It was a year in the making. Ten women, mostly strangers, all coming from different parts of the US and all mourning the death of a loved one, traveling to Tanzania to volunteer with The Foundation for Tomorrow. Nervous, a bit jet lagged, and humbled by the patience of our hosts, we did what most moms do, we dug in. Cultures may be a bit different, but holding a baby, singing songs, and tending to a garden, well, those things are universal. And laughing, one doesn’t need a translator for that.
While we were in Tanzania, we were introduced to three of TFFT’s partner organizations. Our first days were spent with the children at Matonyok Parents’ Trust. Matonyok was founded by Emmy and Ndemno, a Masaai couple who have devoted their lives to housing, educating and loving abandoned and orphaned children. After introductions, and a tour of the grounds, we did our best to entertain the children, but let’s be honest, they entertained us. We gardened, we moved the new playground building materials to the construction site, we coordinated some art projects, we danced, we sang, we traveled across town to witness and support Emmy’s purchase of a cow. We also took time to share stories with Emmy and Ndemno, and learned that they too had lost a child, Neema, which is the Swahili word for Grace. Five days may not seem like a lot, but deep connections were achieved because everyone was open and loving. Driving away – well, we were a tearful mess. Emmy and Ndemno are quiet heroes, that’s for sure.
Our next stop was the Nkoaranga Orphanage. This is where TFFT got its start. A lovely and loving place for Tanzanian babies and toddlers whose families may be unable to care for them. While there were plenty of volunteers, one could not ignore the uncertainties that abound for these children. Yet, let me say, each child was loved and well cared for.
Lastly, we visited the Usa River Academy (URA). Most of the TFFT-sponsored children attend URA. We learned most of the children were just finishing up their standardized tests when we arrived. They all had that “YES!!” relieved look when they poured out of the classrooms. More dancing, more singing, more silliness. The children were eager to hear our stories, and share their dance moves. Their joyful acceptance was disarming. And a lesson for all of us. The good byes – they were painful.
Along the way we honored Adam, Adrienne, Josh, Richard and Robby. As is usually the case on our trips, we found that there were striking commonalities between each of these magnificent people. Each lived with a great deal of integrity, had a profound sense of justice, expressed a genuine concern and kindness toward all people and beings, and possessed a fragile, sensitive and beautiful heart. We were honored to get to know them, and are grateful to Cheryl, Tara, Margaret, Diana, Jan, Sharon, Rachel, and Lily for putting themselves in our hands and taking a chance on our adventure.
We have been home a few weeks now, and among the dozens of profound revelations, two things were made quite clear to us – Number One: Finding common ground – it’s not that difficult. And Number Two: Some things are greater than the sum of their parts.
Project Grace will forever be grateful to the folks (Meghann, Kaitlin, Fratern, Chloe, Daniel, Melissa, Erasto, and Hedwiga) at The Foundation for Tomorrow. We also will never forget our guides, Ernesto and William, and are so thankful to Emily Cottingham and Adventure International for coordinating our trip. We look forward to future collaborations.