kariakoo, we immediately found someone to help us for the day. A quick conversation on the street was all it took for Yusuph to supply us with someone with Kariakoo Bongo – Kariakoo street smarts! And he knew where to find wholesalers for all our items! He led the way and helped us with much of the heavy lifting! We paid him kindly at the end of the day, and one more person was blessed by your generosity!
Mama selectively chose 80 new mosquito nets: one for every child at Kurasini to sleep free from bites and bugs. This store also had sheet sets, a desperate need to cover torn mattresses (new mattresses is another big need at Kurasini, but one we couldn’t help with this time around). Mama had pleaded that even just one new sheet per bed would be beneficial, but we budgeted for new sheet sets: 2 new sheets and a pillowcase for every kid. Mama chose the sheets she felt would be the best quality for the children, and again, we bundled 80 sets up to go.
We moved on to underwear. It was noticeable that many of the children weren’t wearing underwear when I visited, and this is unhygienic in many ways, as I’m sure you can imagine, especially when the girls are typically wearing skirts or dresses. It also afforded them no privacy when playing, sitting, or crawling, especially the children with special needs who didn’t know to cover up. We allowed Mama to pick out what she thought would be best and she was thrilled that she could choose from the high-quality underwear that would be long-lasting and comfortable in the heat for the kids.
Following some lengthy conversations about underwear quality, we moved to a store that could be a one-stop-shop for toiletries. Here, we bought 6 months worth of menstrual pads in cases, supplies for showers and baths, cases of soap, and dozens and dozens of tubes of toothpaste. We also bought toilet paper, and diapers for the children with special needs. It took a great deal of time for the workers to bring cases of products to us. They bundled them and helped us walk everything to two cars: One brought Mama B from the orphanage and stayed with us all day. We easily filled it with bundles of sheets and mosquito nets! Another was Yusuph’s and mine for the day which we loaded with all of these toiletry supplies! The satisfaction of seeing 4-month’s worth of plans come together was overwhelming and so beautiful.
We also decided to meet a few needs in the kitchen: Thermoses and Hotpots, two items needed to serve food and keep it hot, and allow kids to travel with food when necessary. These items were surprisingly affordable, and Mama was pleased to be able to choose the best quality items from the shops she wanted.
In Dar, you can count on everything taking longer than you think. The shops in the market were closing and there were still a few things left on our list. I was sad that we wouldn’t be able to finish our shopping, but ecstatic that so far, we had come in under budget with almost every purchase. We finished the day with over $2300 USD left! That was plenty of money to leave a legacy of care for the kids, so here is what we did:
We left the remaining funds with The Ocean church, specifically with their Medical Team with the stipulation that some of the money would be spent in the following ways:
- Three more years worth of menstrual pads would be purchased as needed
- 15 pairs of handmade shoes would be purchased for school uniform requirements (handmade shoes cost a bit more but last a long time and can be passed from child to child as they outgrow them)
- 10 cases of vinyl gloves for workers to change diapers, give baths, etc.
- The remaining funds of around $1000 would be left for the Medical Team to continue the amazing work they are doing, and to expand their efforts as they see fit
We left Kariakoo as the sun was setting, and arrived in darkness at Kurasini. The power had gone out just before we arrived, and all I could see was a sea of little bodies moving in the darkness, running towards our cars, eager to greet visitors and see why we were there. As is customary, Mama was ready to gather the children to explain where we had been and to have them thank us for their generosity. Friends, you will have to excuse what happened next, but Yusuph and I put an immediate stop to this plan. Because the Book of Life declares in Matthew 6,
Watch out! Don’t do your good deeds publicly, to be admired by others, for you will lose the reward from your Father in heaven. 2 When you give to someone in need, don’t do as the hypocrites do—blowing trumpets in the synagogues and streets to call attention to their acts of charity! I tell you the truth, they have received all the reward they will ever get. 3 But when you give to someone in need, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.4 Give your gifts in private, and your Father, who sees everything, will reward you.
I can’t stomach the idea of little orphans being forced to thank those who have more than they do for the most basic of supplies. There would be no songs or thank yous from these kids, and as such, there are no photos of the drop off of supplies (although this was mostly because we were in darkness). I can tell you that little girls and boys frantically took my hand, held onto my clothes, wanted to help me carry cases, and with my little Swahili knowledge, I greeted them and asked if we could carry things pamoja, together. We carried all kinds of boxes, big and small, and put them away for storage until morning when the team at Kurasini could properly sort everything. I wandered away from the adults at the prompting of the calls of sweet children, to stand among them and give them final hugs and kisses.
I don’t have words to sum up this experience. I am extremely proud of the difference we have made and am motivated to continue to look for ways to honor the children of Kurasini and be the hands that deliver the promise of Jeremiah 29:11,
For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord. Plans to prosper you and not to harm you. Plans to give you a HOPE and a FUTURE.
Friends, my God does not live only in the ornate sanctuaries and in the songs of the righteous, but under the dirty feet of children, in the laundry basin full of stained water and the sweat of the woman washing. He breathes on the most beautiful linens but also cries tears on the stained sheets of the orphans and slaves. And he lives within the grumbling stomachs of the hungry…
Perhaps it is time to consider how we can feed their hungry bellies…
All my love to you and thank you for your concern for the children of this world. If you are interested in partnering as we move forward, please reach out to me at shepley.amy @ gmail.com.