3 values I was reminded of by 41 orphans.
I started attending boarding school at the age of eleven and since then have never lived home full-time. Unlike most kids (I think) and against my parents’ wishes (I know), I made up my mind already at such a young age that I wanted to live far from home, not for the sake of distance, but because I truly am an explorer at heart.
When the COVID-19 pandemic struck the explorer in me was stranded. Suddenly, my apartment became the place I worked, ate, exercised, prayed, cooked, slept, socialised via virtual meets etc. Admittedly, the beginning was very difficult and unfortunately for me it got worse. The pandemic also took my dear mother on the 28th of June, 2021 and with that I gained the bitter title of “orphan”.
The United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) estimates that there are over 153 million children in the world who are orphans. That’s 153 million human beings under the age of 18 who are in most cases living in sub-par conditions, are deprived of parental care, and have uncertain futures.
Through an initiative pioneered and organised by my sister to help support orphans in Tanzania, I met 41 young orphans on 17th October 2021 in Tandale, a neighbourhood in Dar es Salaam. Up until then, most of my days since I lost my mother in June were blurry and the hard truth was that life as I knew it was never going to be the same. It turns out that 41 children who share the orphan title with me were exactly who I needed to gain some perspective on life, loss, death, and survival. I gained so much by visiting these kids and their caretakers in their home and in this article, I wanted to share the top three life values and beliefs I was reminded of during our visit.
When my sister called at 5am on June 28th to let me know that our mother had lost the battle against the COVID-19 delta variant, I felt a lot of emotions but gratitude was not one of them. I flew to Tanzania that evening for her funeral and was sobbing during the entire 16 hr journey. Trying to imagine what it would be like to enter my mother’s house without her in it was unbearably painful. Individually and as a family, we received an overwhelming amount of support but I deeply wished that the reason everyone was reaching out didn’t exist in the first place. In all honesty, I simultaneously felt everything and nothing at all.
When I was at the orphanage, I met children who were either orphans since birth or were too young to remember who their parents were when they died. Being an orphan and living with that reality was all they knew and yet, they were incredibly happy, lively, energetic, and grateful for our visit. These kids were orphans for much longer than I had been and without a question their journey was going to be much more difficult than mine. However, even in the middle of their struggle, they were somehow able to remain optimistic, joyful, and grateful. They played, sang, danced with us, and laughed out loud with no hesitation or limitation. When I asked them if they’d like to take a picture with me, they all ran to me and some even hugged me tightly like they had known me for years. By being unapologetically themselves, they became my role models and reminded me that even though I had lost both my parents in the past 12 years, I still had a lot to be grateful for.
I always thanked my mother for the unique ways she gave me hope, encouraged me, and championed me. She always pushed me to pursue opportunities that for whatever reason, I didn’t believe I was good enough for. Since I was young, she made me believe that the dreams I hoped to achieve in life were attainable and gave me the tools to make them a reality. When she died, I didn’t just lose a parent but also lost a mentor, best friend, confidante, and coach. Naturally, after her death, the vision of my future I was previously able to see very clearly became foggy.
Listening to the dreams and aspirations of some of the kids at the orphanage was like a breath of fresh air. One of them told me that they wanted to become a pilot, another said she wants to become a doctor, and one more said he’d like to become a journalist. However, it wasn’t what they said that truly inspired me but how they said it. There was no hesitation whatsoever in their eyes and voices about their ability to achieve their dreams. In fact, they were filled with so much hope that their dreams made them smile uncontrollably. When they asked me who I wanted to become in return, I told them that I was an orphan too and for the first time since my mother’s death, I spoke about my journey and aspirations with a smile.
“We get more by giving more” is one of the most powerful life lessons I’ve ever come across and every time I try and test this theory, it proves itself true. When I was getting dressed that hot Sunday morning for the orphanage, I had two thoughts. One was that I was probably too sad to show up and have any real impact. In my head, these kids were going to take one look at me and my red dress and think, “Gosh, what a Debbie Downer.” The second thought I had was, “What does a newbie orphan like me possibly have to offer 41 other orphans?”
These kids might have seen through my sadness, and maybe one or two or ten might have thought me a Debbie Downer, but spending an afternoon with them was so powerful. Their stories inspired me, their smiles gave me hope, their authenticity gave me courage, and their laughter gave me joy. Donations aside, I had spent the morning worrying about what I had to offer and instead, gained tremendous strength from these tiny humans.
As I approach the end of this article, I can’t help but think about all the other people in the world who like me, faced tremendous loss during the COVID-19 pandemic. I also can’t help but think about the 153 million children orphans in the world whose number is probably going to grow because of the pandemic. If you’re reading this and are able and capable of helping, please reach out to social organisations in your local communities or start one to help orphans if it doesn’t exist. And if you’d like to help orphans in Tanzania, please reach out to me directly. I would be thrilled to connect you with the local communities in Dar es Salaam.
Until then, stay grateful and hopeful!
This story was originally posted on my blog via this link: https://www.immabaradyana.com/post/3-values-i-was-reminded-of-by-41-orphans