Today was my first full day back at work since returning from vacation.
It’s fascinating to be back in a culture different than my own. I’m more aware of the non-verbal communication than what I may do naturally in my own culture. Here an glance may mean yes, looking away meaning no. Hugging on both sides or tapping foreheads as a sign of greeting – those are things that are new again, yet familiar since I’ve now lived in East Africa for 3 and a half years. Respect is shown in words and in silence. And working with teenagers, I’ve found silence is also a way of avoiding the reality.
About half of the children the HOPE project supports are partial orphans, which means that they’ve lost one parent to AIDS and their remaining parent is HIV+ and unable to support them to school. These are the lucky ones. They still have a mother who’s usually willing to struggle to help them, even if she cannot afford their daily bread.
Two of the students I met today are total orphans, who live with aunt and uncles. Both of these kids are ones for whom most people would say “maisha ni magumu.” Life is hard. Whether it’s that the aunt is tired of caring for the children of her sister who passed away 15 years ago or that she finds the constant needs too much for her patience, it’s tough for the child, especially for kids going through the tumultuous teenage years.
Eric did well in primary school and his older brother managed to get a chance at going to a good university. But the last two years have been a tough transition for Eric, with his brother gone at school, his uncle busy at work and his aunt just not interested in him, his performance dropped and he found that being the class clown was more fun than being serious about his studies. Now with a reputation and being far behind in his classes, it’s almost too late to catch up.
It’s the students who’s guardians don’t show up – whether it’s at parent meetings at the school or when we try to meet with them – that I feel for. Life is hard enough for a teenager without being loved by the people around him everyday. Mercy is another girl who’s aunt doesn’t always give her the care she needs – but today she came with another student we support, who’s also studying hairdressing. Sometimes having a friend is all you need to make the world seem like a better place and that life isn’t so hard.
Having spent a month with my own family and friends, seeing Eric and Mercy again remind me why I’m here. Hopefully to help them have a life that isn’t so hard in the years to come.
Thanks to all my friends at home that support me in what I do.