The children of Tariro Orphanage have just had the best day they’ve had in a long time and it was a pleasure to be involved in helping make it happen.
When we walked through the door of their “home” just a week and half ago, I never thought that we’d be where we are now. I never thought for a moment that in such a short space of time we’d see such an amazing change in these, now, 17 children. We’ve been having the conversation amongst ourselves these past few days wondering if some of the children were mute, or if something terrible had happened to them in their previous homes, or on the streets where they were found. Was the trauma of being abandoned too much for them to bear? Was the grief they endured when their parents died too much for them to want to get close to anyone ever again? Was the pain of being alone in the world too much for them to even imagine happiness again?
To encounter a child so devoid of happiness and of life itself, was a horrific feeling. But we didn’t meet just one like that, we met 17, and all at the same time.
So there we were, assessing what we’d seen at Tariro on Day 6. Trying to put into words what we thought we’d come across. We thought as many as half a dozen were mute. Thats the one thing that really stands out to me now. You could point, and smile and ask a question, but you’d not get much of a response. They did basically understand what we were saying, and would react to it, but not in a ways we expected. So the fear that something so traumatic had happened to them, that they had withdrawn into themselves so much that they no longer spoke, was a real concern. How could we help? What could we do that would make any difference?
In a word: Love.
This is Thomas. He is my new best friend. He loves being tickled, chips and cake. He doesn’t like pizza. He’s also melted my heart these last few days.
For the first week of meeting this amazing 2yr old, Thomas never said a word. He’d make a sound a bit like the “Hmmm” noise you make when someone says something to you, and you don’t hear them properly, and you want them to repeat themselves. You could shake his hand, pick him up, give him food, give him a hug and almost anything else you would do with a normal child of his age, but he’d only ever make that one noise. He seemed such a quiet soul, but always a little withdrawn, and always pretty much silent.
Fast forward 9 days from our first meeting with him and now we its like a switch has been turned on and so has his smile. I carried him all day yesterday as we went round the market stalls and shops in Kadoma and I sat next to him as we ate our big family meal together in the only fast food restaurant in town. Now he never likes to be too far away from me, and always wants to be in my arms as we walk. Its backbreaking work and I don’t know how mums do it, but its worth it. As we walked down the street he was amazed at every car that went past, amazed at every tree. He saw a dog and the look of surprise in his face was priceless. He’s probably never left Tariro’s gates since he arrived and the day out we planned for them all was his first time seeing many a thing I’m sure. He’s a “mute” no longer and all it took was some love and attention. The very least that a child deserves is this, no? It’s heartbreaking to think that something we take for granted is something so allusive to Thomas, Macdaniel and the rest of the children.
This week though, we’ve changed that. With your donations (click here to donate if you haven’t already) we’ve already painted most of their bare concrete walled house for them, the first of the bunk beds, so that they don’t have to sleep huddled together on the concrete floor ever again, will arrive at their home on Tuesday, and yesterday we took them shopping.
Our major reason to come to Africa in the first place was to help underprivileged children get a better education. Now, there is underprivileged, and then there the children of Tariro. They literally have nothing. No bed of their own, no clothes of their own, no choice in anything they eat or do. We, with our friends, families and donor’s help, have given them all of these things. For this, we, and they, thank you.
We’ve spent just about every waking hour with them for the past 4 days. I hope they don’t get bored of us! On Saturday morning, with the help of our neighbour Gemma, her daughter and her friend, we met all 17 of the children in town. We expected them to be a handful, but they were not at all. They were quiet and well behaved. Still a little shy in the outside world.
They knew that something was happening, but they didn’t know what. They were dressed in their very “best” clothes. They were perhaps considered to be their best as they were the least dirty and only had minor wear and tear (along with paint splashes) on them. When we started walking towards the school uniform shop, I dreaded the groans that you’d expect a “normal” western child to make upon learning that, yes, we’d be shopping but for school stuff. We all entered the shop and everyone was relatively silent, perhaps not really understanding what was going on. Getting a school uniform isn’t something to get excited about after all, I thought. But when I made it clear that we were going to get them everything that they needed so that they could go to school each and every day, they were hive of activity, all excitedly pointing at this shirt, those shorts and even socks! I’ve never seen anyone get so hyped up about getting new socks! There were 3-4 in each changing booth as they were all so desperate to try on their new uniforms!
