THIS IS A GUEST POST COURTESY OF TANYA WEAVER
While in Kenya, I come face to face with what a dream-come-true looks like. It doesn’t always look the same to everyone, but to me, it looks like a child, found when she was seven years old and weighing 27 pounds, now in college, studying to become a chemical engineer. It looks like a young boy, orphaned by AIDS and homeless, now a young man who has been hired by AFCA’s partner organization to help with social services for teens and adolescents in that program. It looks like children who had no hope not too long ago, but who now attend school and receive medicine to combat the virus that invaded their tiny bodies either when they were born or through breastfeeding.
I walk through slums, visiting children who are alive thanks to the work we do at the American Foundation for Children with AIDS (AFCA) and I feel reenergized because I see that the results are good. I see mama’s carrying children who are not infected by HIV because they received medicine to stop the virus from passing on to their baby. I hear story after story of families who are able to afford school fees, food and medicine because they work in an AFCA project where they earn fair wages. I see children in an orphanage with a good kitchen and dining room, with mosquito nets on new beds, a library to visit, and with school fees paid for – all thanks to AFCA and our donors. I sit and talk with grannies who make sisal rope (from an AFCA funded project) for a living and because of this, they can raise grandchildren they inherited when their own children died of AIDS. Their smiles of joy let me know that this is good, that they are living in a dream where someone cares for them and for their grandchildren and that, indeed, they are important.
In Congo, Marie glows as she tells of how she was given rabbits, gardening tools, seeds, and a water filter. With the money earned from the sales of excess veggies, corn, peanuts and rabbits, she slowly
started building a house. It is a simple house – red homemade bricks, square, with a tin roof. It is large by Congolese standards, though, as Marie is raising her eight children, plus her deceased sister’s six children. The land on which the house stands is Marie’s as well, paid little by little, from proceeds of rabbit and veggie sales. She sits in front of me, beaming in a pale blue dress, surrounded by red dirt.
Eager to talk, she tells of the children that are in school because she can afford their fees, along with the required notebooks and pens. She talks of them eating well and not needing to go to the market for things such as beans or peanuts. Showing us her garden, Marie tells us that every year, her garden grows thanks to seeds she’s saved from the last harvest. I am grateful, so very grateful, for the work the Congo AFCA team has done here. I take it personally, this gift Marie was given and how the team has helped it blossom through training, follow-ups, counsel, and visits. I take it to heart when Marie thanks me on behalf of her family and my eyes try to well up a bit. And then, my heart breaks a little when she offers a bag of oranges to say thank you. In a good way, my heart breaks a little. It is the type of breaking that happens when it is so full of joy and gratitude and I feel that my heart can’t hold it all and it explodes a little, which would mean it breaks a little, right?
When it comes back together, it is more solidly built, with another memory etched into it, with another feeling stored deep inside from where I don’t want to pluck it. We hug and hug and hug as we thank
each other in Lingala, in French, in English. The gift is mutual, this gift of growth and life and hope. Seraphine is a small woman with a wide smile who greets me on the other side of an arch made of flowers and fronds. Her children, all holding flowers, shyly shake my hand as I enter their small plot of land and greet them one by one. Her husband stands back a little, letting her talk and entertain, gifting us with a plate of chicken eggs to take home. We are led to the seats they’ve set out in the open air for us, backed by a streamer entwined between trees and I feel like royalty in my cargo pants and hiking boots.
Mandaba translates as I ask questions regarding the training they’ve received, the animals they are raising, and the garden they grow. They answer correctly, showing me that their training has been excellent and that they are eager to know and to learn. As with other families I’ve visited, they no longer need to purchase eggplant, onions, spinach, beans, corn, or peanuts from others, as they have enough
for themselves and to sell.
Again, I look at their animals – goats this time – and find them healthy and cared for. Two are pregnant, moving this family closer to more stability in their lives. I check out the goat housing and with the
brightest smile, Seraphine shows me corn stored for the winter. This, THIS, is a miracle. Something so small as stored corn is a symbol of a job well done, both by the trainers and by the families. This
moment, standing in a dark little mudroom, looking up at a wooden structure where the corn lays in a sack, is the moment when my heart breaks. I know it because my eyes fill with tears and my throat
closes up, a lump forming so that it is hard to swallow.
The father of the family comes up to me and asks earnestly that we continue this project so that others can benefit. Through Mandaba, he explains that his and his family’s lives have been changed and that he wants others to know the same joy. I can’t talk. I honestly can’t say a word because the lump in my throat won’t allow me to make a sound. I am glad for the darkness, as I am afraid I am about to cry. He is waiting for an answer, but I have no words. I nod. As I say that it is time for us to go, the family presents me with bananas and smiling, Seraphine points to her husband, who is tying the legs of a rooster. I look on, not quite understanding what is going on until he laughs out loud and hands the rooster to me, saying over and over again, “Merci Mingi (thank you very much)” with a huge smile on his face. Smiling back, I thank him profusely and learn how to say “my chicken” in Lingala. They all laugh as I point at the rooster on the motorcycle and declare him mine. It is a fantastic feeling, this giving and taking, this smiling and laughing. This breaking of my heart.
If you are looking for a way to help AFCA’s children, we have some suggestions for you:
Go to www.AFCAids.org: Find out more about our work, our events, and how you can be part of it all.
Volunteer: Join us for a Vacation with a Purpose and donate two weeks of your year while having the
time of your life in Zimbabwe or Kenya. Or volunteer from your corner of the world, or locally in South
Central PA. We have options for just about anyone who wants to help.
Go on an adventure: Join a Climb Up team and head out to Nepal, New Zealand, Kilimanjaro, Patagonia,
or Machu Picchu while raising funds for AFCA programs.
Donate: Over 90% of donations received go directly to the children in our care, so invest in our work and
help us change the lives of many more through your generosity.
All photo credits to Naomi Atkins from Inspired and Enchanted Photography
This article was featured in Summerana Magazine | December 2019 | The Light Issue. See the full issue here.