In May of 2009, 12 unacquainted people took a trip to Tanzania, Africa with the common goal of service. What we did not know was that this trip would incorporate much more than just service; the life changing friendships and connections that we stumbled upon along the way will forever be embedded in our memories. It is said that a picture tells a thousand words....here is our attempt to tell our story. Within these photos you will see some of our toughest moments...moments of realization....and the moments that left us speechless. These are the memories that are very dear to our hearts...the smiles, laughter, and tears that we will never forget.
When I was chosen as a participant for the Alternative Breaks trip to Moshi, Tanzania I was excited about the change that I would bring to many lives. Looking back on the moments before the trip, I realize that my motivation to do service was more so for me than it was for the cause. I wanted to help disadvantaged youth for my own glory. I wanted to say that I made a difference in their lives, and somehow that would bring me self-contentment. Some may ask ‘what is wrong with doing service for self-contentment?’ The problem in doing service to please myself was that I set boundaries on what I would do for them. The truth about service is that it involves sacrifice.
The first step I made in Moshi, Tanzania was a memorable one. I will never forget inhaling my first breath of their air. It was almost as if the smell of peace was intertwined with oxygen as it filled my lungs. Never will I forget the first smile thrown my way from a little girl in the streets wearing shoes with missing soles while walking her younger sibling to school. I will never forget the first little hand that cupped mine; a child that never knew me but already loved me, a foreigner she spotted walking along the dirt road. I knew then that my transformation was in progress. Moshi was beginning to feel like my home.
The following Monday each of the participants were assigned different placements to do service work. Most of the placements were nearby but I was informed that my placement was an hour away and there was no transportation in that direction. I had chosen to volunteer at TCC (Tanzania Children Concern) because I wanted to interact with disadvantaged youth, particularly orphans. I came from a background full of hardship mainly because I didn’t have a parental unit and I felt that I would come from a standpoint of understanding. My first walk to TCC was a grueling one. I was walking in 90 degree weather on dirt roads that were uneven, as sweat soaked my face and back. Half of the walk was going uphill and dust would fly up and cloud my vision every time my sandals hit the ground. As soon as I reached my placement the younger children immediately embraced me. They were yelling, “Teacher! Teacher!” Teacher Herman, a native of Moshi, had to pry the all of the little arms that were locked around my waist off of me. He then led me to the older children around the ages of 8-9 that I was assigned to teach. When I walked in I was surprised by the cool reception that I received. My students didn’t greet me. They simply glanced at me and continued working. The entire class time we had little interaction and I was sure that the walk to TCC was not worth it.
After another hour long sweltering walk back, I returned to the Hostel and informed the AB supervisor, Joanne Dennis, that I was not returning to my placement. Joanne sat me down and told me to think about all of the people that had made sacrifices to help me in my life. She then asked me, “What if they all gave up on you? Where would you be right now?” After contemplating on the issue I realized that I was being selfish in my service. I was only allowing myself to do service that didn’t involve a sacrifice. I then made the commitment to walk 6 miles everyday to see these children because they needed me.
After a couple of days I got used to the walk and the older students began to warm up to me. I walked into the classroom and received a better greeting than the younger students have ever given me. It meant more to me to win over the hearts of these older children because it was earned. I became so attached to these children that I wanted to teach them every subject they had to learn. I remember asking a native teacher if I could teach the students their Kiswahili subject and she laughed at me. She smiled at me and said, “You can’t speak a lick of Swahili my dear!” We spent countless hours together and while I was teaching the children English and Math they were teaching me life lessons. I don’t recall ever smiling as hard as I did in that classroom and sometimes, tears would fall down my eyes and the students would wipe them away. I was proud every time I taught a child something and graded their homework and saw that the material was understood. Every time they would raise a hand and give me the correct answer I felt that I did something special. There is no greater feeling in the world. The children began to confide in me and opened a window into their troubles and I could not relate. I thought I would be coming from a standpoint of understanding but the things that those children are enduring surpassed any hardship I had ever gone through. Some of the doorways to opportunities were bolted shut for them and the reality is that some will kick locked doors down, and others will fight to no avail.
How many classrooms have we been in that didn’t have air conditioning, a roof, books, a blackboard, and uncomfortable seats made of wood that isn’t sanded? How many times have we walked three hours to school in blazing hot weather wearing shoes with no soles at eight years of age. These children have to endure this every single day and still their hunger to learn is intensive. They sat in class from 8am to 6pm, yet they asked me if they could stay in class and learn more during their lunch break. I had to re-evaluate myself. I was in the presence of the world’s strongest soldiers and I aspired to be like them. Those children helped me find myself.
Since then, I have decided to make a life-changing decision and change my major from business to psychology. I want to work for a non-profit organization and provide mental health services to orphans and foster youth. I want to be that shoulder to lean on and that ear to spare to children who are in need of love and attention. As I continue on in my journey of life I never forget to reconnect with the past by sending an email to a friend thousands of miles away in a small town called Moshi. Sometimes I smile randomly when I think about a joke that teacher Herman once told me, or a funny dance that a student performed for me. Those children can never forget me because I left my handprints in the palms of their hands when our fingers intertwined for what I promised wouldn’t be the last time. Those children left their handprints in my heart and as I am walking in a new direction I will never forget the children that directed me toward that path.
Angelica Nwandu, LMU class of 2012
August 4th, 2009