Guest Blog: Amy B. Fontaine

Amy with Shujaa

This week we have the pleasure of hearing Amy Fontaine’s thoughts about her time volunteering at Nkoaranga Ophanage from October to November last year: what she had anticipated it being like, her experience whilst there and the children’s ‘sheer-kidness’! I am excited to share it with you all.  Amy’s descriptions capture life at Nkoaranga so well making it a joy to read!

“I had no idea what to expect when I came to Nkoaranga in October of 2013. I had been out of the United States many times but never to Africa. I had taken a leave of absence from teaching at my independent New York school to come and volunteer at the orphanage. I wanted more than anything to step outside my Brooklyn world and meet the children that could, I suspected, do more for me than I ever could for them. All the while I was acutely aware that I was not 18 or 25 or even 30, as so many volunteers were. I was past 50, and I had made a major life change in order to do this. And I wanted to do it right.

Anything that was hard or scary or different in the beginning evaporated quickly in the face of the mischievous laughter of Pray and Queen; the older-than-their-years solemnity of Loveness and Shujaa; the pudgy, face-splitting grins of Isaac and Peace; the sweetness of Angel and Lulu, Hope and Frankie; the insistent neediness of Brighton, Vicky and Shalom. I had been worried, that first day when Bekka was taking me around the orphanage and introducing me, that I would struggle to learn the children’s’ names.  But I knew them all within a few days, as their personalities became known to me, as I played with them in the yard, changed their diapers, helped them eat, marvelling at how they helped each other, leaned on each other –their sheer kid-ness!
Amy with Zawadi (left) and with baby Lulu  on her last day (right)!
My first early morning shift: lots of freshly bathed naked little guys, swirling in the 6 a.m. darkness, needing diapers, clothes, shoes. I wasn’t sure I could help in all that busyness! What were they asking me? What did they need? But I tried to dive in, marvelling at how self-sufficient the children were, yet how much help everyone needed, all at the same time.
As the days went on, the work at the orphanage took on a rhythm and flow for me. The mamas were incredible. They were loving and calm, despite being busy. They didn’t get ruffled. They rarely needed to raise their voices. The children loved them, wanted to please them, wanted to be with them. I was lucky enough to be able to spend time with Teacher Emerte in the schoolroom. As a teacher myself I recognized how gently and effectively she taught them –she held them in the palm of her hand. I got a bit braver. I taught them some songs: The Wheels on the Bus, Going to Kentucky, Where is Thumbkin? I knew I was going to do ok during one of my first night shifts. After the kids were in bed I could hear the older ones, talking, whispering, murmuring themselves to sleep. They were singing too. They were singing The Wheels on the Bus to each other! I couldn’t stop smiling.
Amy with Teacher Emerte (left) and running her own class in the Nkoaranga school room (right).
One of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do was go home two months later. I miss the children and the mamas every day. Thank you, Nkoaranga. I was right: I got more from you than I could ever hope to give.”
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