Last Friday, after the giant feast at the orphanage, I decided to visit some of the children’s homes.It was very interesting and so this past week on Friday again, when they are well fed and energized and are excited because they have no school, I told them that I wanted to do the same. It was decided that I would go to a particular neighborhood Kashai, which is located behind the airport and where several of them are from.
When we finished our Friday feast, often the only full and nutritious meal that the kids know they can count on during the whole week, we began the home visits.As usual there were some hangers-on from other hoods who were just there for the trip and to hang out:I am having so much fun with these kids!I know that I came here to spend most of my time with the disabled children up in Mugeza, but it has been so difficult for me to organize and communicate with them because of the language barrier that it seems as though I am spending much more time than I had originally anticipated with the orphans.I have been planning a large outing with the disabled children on Sunday so if all goes well (or not, which always makes for better stories somehow!) my next article will be about them.
Raza chose Kashai because it is known as a rough sort of place in this small, peaceful town.I wonder how he would feel about my old ‘hood in Brooklyn. My overall impression of Kashai is that it is not so bad: It seems that Raza chose the children with the worst living conditions for my first 4 visits (as I told him he should) leaving the more typical situations for my own discovery.I do not want to create the illusion that these children are living in the lap of luxury, this is not the case at all, they are all in desperate need of help and that is why they are a part of the orphan program at IZAAS.These hoses for the most part had 2-3 rooms and half were made of mud bricks sith tin roofs while the other half seemed to be more permanent structures.It was nice to figure out which children were siblings as I asked each to pose with their families in a room of the house.Since I have always seen them in large group situations, occasionally smaller groups with the girls, it was hard to tell who was related. In several situations the family was too large to fit everyone in the frame from the range allowed by the house so I had to stand on a piece of furniture or outside of the room while taking the picture.
Most families have more than four children with extra children around the house making it hard to decipher where they belonged, but one thing is for sure, there was very little adult supervision, if any. Seeing a group of three- and four-year-olds hanging out by themselves behind a building or under a tree with an older sibling, maybe two years older, but charged with watching them is a very common occurrence. This also clarifies another question that I brought up in an earlier article about the small, avoidable injuries becoming major disabilities, for example the hand burn victims. Siblings and peers just don’t watch as closely as a parent would, although they make fine short term babysitters they do come up with some very typically childish games that are risky at best.The other dayI was in a very large truck (more on that later) driving down a bumpy highway and there was a 4 year old child who had made a kind of wagon by cutting open one side of an old plastic oil can and attaching a rope to the handle.He was dragging his baby sister who was a few months away from walking age along the road, the ‘highway.’When the children noticed the truck coming they ran and he forgot to pull the can/baby so she was sitting in the middle of the road as we were barring down on her and finally she was pulled away.
Back to the home visits.These children are living in such severe poverty that it was very sad to see.They are laughing and skipping and can’t wait to get home to their families, but I can see why the IZAAS orphan program is such a positive experience for them. I saw several of their peers just hanging around with nothing to do or causing trouble, while these children that Raza has ‘adopted’ into the program are very well behaved and have a positive environment to hang out in after school and where they make friends who have similar interests. In one of the homes that I visited there was a front room that contained a desk and a chair, but besides that house none of the children have a place within their home to study.They will either be outside or not studying. None of them have electricity, so night reading and study is impossible.
At one of the homes there were two adorable sisters at home with their mother and older brother. They were sitting in a front room and I asked for the grand tour which included a back room separated by a very dirty curtain.In the back room there was a little boy sleeping (the brother said “baby is sleeping”) on a mattress on the floor but then I noticed a tiny lump in the bed that was pushed up to the other wall.Tiny little baby who was 3 weeks old.So cute!Of course when your house contains two young girls, two boys, one teenager and one toddler as well as a mommy and a tiny baby, the sleeping arrangements become very interesting.It was hard to figure out but one thing is for sure, none of these children have the luxury of a bed to themselves. I know how I felt growing up about the impossibly of sharing a room but I could not imagine ever being forced to have my entire family share my room (although the room that I called my own from age 3- 19 is actually bigger than any of the entire houses that I have visited here in Bukoba!).
Of the houses I visited this week, all had at least one parent or guardian at home, except for one situation. Annette’s house was the last house that I visited and I met her adorable younger brother who was sitting on the stoop.Their house is very dark and part of a single structure with multiple entries which presumably house other families. There is a rear exit to the area that they would call a bathroom and shower but as in all of the other situations it is just a muddy patch with a semi-private enclosure of hand-woven dried palm fronds and a gas can full of water next to an empty large plastic bowl.This house seemed very dark and the ceilings were extremely low.The two children were the only ones in the family and shared a private room while their parents had their own room.There were a total of three beds and three mosquito nets.I was impressed so I asked where her parents were.It turns out that her father was just admitted into the hospital in another city four days ago (most likely HIV/AIDS) and the mother went to accompany him. “When will they be back?” I asked stupidly and I was met with a blank stare.Clearly they are gone for an unknown period of time.What will you do in the mean time for food, money, etc?Well I was proudly escorted back outside the house where I had not noticed but the brother was selling things on a table, mini-piles of 4 tomatoes for 50 cents and they were beginning to wrinkle.I can only assume that the mother left them with some things to sell, quickly approaching worthlessness.How will these children fend for themselves?I bought a bunch of tomatoes and distributed them to the 3 children who were my escorts home.I also gave the little brother the extra pack of roasted nuts that I had bought for all of the children who were escorting me around (at one point when I saw that one of the orphans whose home we had just visited had later set up a low table where she sold these little roasted peanuts in newspaper rolls for five cents a bag).I went back later in the day with two huge avocados and some almonds (from Dubai duty free!) and the equivalent of five dollars specifically for food for them.Two days later I discretely gave her another two dollars and told her not to tell any of the other children.She may have because later that day I received requests for money from two more of them which I denied.It may just be that they know I am leaving soon and so this is the time that they make requests (“Leeza! Give me my bicycle!””Give me my radio!” are both demands that I have heard in the past 48 hours but typically they are very understanding, they are used to being told “No”).
It is amazing to see in action all of the good training that they orphan program has provided for the older children involved.They are extremely responsible for the younger ones and those who are natural leaders have plenty of opportunity to shine.For the girls, a group of six of them were recruited by Mama to help make the food (same style pilau) for the disabled outing that I sponsored on Sunday. They did a very good job and were rewarded by being able to eat as much as they could of the food once all of the work was done. They cooked, cleaned, boiled, chopped, stirred, distributed and cleaned every dish and the entire room after the outing.They have not only learned good manners and school smarts but cooking and cleaning as well.My final impressions about the IZAAS drop-in orphan program is that it caters to a huge need here in Bukoba and it is a very well run program. The children learn amazing life skills and create bonds with their peers who have similar interests. They are all attending the program out of their own free will and each have at least one sibling who does not attend, proving the fact that they could just as easily stay at home or hang out on the streets. Raza helps the families with money for these children’s school fees and provides them with a positive, healthy learning environment and they love it. I feel so lucky that I have been invited with such open arms into each one of their homes, their families were very welcoming and happy to have had pictures taken of them and not one of them was at all unhappy to have me come into the house and look around.It was also a great bonding experience between myself and the children to have me come and see where they live, instead of just being some strange woman who plays Pictionary with them in the afternoons!