Initially we said that we’d just use some of the money to buy them what they were missing, or what they most needed, but in the end we bought every single child a new uniform including socks. At first we didn’t know if we’d just wasted money on items that they already had, but quickly came to the realisation that they’d probably never had a new uniform, and could potentially have been bullied for looking scruffy or with the wrong size because it was a hand me down 3 times over. I remember at my school, the kids with the smartest clothes were not necessarily the coolest kids, but the scruffy ones could never be. They were always looked down upon a little bit because of it. Sad to think thats how it was and kids can be cruel, but remembering that made me realise that these kids would, for the first time ever, be able to walk into school with their heads held high and feel like king of the castle. Giving them that feeling was priceless.
Next up we went to the market. This is a weekly market where all your donated items that you send out with your big international “charity” organisations are sold. Its shit that we ended up buying it rather than having it donated direct, but the end result is that the children all got new clothes that they had chosen themselves. Many bits and pieces were as little as $1 each and we did, to be fair, get a lot for the money. The older children, however, didn’t seem impressed with what was on offer. They were, after all, wearing basically the same kind of quality of stuff as was on the stalls and this was about giving them a choice, not just more of the same disguised as a choice. So I took the older boys, and Nicole took the girls to get something that they really wanted.
Bright reds, striking whites and bold blacks were the order of the day, all mixed with golden zip after golden zip. Nothing they chose was my kind of thing, but this wasn’t a day about anything other than their kind of thing. Our original budget idea went out of the window once it became apparent that you couldn’t get much of the “quality” new items on sale at the market, so each child was given $20 to work with. Each got at least one, now cherished, t-shirt and one pair of bright red or black jeans. Some got 2 t-shirts as they had different tastes, and one boy got a pair of trainers for the first time ever. Big and white like Air Jordans. He tried these whiter than white trainers on as we were surrounded by muddy puddle after muddle puddle. The futility of trying to keep them clean was lost on him as his wide eyes were fixed on them from minute one. I do believe that he’s never had anything to call his own thats quite so satisfying before in his life. This one moment was worth the whole day, but there was more to come. Much more.
One boy was missed out accidentally and I stayed behind to buy him some boots, a new bag and a new t-shirt (all for $20 total!) and as he followed my footsteps through the muddy sludge and water that constitutes a path over here, we talked a little bit. He seems a bright kid, but uncommonly small for a 14 year old. I’d have thought he was only 9-10. He’s been at the orphanage for 5 years but I couldn’t bring myself to ask his circumstances. I didn’t want to remind him of the bad times, when were were trying to show them the good. We did talk about food though. We’d just told everyone that once we were done with shopping we’d go and eat. I asked him what his favourite food was. He said rice. I asked: “What about fried chicken”? His eyes lit up: “Chicken?? Oh yes!”. “What about burgers?” “Burgers?? Yes I love burgers!” It had been so long since they’d eaten anything else that he’d become conditioned to expect rice, at that time of the day, was what was coming next and therefore that was his favourite. Given the choice, however, it very clearly wasn’t! This day was all about giving them that choice.
They’d never eaten in a restaurant before and this was the final thing that we wanted to round their day off with. It seems such a simple thing to you and I that part of any trip into town is accompanied by a bite to eat. I like KFC, but others thing the Big Mac is king. Either way, its nothing out of the ordinary, but these children had only ever been given porridge in the morning, rice in the afternoon and maize (sadza) in the evening. They’d never been to a place like this before and it showed. They didn’t know what to do with themselves and felt a little out of place, but when they realised that they could have anything that they wanted, they didn’t know how to react. Some looked confused at all of the pictures of all the different types of food on offer, one knew exactly what he wanted as soon as he walked in. “Steak Pie and Coke” he just repeated over and over as we ordered. He couldn’t contain his excitement!
