Our Christmas Tradition – Why does my family give?

I’m Kristina Alexander, the latest board member at The Small Things. I’m currently studying social work in Canada – and counting the days until I return to Tanzania next summer!
Multitasking with David (left) and Ester – look how much
they’ve grown!

As far back as I can remember I have always wanted to go to Africa. My parents would maybe even tell you that at certain times in my life it was all I talked about. I know this to be true as the months that led up to my trip there I researched, I read, I packed, I repacked to fit more into my suitcases, and in a last ditch effort to take everything I wanted to donate to the orphanage I vacuum packed a suitcase! My family and friends gathered for a farewell dinner where they showered me with love, encouragement, and donations to take with me. What started off as my dream became my reality when I boarded the plane from Victoria, BC, Canada and flew for 22 hours to Tanzania in August 2010. My mom’s last words were “I love you”, and my dad’s were “go live your dream.” And that’s what I did.

I was fortunate enough to live with a local family in a small village not too far from Nkoaranga. They accepted me as their own and taught me the customs and cultural traditions in a country that I was unfamiliar with. In the evenings I would have Swahili lessons with the children in my new family, and my room mate and I would lay under our mosquito nets and talk about our days and this crazy place that we were calling “home”.

Cuddling my “bean,” Ester

I still remember the day I arrived at Nkoaranga and was greeted with an abundance of bright smiles, hugs and kisses from the school children, and open arms from Mama Pendo. Instantly you fall in love with this place, you can’t help it. Mama Pendo is an amazing woman and I have never met anyone quite like her. She has been at the orphanage for 22+ years and has seen some of the children arrive as babies and graduate from school 18 years later. She remembers everything about the day a child arrived, why they are there and who comes to visit them and when. She is a support system for the mamas that work there, the volunteers that come and go, and a true servant. She is full of enthusiasm, can cook, clean, mend a scrape on a knee, feed the children, laugh with them, change them, fold laundry, tend to administration work and sing like an angel; the list goes on. She was truly a mentor for me when I was there.

As my days turned into weeks, and my weeks into months Christmas was on the horizon. With Christmas coming it was time to decide what my family would sponsor this year. Without hesitation my sister’s suggested Nkoaranga. What more could I ask for then to carry out our Christmas tradition in a place that I loved, and my family was growing to love through my emails and photos I was sending home. It’s a whole different experience when you get to see your donations in motion. Our Christmas tradition started in 2002 when my Grandma Margery Scanlon passed away.

My nephew holding a “Project MAJI”
bottle and a picture of Stevie that I
gave him to help him understand that I’d
made a donation to “Auntie Kristina’s African
babies” in his honor.

Growing up my Grandma was always an important part of my life. As far back as I can remember she was always there for me. Her constant flow of encouragement to try harder in school, set my goals in life high, and become a better person was evident; after all she was a teacher. She taught me that sand stayed at the park so empty your shoes before you leave. She taught me how to eat chocolate wagon wheels, and hide my smarties from my Grandpa. She taught me how to pick raspberries from the bushes in her backyard. She even assisted me with my school work, and sibling rivalry. But, perhaps the greatest lesson that I learnt was to put others before myself, to help those less fortunate than I was, and be generous in everything I do.

For over 25 years my Grandma sponsored children through World Vision. At any given time she had multiple children on the go. She proudly displayed their photos and sent them little presents in the mail. I was always intrigued by this. When she passed away my parents sponsored her children along with the ones they already had. And it was that Christmas my sister’s and I started a new Christmas tradition. We wanted our Grandma’s legacy to continue and the generosity that she shared with others to not be forgotten. Each year since then we have sponsored children in the field of education in a third world county. I just never imagined that last year I would get to give our families donation to Nkoaranga and see our donation make such an incredible difference for the children there. For that I am truly thankful.

This year will mark the tenth Christmas that our family will celebrate without my Grandma. However, when my mom opens up the gold present under the tree in my Grandma’s memory, and the tears flow, we will feel her there. The gold present simply contains a page of written words put together by three sisters and their families to remind my parents that Grandma will never be forgotten. She lives on in the gifts we give to others, the moments and memories we share as a family, and “the small things” that we do. I never imagined that my families’ Christmas tradition would ever make it hand delivered to Africa, but I’m so thrilled it did.

However your family chooses to celebrate the holidays this year I would encourage you to create a new tradition. A tradition of sponsorship for the lives and education of the children at Nkoaranga. A tradition that will make the difference between a child attending school or not. A tradition that you will always remember, and will be a gift that the children will never forget – ever. You may never have the opportunity to meet them in person, and may only hear the stories and see the pictures through The Small Things, but I can tell you first hand these children are the future for their country. They will become the voices of change, the movers and shakers, but they need our support to get there, so this holiday season please give.

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