An African Adventure!

This week we’re hearing from another recent volunteer: Romany Stott, who has just spent 6 weeks in Tanzania meeting and getting to know the kids.

She’s decided to use her guest blog to introduce a few of the children and the characters she discovered as she got to know them. For those of you who haven’t met the kids, it’s nice to hear a bit about their personalities but, equally, for those of you who know them well, it’s good to hear how they’re growing up and turning out. I last saw Angel as a baby at Christmas when she was so young her personality was still a mystery; it’s good to hear about how it is gradually being discovered. It’s only through listening  to the stories of those who are there that we can experience the kids grow up when we have to be so far away.

“Chance is described as the unknown and unpredictable element in happenings that occur without planning or design. It was chance that I found myself at Nkoaranga Orphanage, which I heard about through my friend and The Small Things’ board member, Bethan, who I had met just a year before. Like all other occurrences, being in Tanzania was an unlikely one…but when I think of the non-profit organisation I went with, which provides education, medical and emotional support to the children, and the Mamas who fold, cook, change, wash and play from the dawning day until the rising moon, I can’t think of a more worthwhile way I could have spent my time. It was unlikely that I ended up there, but I’m jolly glad I did! 

So, the orphanage! Situated on Mount Meru, through criss-crosses of laundry, ascending hills and trees that moult avocados for fun, you arrive at Nkoaranga Orphanage. Now, I’ve met kids in the UK and they have that whole ‘playing it cool’ attitude. Likewise, I expected to arrive to a group of shy children, feigning disinterest, whom I would have to charm into friendship. My first day at Nkoaranga Orphanage an army of little ones run over, cheering, laughing, and hanging monkey-style off every limb. That was it; I was hooked.

Without further ado, I would like to present just a few of the interesting characters of Nkoaranga Orphanage…

‘Too Cool For School’

A tiny girl, with one big poker face!  She is such a  sweet baby who you just have to cuddle – but don’t expect her to look impressed about it! 
‘The Buddha’

Well, I have to confess, no one actually calls him Buddha apart from me, but in person I think it is uncanny! Isaac has some health issues but, despite everything, he is an extremely happy baby with a beaming face and hands which he claps down on the nearest surface (earning him another nickname – The Judge) whenever you enter the room. I am hoping to sponsor Isaac through school once he is old enough.

‘Little Neema’

The younger of the two Neema’s in the orphanage; she has quite a personality! She has an older sister, Anna, who is being sponsored through The Small Things to go to school. Neema is very vocal and loves attention and cuddles above all else (well, apart from maybe uji*)! She is learning to walk and currently uses ‘The Neema Walk’ (a crab-like movement, in which one leg walks and one leg crawls, used to drag herself across the floor), which probably requires more energy than just crawling or walking! Another Neema special: ‘The Neema Dance’, a term I use to describe her habit of standing in her cot, moving from foot to foot and crying until she get attention. Success Rate – Very High!

*Uji is a porridge-like mixture with peanut butter which the toddlers all drink twice a day

‘The Deep Thinker’
Peacie! This is a classic Peace pose, which makes him constantly appear to be contemplating life. Peace was in the one-to-one care program with Mama Linda and is now healthy. Peace is a very chilled and independent little baby who loves playing with balls and toddling about. Note: The Mohawk.

‘Mr Happy’

Babe of joy!  Shujaa is a very content little man who gets even happier if you pick him up and swing him upside down singing ‘The Okee Kokee’ with ‘Shujaa’ interjected. His other favourites include being pushed on the roundabout and tickled relentlessly. He will often lift his arms and request ‘mimi’ to let you know that you should pick him up and randomly sings the words ‘ee-ii-ee-ii-oo’ throughout the day. Top Tip: Touch his button nose. It is the cutest thing on Earth (you don’t know until you try!)!

‘The Man’
Filipo is just like a little man already and another who is ‘too cool for school’. Note: Singing ‘Filipo’ repeatedly can produce an awesome dance including moonwalking and finger pointing – but it has been rarely seen.

The Yoda reference is far clearer from a head shot! Vicky can definitely get a mood on, but can usually be pulled out of it. Trait: The Vicky Face – includes downcast eyebrows, wide eyes, her trademark pout and a telling pointed finger. It is often accompanied by the word ‘wewe’ meaning ‘you’.  It is just one of her many hilarious expressions! Her older sister, Queen, lately entered the orphanage and we held a birthday celebration for her.

Okay, so I lied, that wasn’t ‘just a few’ of the children but they are all so lovely! There are so many more of them and that was just a taste of the sweet and funny characters at Nkoaranga Orphanage. However, regardless of all the playing and the children and their quirky ways, it is worth noting that they still face a lot of problems. Malaria is common in the orphanage and the children must be treated often. Furthermore, some of the children are still affected by their past and are upset, distant or antisocial so need lots of love and care from volunteers. The great thing about volunteering with The Small Things at Nkoaranga Orphanage is you know you are definitely helping and work there goes far beyond spending hours sat with a baby on your lap. You often start the day as the sun rises, walking through the orphanage gate to hear the first murmurs of the babies and from there it is: nappy changing, drying children from their bath, finding clothes, finding shoes, feeding uji, cleaning, putting out laundry, potty training… and then repeat. The Mamas who work there have a lot to do and there is always a way to help them and make their job easier, even just by entertaining the children.
If you are interested in volunteering with The Small Things and helping a more than worthwhile cause, I couldn’t recommend it more. Also, they are flexible and encouraging of you to really experience Tanzania during your stay, so your visit could include climbing Mount Kilimanjaro or going on safari (like mine!) as well as getting to volunteer with the beautiful children. 

I think over my six weeks in Nkoaranga and remember the days we spent outside, when the sun would come out and the morning was wearing a sky of blue. Happy children would dance in a mist of bubbles blown by volunteers, Isaac would clap his hands as he was pushed the swing and Shujaa’s laugh could be heard echoing across the orphanage as he was tickled for the third time. I plan to be very involved with both Nkoaranga Orphanage and The Small Things in the future, and happily wait until I can return. It wasn’t chance that brought me to the orphanage, it was luck.”

Thank you so much, Romany, for that lovely, fresh insight into the different personalities of all those kids!

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