This is it. The time has come.
It almost feels surreal to think that under 2 months ago, we’d never even set foot in Africa, let alone could have imagined how much we’d feel so at home there. It also feels surreal to imagine how much we have come to care about people who were strangers to us those same 2 months ago. Quite how we’ve got here, and how we have travelled on this journey is an absolute privilege; and I know I speak for both of us in that. To feel the warmth and friendship from a group of children who had been given so little, but have so much to give was a tearful, emotional rollercoaster of an experience and one I wouldn’t swap for the world. Making the friends we have along the way is also an absolute privilege.
So, how was our final day in Zimbabwe? Hectic.
We imagined that we might have a few moments in the mid afternoon where we’d be able to chill for a moment, but that proved impossible. We thought we’d be able to get a semi-decent nights sleep before our 40hour journey via 6 flights and 4 different countries, but that, too, proved allusive. But what we did manage to do was to pack our final day with so many memorable moments that I don’t think this blog will ever be able to do it all justice. I know what you are probably thinking: “Yeah yeah, it can’t have been like that really” but it was and its hard to put it all into words even though I’m going to try.
Our final day began relatively late at 9am, and we headed straight into town to pick up a few last minute items for the orphanage and to drop the books off with Great Hood Academy. We’d had them since last week but we fell victim of Zimbabwe’s schools having half days on Fridays and we missed our chance that day so had to wait until after the weekend.
“You don’t know how much you have affected the children’s lives, this is amazing”.
Handing over a massive box of books to the headmaster, Mr. Gift Bere, felt like being Santa Claus for the day. He and the teachers knew that this day was coming, just like children do in the days leading up to Christmas, but nothing quite prepares you for how well received a present can be, even if you know for a fact that they want what you have got them.
Wide beaming smiles, hand shakes and even hugs accompanied the introduction of each and every book from its packaging. I never knew that anyone could be so happy to see books like this, but those that have been reading our reports since day one will know just how desperate they have been for them. We could, and definitely should, have gotten the books much earlier in our journey but the sheer scale of the work facing us at the orphanage took over our thoughts since the day we walked in the front door. I wish we’d not left it until the last day, but its just how it happened unfortunately and we feel a little guilty for that.
Every time a new teacher came in to check out the new books, they all had the same emotional look of joy on their faces. This truly is a school where the teachers care and want only the best for the children enrolled with them, and seeing their reactions was confirmation that we’d done a great thing. We’ve only been able to do this with YOUR help though. This donation of books was exactly what we thought we were coming here to do in the first place so it felt amazing to finally help affect children’s lives in such an easy and obvious way, but a way that equates to many months worth of a teachers salary in books. This is what your donations have done and if you have donated, you should feel proud. If you haven’t yet, then its never too late as we are committed to returning as soon as we can, and we are also committed to buying some new sports equipment for them (remotely after leaving) in the coming weeks too. So your donations WILL still have an effect.
After saying our tearful goodbyes to the teachers and hearing so many kind words from them about what we have done, it was time to say goodbye to the children too. This is where the first of the truly eye-opening moments of our final day happened and one I’ll try my best to convey here.
“Do you want to say goodbye to the children?” Mr Bere asked.
“Of course” replied Nicole.
Secretly though, I was looking at the clock and wondering if we had time. I was also worried and wondering if they would actually really care that much to want to say goodbye or if we’d done the important farewell’s with the teachers and the children might have just been oblivious to us leaving. I am so so happy to say that I was massively wrong. I was wasn’t expecting what happened, and not just with one class or a certain few children, but with them ALL.
When you receive a hug, its really a quite intimate thing, isn’t it? Well, if its done right it is meant to be anyway. Of course, you can also do the emotionless, looking away as you do it and making it as quick as possible type of hug too, but we’re not talking about those kinds of hugs. These children are too young to know that kind. So when they hug you, it really means something. But when the ALL hug you, all at the same time the feeling is absolutely amazing and one that I knew I’d have difficulty in describing when it came to it here today. They know why we were at their school. They also know that we are doing it by way of no charity, nor church group, just two people wanting to help make the world a better place in whatever small way we can. Reacting to that when you are child doesn’t need words when 100’s of hugs are more than capable of doing all the talking you need.
“Can I give you a hug?” said the first child.
I thought it was just a particularly keen, maybe slightly odd student who liked to give hugs. Honestly, I was like “ok, sure” and didn’t think much of it, but then everyone got up. Many then piled into a group hug, others waited until it was over and then came for an individual hug, some even came back for 2nd and 3rd attempts. I really wasn’t ready for how that’d make me feel. I felt so proud that our small efforts and a bit of our time created such a feeling of warmth and affection in them. It just goes to show that all children want in their lives is your time and best efforts and they reward you with unconditional love. I’ve never before felt how I felt at that moment, and it was a feeling that was repeated as we went from class room to class room.