Some acted like Billy Ray Valentine in the movie Trading Places (if you haven’t watched it, do… its a great movie), when he struggles to come to terms with the fact that all of the things in his new gifted home were in fact now his. He nods and smiles with them as he pretends to understand that he actually owns everything, as he’s putting items in his pocket. Some didn’t know how to just order what they wanted, and they ordered extra to put into their pockets and in their new bags. Cans of drink, cake and even chicken was ordered with the express purpose to take home with them. They didn’t know when or if their access to this experience would ever stop, so they tried to make it last as long as possible. Its easy to imagine why when you have seen what they have come from. The simple pleasures of a cold fizzy drink through a straw in a restaurant, are a long way from water from a water tank in the garden of a concrete walled orphanage.
Nicole had an emotional day too:
At the restaurant I was sitting with the children and a man came over to me out of the blue. He asked why we were with so many children. He’d seen me with Macdaniel when we arrived and when I sat down with him and everyone else, so I explained that we’re helping these children with donations from all our amazing friends and family and we’ve come to try to make a difference. He said he was very proud that people could come over to help them and that made us both feel happy. Macdaniel and Thomas, the two youngest boys, ate their body weight in food and had massive protruding bellies by the time we left! They where so sweet and kept offering me their chips and cake. It was an amazing feeling to see them all so happy for a change. I gave them my phone for them to take pics of themselves and I said I would print of some of their pics and they can put them up in the newly decorated home. After we’d all eaten, I took some of the little ones to the toilet and while I was waiting a lady that worked there said that she was an orphan too. She said that she used to look forward to the days like these when she was younger and she remembers them so clearly and it’s something that will stay with her for the rest of her life. As soon as we walked in it brought back the memories of her childhood and that the most important feeling was to feel that people cared. I began to feel a little emotional and a warm feeing inside. She also said that she could see how much we cared for these children. Now out of the orphanage, she is in full time employment as well as studying at a college and I was so proud of her. To know that she hadn’t had the best start in life and yet she has dreams and desires that could actually be achieved one day, gave me great hope for all these children of Tariro. Where would they all be in 10-20 years? I hope that we’re making a change in their lives that will last. I think we are.
As we said our goodbyes for the day one of the boys came over to me and said thank you so much for the day. He said he hoped we’d be back again before he left Tariro. He’s 16 and they have to leave the home at 18. Not only will we be back before he leaves, but we’ll see him Monday, I said. He can’t get rid of us that easily! He gave me a hug and said he’d remember us and our day out for ever and that we are great people who are trying to make there lives a little better. As a small token of thanks he handed us both a sweet and I was instantly overwhelmed and emotional.
Like most of the day, I was with Macdaniel at the very end and he was holding me so tight too. I felt the love from him but it was time to say goodbye to these amazing children. They all had huge smiles on their faces and couldn’t thank us enough. We have definitely become a part of this close nit family. It’s a feeling that I can not put into words and I will hold each one of them extremely close to my heart forever.”
By the end of the day, where there were once expressionless faces, now there were smiles and laughter. Where there was lack of hope, now there was a belief that things could get better after all. It doesn’t take much to change someone’s life when they have so little. We spent a good chunk of the money we’ve been donated to make this day happen for them, and my god has it been worth it. It may seem like such a passing and unimportant thing to give a child a choice for the first time, but its that feeling of having control over your own life that has been missing from all of theirs. As we waved them off onto the transport to take them home after a full day of shopping and eating, they ALL waved, they ALL smiled, they ALL gave us a lump in our throats.
We have all have come a long way in the few days since we walked into their home. We’ve grown together and we’ve changed together and I just hope that we can make changes that will last a lifetime in these children, not just for one day.
If you want to help bring joy to a child who has nothing, donate here.
If you want to help clothe a child who has no clothes of their own, donate here.
If you want to help give a child choices they’ve never had before, then please donate here.