One by one we were introduced to the children. The girls curtsied in the old English way and the boys politely took our bags. The aunties were visibly excited to have us and could not have been more welcoming. The Director of the orphanage was out of town so we looked to them for direction. And this is when we learned about the privileged status of the white man in Africa. They beamed at us and said, “We are so excited to learn from you!” What could we possibly have to teach them? We didn’t know how to approach the kids or what exactly our roles would be while there.
There was no set volunteer structure or defined goals. We knew the children needed help with reading, writing and speaking English. Zambia is made up of 72 different tribal groups, each with their own language. So, English is the uniting language, and more importantly, the language of business. If any of these kids is to get ahead in life, understanding the English language is important, if not necessary. But apart from this, we weren’t quite sure how to “educate” the children.Through direct conversations, intonations and the general way in which we were received, we soon gathered that to everyone around us (at least those with dark skin we were later told), we possessed a knowledge that they, frankly, did not. Simply by growing up and receiving an education in a developed world, the director of the home honestly told us, people expected that we could teach them things (and offer financial help, too, he joked). Obviously, this made us both feel a little uneasy. I wondered to Laura if they would view black Americans the same way or if it were really just our skin color that set us apart. To our amazement the kids opened up to us immediately. Initial conversations seemed forced – “What is your favorite Bible passage?” one asked me (the home is Christian-based), but I quickly learned that this was more a matter of finding common ground than anything. With the boys, we spoke of futbol, the World Cup and girls; with the girls, we talked about hair (emphasis black hair – something we both learned a lot about), baking cookies and, of course, boys. After the first few days, many offered to share their stories: of abandonment, of abuse, but most often, of death, “My mother died giving birth to me,” “My father died of AIDS when I was nine,” or “My mother died of AIDS and my father couldn’t take care of me.” This approbation of us was overwhelming. They wanted to share their stories and to confide in us. All our worries that they would never be able to trust us were gone and quickly replaced by a new fear; that we would become so close to them in such little time, only for them to feel abandoned once again when we left. In an effort to do something good and unselfish, I was feeling selfish yet again. I felt that everything I was doing was perhaps based on some crazy, subconscious desire to make myself feel better, only in the end to expedite these kids’ own mistrust in others. Would the time spent with them and relationships forged outweigh the sense of loss they might feel after we left? Could we, after leaving, continue to be an active part in their lives from thousands of miles away? Time will tell, but we decided we are going to try.
On October 9, we’re hitting the pavement, running 26.2 for these kids. Hope you’ll consider making a donation to make their world a little bit brighter.
For more details on our efforts, click here.