It was like there was a memo out and that they had all read it that morning or something, but of course this must be more of a local custom than anything else. Saying goodbye and thank you with honest affection .
They all wanted to hug us and to wish us well on our journey home and to tell us that they couldn’t wait for us to return. Nicole spent a whole extra day at the school with the kids whilst I was in Harare shopping for building materials, so I was expecting to see her get even more attention than I was getting, and I wasn’t wrong. My own group hug had only just petered out when I was able to get to my camera and take a photo of her here:
Pictures, as the say, speak a thousand words and you can see in their faces (and Nicole’s) how much happiness and emotion was in the room at that very moment.
With that, we left Great Hood Academy for the final time and to collect a few things in town ready for our proposed meal with the orphans at Tariro Orphanage that evening. We’ll be back, of course, and we’ll stay in touch with all the teachers in the coming months too. We can’t wait to hear how they are all getting on with the new text books and will keep on blogging as and when we get more information. I’d love to see exam results up on last year after our small input.
Making our way to the local take away to collect 60 pieces of chicken, 2 portions of fries and 12 litre of soft drink we were a mix of anticipation and trepidation. We so wanted our last day with the children to be special, but also didn’t want it to be a sad day for them with us leaving. We didn’t want them to feel abandoned by us, or that we were just another group of people that were leaving them. That’s been the biggest fear for us this whole time. How do we get involved, without them becoming dependent on us? I don’t mean dependent like they don’t have milk unless we deliver it to them, but dependent emotionally. We were acutely aware that every single one of these children had felt extreme loss of one kind or another and we desperately didn’t want to add to that.
Despite our best efforts though, we couldn’t help but fall in love with them all and have spent more time with them than with anyone else. These last 2 weeks or so, though, we’ve consciously decided to ration out our time with them to cut down any potential of it feeling that we suddenly just don’t show up anymore.
Anyways, we decided we’d try to recreate market & restaurant our day out with them a little bit and brought them fried chicken. It went down such a storm last time that we were sure that it would be a sure fire hit again. It wasn’t.
We’d asked for the house mother to not cook for them that night as we had a surprise, but dirty pots in the kitchen and full bellies told a different story. She was adament that they hadn’t eaten yet, but the faces of children don’t lie… and they seemed to be saying: “we’re stuffed from dinner and can’t possibly eat another thing but we’ll try”… What a disaster! Still, we saw the funny side after the first initial few minutes. Same thing happened with the tray of cakes we’d brought them… A look of delight, followed by one of: “Where am I going to fit all that into by belly now!?”
So, dinner wasn’t what we’d hoped it would be and to top it off, the 3 youngest ones all had a chesty cough. Thomas in particular seemed to be on the receiving end of some serious flu like symptoms. We brought medicine for them all, but it still meant that he wasn’t in the mood to play. He simply sat on my lap in silence as I stroked his head and hugged him. He stayed like that for most of the evening. I tried to make him laugh, but he remained virtually expressionless. Its such a shame that this had to be our last day together after all the fun we’ve had these last few weeks. He loved to sit on my shoulders, or play tickle chase round the house and garden for hours, but today he just sat there looking sorry for himself as he coughed and coughed. Poor little fella.
In the end, he fell asleep on me and we had to put him to bed early.
I wasn’t able to actually say goodbye to him properly. I waved and he waved as he was carried to the bedroom, but it didn’t feel like a real goodbye. I wanted a hug or something, but it wasn’t to be. Maybe it’s better this way. It doesn’t feel like it was right at that moment, but maybe its better for him to not fully understand that I’m going away and won’t be back for a long time. I’ve become so used to him coming running to me to be picked up into my arms every day as we arrive, that I hope that he doesn’t miss me too much when I’m gone. I hope that he’s not quite old enough to fully understand what is happening and that one day will blur into the next until I’m back again.
I will miss him though. I’ll miss his laugh and his smile and I wish I could take him with us. I never knew I could feel this way about anyone. I suppose it’s the feeling I’ll have when Nicole and I have our own children. Its an addictive feeling, though, that’s for sure, and one I feel privileged to have felt for all the children of Tariro, but particularly Thomas. Writing these feelings down here right now as I’m sat on the plane back to Madrid, its making me well up. I didn’t think that this would happen to me, even though Nicole worried that she’d feel like this after we left.
With Macdaniel & Thomas all in bed early to try and sleep off their sickness, we presented the house with our final gift. We hoped it would go down better than the food, but we couldn’t imagine exactly how well! It was like all their Christmas’ had come at once.
