When you meet these kids, you’ll know…

Over the next two weeks we get the chance to look at Nkoaranga through fresh eyes. These two guest posts from Olivia and Romany are full of great insights into what life at the orphanage is like, given by people who are still glowing from their first experiences of it.

This week we start with Olivia’s guest post. I think she puts the messiness and frustrations of the orphanage into balance with its joys and its surprises perfectly. She really captures the way volunteers grow to love the children and how quickly they can worm their way into your heart; reading it transported me back to Tanzania.

“When you meet these kids, you’ll know. You’ll know why you came. Why you spent so much money, why you left behind whoever it is that you miss already, why you collected all your vacation days carefully and then spent them all at once. You’ll know why you’re taking cold showers and walking around with some toddler’s pee on your pants. You’ll know that you made the right choice. You’ll know that the governments that make the adoption process so difficult, at both ends, are your newest enemies. You’ll know that your capacity to love is greater than you thought it could be. When you meet the kids, you’ll know that you’ll never be the same again.
I had no idea what to expect in Nkoaranga, but the orphanage, hospital, dirt road, dukas (shops), piki-pikis (motorcycles), and fresh fruit and vegetable stands that make up Nkoaranga quickly became my new M.O. The beautiful children, with their runny noses, wet pants, fighting, happy hugs, and general confusion, quickly became my new home. 

I guess Brighton finally lost his fight with naptime, halfway through his struggle with his pants!
Like any home, it wasn’t all fun and games. There were moments when it seemed like every single kid in the orphanage was crying. I couldn’t blame them. They all get bored or sad or lonely, just like the rest of us, and when they do, there aren’t many comforting laps or arms to go around. There are two to three mamas in the orphanage at all times, but they’re usually busy with the cooking, laundry, cleaning, changing diapers, etc. And sometimes we all just need a cuddle… but especially if you’re a baby or child. I was inspired by how adaptable children are; but there are some things a child can never adapt to. Not having a lap to call their own—that’s one of those things. A child needs the love and attention a parent gladly gives and nothing can change that. For me, this was the most heartbreaking thing I saw.
There were funny moments. SO MANY funny moments. There is a local volunteer names Franky who is deaf, and we all love him! He would help us so much, was so good-natured and so good for the kids. It was funny to glance at him during those moments when the cries echoed off the walls and bounced off the floors (often right before bedtime, when every kid was just knackered), because he was just smiling along as always, watching the bedtime movie, oblivious to the sanity-stealing noise surrounding him. Another one of my favorite moments happened during a crazy crying session as well. That day, all the kids were dressed up in loads of plastic rings, necklaces and bracelets that had been donated, so the other volunteers and I started singing Beyonce’s “Single Ladies” and waving our hands to show off our imaginary diamond rings. Soon about 15 kids were dancing and singing around us, and showing off their own ringed fingers. They were all ridiculously cute. The funniest were definitely the boys, especially the more tough and wild ones, dancing around waving their hands like girls and trying to sing, “If you like it then you should have put a ring on it!”
Each kid has an incredible personality, an intricate mix of fun and beautiful and vulnerable, sometimes spiced with mischief, in another kid seasoned with nurturing, in yet another with impulsiveness, in another with curiosity. Each kid is so unique that when one of us volunteers would tell a story about something funny or frustrating or crazy that happened at the orphanage that day, the rest of us could guess which kid the story was about. As a volunteer, you can’t help but fall in love with the kids. When we weren’t at the orphanage with the kids we were talking about the kids. And now that I’m home I try to vicariously introduce the kids to people who ask about my trip. As I knew before I ever bought my ticket to Tanzania, they’ve changed my life a hundred times more than I’ve changed theirs.”

Thanks to Olivia Lee Lessard from the US for this great
contribution to our blog.
Next week we follow on with the impressions of Romany Stott
from England, who went out to Tanzania with her friend Bethan, one of our board
members and regular bloggers. It looks like she too has caught the Nkoaranga
magic and really got to know the kids well in a short space of time.