The Bold and the Beautiful

I am listening to the call to prayer from my hotel room.  Today they must be calling a lot of people because it seems to be louder and longer than usual.  When it first starts it’s sometimes a bit jarring to the ear, but it quickly becomes hypnotic.

My hotel room only gets 3 or 4 channels.  One of them is from Dubai and goes back and forth between episodes of ‘Bold and the Beautiful’ with Arabic subtitles, and an English speaking man answering viewers’ questions about Rhamadan.  Did you know that people living above the 18th floor of a high-rise have to fast 2 minutes longer than everyone else? (Something about the level of the sun.) Also, if you accidentally vomit during Rhamadan, it is okay, but if you intentionally vomit, your fast day does not count. Allah does not approve of bulimia.

Today I visited two GO-funded projects.  First, Gabriella Center, a learning center for mentally handicapped youth.  It’s a labor of love for the woman who started it, Brenda, and her colleagues.  There is great stigma in being mentally-challenged in Africa, and Brenda and her team are fighting to bring awareness to the community, and also to train the children to be productive members of society. It’s a tough job, but the smiles on the kids’ faces says it all. One girl with autism used to get beaten all the time by an uncle, and when she first came to Gabriella she would shudder and back off if anyone tried to touch her or engage with her.  Now she smiles and engages and is a completely different girl.  If you’re ever in Tanzania, you must visit. It’s a heartwarming place.

Suzan, who was one of the orphans I brought to America for a short trip in 2006, is volunteering at Gabriella Center and it was great to see her dancing and singing with the kids. Suzan didn’t do well enough in school to continue her studies any further, so I suggested she do volunteer work to gain some work experience. She’s always been great with younger kids, so I think this is perfect for her until we can find her a job. She looks healthy and happy, and that makes me happy.

After Gabriella Center, I went to the Kilimahewa school, where GO is funding the building of two classrooms.  They are currently digging the foundation, and Abdul is helping to oversee the budget so that funds are maximized. The school is for second-chance students who either failed to move on due to lack of good grades or lack of funds.  This school allows them to study and either try again at government schools, or to study for the entry tests at private schools.  And from the looks of it, these kids have the drive to move on.  The new classrooms should be finished by November.  They welcome volunteers of any kind – for hands-on building, or for teaching the kids – for as long as you can stay.

I met two classes of kids – one was studying African History, the other was studying Physics. I ran far away from the Physics class and joined in the African History studies instead. The teacher and I talked about the importance of completing school and tried to motivate the students to study as hard as they can.  After class, we all ate makonde (corn and beans, though the corn is cooked differently than the way we eat it in the states and tastes quite different.)

I spent the afternoon visiting with Abdul’s younger brother, Emmanuel, who also came to the USA in ’06.  He has grown several inches from Christmas, and is also speaking more English since Christmas.  He was last in his class for his past 2 report cards, but the teachers said he has improved a lot this past semester and we can expect his ranking to rise. I was beginning to think he was not going to excel in school at all, but now there is hope. Maybe it was his circumcision last December that has led to improved grades? Has anyone done any studies on the lack of foreskin as it relates to improved grades in 13 year olds?

Emmanuel, who is on summer vacation from the boarding school GO Campaign sends him to, told me how his Uncle just gave him an old bicycle with flat tires.  I was surprised because the Uncle used to beat him and make him sleep outdoors when he was younger.  But the Uncle has mellowed with age and he’s impressed that Emmanuel comes to visit regularly and is dedicated to schooling. Emmanuel told me he’s going to use the bike to go back and forth from home to vacation studies at school, and he wants to keep the bike forever. He never wants to forget his Uncle’s great gift to him, and he hopes to pass the bike on to his own child one day.  Imagine a ratty old bicycle with flat tires being such a treasured gift. As Emmanuel told me about it with obvious pride, I was so happy to be listening, in fact I felt honored to be listening – these are the moments that remind me why I love coming to Africa.

All these kids and teenagers GO Campaign supports, and all new new kids I’m meeting – these children are really the bold and the beautiful.