We reminded them, through Mrs. Magama who’d come to help us translate, that we’d been taking photos ever since first stepped foot in the orphanage. Quite what they thought about us doing this is another matter, but it wasn’t lost on them that we’d been taking photos for nearly 6 weeks now. They don’t really have a clue about the blog, so they didn’t really know what the photos we for. So they were absolutely delighted when we presented to them a picture frame with around 20 different photos of them all that we’d selected. Producing that picture frame was like setting off a bomb in the house. They crowded round the frame and couldn’t get enough of it as they laughed and pointed at themselves. I took a few photos of them as they looked, and as it was quite dark in the room at the time, I put the flash on and as it went off, they all looked in my direction and laughed at me taking yet more photos! I’d have to say that this was the best group reaction of any we’ve had since we arrived.
They told us that they now have a home that they can be proud of, sleep in beds that they can get a good nights sleep in and feel part of a family again, not just a collection of children nobody wants. All of this deserved to be commemorated and through the photos we could see that they were all now happy, perhaps for the first times in their lives and its all down to the donations we’ve received and put into action. In that moment, they could see all the happy moments they’d had and that we’d captured, and live them again. It will also give us the chance to not be forgotten. We are in some of the photos too, so hopefully this will help the younger children to remember something of us so that we are not strangers when we come back.
We also brought them some new shelves for each and every one of the children. A space to call their own and stack their own clothes, books, toys etc… They are moveable and will follow them to their next home (more to be revealed about that at a later date). The girls also particularly liked it that I was able to bring them a mirror for their bedroom for the first time too. They’d never had a mirror before and now they have one in their room so they can look their best each and every day.
Finally, it came time to say goodbye to the children. We wanted to leave on a high, so chose only a few minutes after the picture frame was revealed to make our exit. They decided to sing us not one, but two songs. One in broken English, and one in Shona. I had a smile from ear to ear, firstly entertained by them, then touched by the whole situation. That smile soon became very difficult to maintain as I realised that this would be the last time we’d see them for a while and realising the love that was behind those songs for us. I looked at Nicole and she looked at me and we exchanged a moment that didn’t require words to explain how we felt. They have said that we’ve come in and changed their lives, that we have given them a life, but in actual fact it’s a two way street. They have changed us and how we see the world. They have changed us and how we see ourselves. They have made us want to become better people and whether they realise it or not, we have only them to thank for it.
Zimbabwe has changed us forever and we’ll never be the same again. We can’t wait to come back and see everyone again. Our friends, the children, the teachers, everyone. All have played an amazing part in our journey and going back to work next week isn’t at all what I’m looking forward to be doing, but that’s life. The summer is on its way and the work that allows us to have half the year off so we can do these kinds of things is about to start again for another season. Zimbabwe will be on our minds, though, and we’ll be back.
Finally, thanks to you for reading, thank you for following, thank you for donating and thank you for your support these 2 months through thick and thin. This isn’t the last post, but it’s the last one written while still away. So watch this space. Until then, please if you would like to donate, here is where you click to do it. ALL money given goes to these children, NOTHING goes to middlemen or management. If you’d like to help, its only click away.
“While Nathan was getting the last bits for our orphanage wish list to be completed I sat with Hildar, the house mother, and chatted for a while. She said the kids pray for us every day and they will really miss us. I tried to explain how much each and every one of them has changed the way we look at things and how we are, so I think in all fareness we got a lot out of these 7 weeks too.
Mrs Magama came with us and she hugged me to say goodbye and I could feel her getting emotional. With that, tears came streaming down my face as well. I didn’t want to cry in front of the children; I didn’t think it was fair, but then they each have me a hug and I kissed each and every one of them and told them I wouldn’t forget them. One of the older girls hung on to me and was crying into my shoulder. I said to her be good and I promised that we’d be back.
I think when first arriving I thought we would get to know these kids and care for them but it’s so much more than that now for me. I love each one of them with their crazy fun happy selves. I went through all my pictures and videos I had taken of them all and we sat for hours going through them. They were all talking and laughing and joking around about them. Of course, I have no idea what they were saying, but all the same it was nice to have a great day with them all and when we presented them with the picture frame they could see some of those same pics and they loved it. They sang us a song and it was overwhelming. They gave us a little gift from them all, but to be honest the gift was us getting to know them . It was time to say goodbye, or as I like to say “See you later”. Goodbye seems so official, and with that MacDaniel came out of his bed room and wanted me to pick him up one last time. That was the hardest thing I have had to do. It was almost like the very first day all over again.
What an amazing experience it has truly been and its something that will stay with us forever.
If you want to donate for the the children’ on going care, please click here to donate.”