When I came here in 2012 to live for 3 months, on this compound, with all these children, I cried every night by myself for the first 2 weeks after I hugged and kissed them all to bed. This place is nothing like our world, and I automatically felt so upset about it - the conditions they live in, the food they eat, the lack of proper clothing and proper bedding, the fact that they get so excited about a small piece of candy or when you hold their hand. It was all heartbreaking to me, and I couldn't handle it. After those 2 weeks, I realized that I was sad because of what I was conditioned to think life was like. You are supposed to have a clean nice place to sleep, access to food whenever you are hungry, and a closet full of clothes. You should know what its like to be cared for on a daily basis; for someone to ask how your day was, feed you dinner, and tuck you into bed. That is when I realized we live the most ridiculously privileged life, and I could start to think around that. 2 weeks in is the tipping point, and after that you can realize that this is how they are conditioned to live life here, and it is all fine. This is what they know. It doesn’t have to be sad that they sleep on foam pads, or that their three meals consist mostly of rice or dough (they call “banku”) and sauce, or that their clothes are worn from playing so much, and they rarely get anything new. Instead of being sad that they appreciate the smallest things or gestures, I realized it was a great lesson in taking things for granted.
I still have this question, always lingering inside that arises especially every time I'm here, but even when I am at home, thinking of these kids: What did I do to be born a white girl in the US? Nothing. At all. Just the same as they did nothing to deserve to be born in Africa, left to an orphanage. I think that maybe this in this world, we are all meant to help each other more than we know. Imagine if everyone with similar or greater privilege than me could take a month time-out from their life and come to a place like this, and give what you can while you're here. It might be exhausting and uncomfortable and overwhelming, but I promise you, it would be worth it. Those first 3 months here were priceless (literally, because I went home broke from helping everyone here) because of the way my mind opened up to a whole other world. I learned how to live in a place I didn't belong, and every single thing was new to me. It was like being a 27 year old baby, learning the world all over again. It was fascinating and trying and ultimately so rewarding. For me, it was not a one time thing, because I can never un-know these kids. I can't sit at home and not think about how Enock did on his high school exams so he can get into University, or when Diana will complete her vocational school and follow her dreams of opening a new hair shop, or if Kwashi has stopped being such a cry-baby, or if Bishop goes to school with "pure white socks," just like he likes them.
Every night I am here, I bring cold “pure wata” (the water that comes in the small bags) and a “tofi” (candy - this week has been suckers with gum inside) to each kid while they do their homework. It is a mix of the orphans and the boarders on the compound, and there are usually close to 40 kids, all gathered in the dining hall working. I am trying to help with bigger things here (like building new toilet facilities because the kids currently have NONE), but I know by now it is the small things that are so important, too. One girl I have known since she was probably 8 is about 13 now and always comes up to me after prep time. She smiles so big and hugs me while whispering in my ear (kind of loudly and drawn out so it makes me laugh), “Madame Stephanieeeeee, thank you sooooo much for the tofis and the pure wata, you are beeeeautiful and we lovvvvve youuuuuuuuuuuu!” Lol. It reminds me that I am so lucky to know them, and to get to share a slice of their life with them, because its more than just candy and water - its smiles and laughs and letting them know that someone cares about them. And I do, so much.