Jambo from Moshi (Tanzania, E. Africa)
My life continues to be a never-ending source of challenges and surprises.
I am working with 21 teenagers in a prison for Juveniles, ages about 9 to 17. MY GUYS (yes, I REALLY care about them) have usually been arrested for such horrible crimes as stealing food or street prostitution, or, sometimes, their parents don't want them anymore. They actually are just like the guys I dealt with when I taught behavior-disordered teens in America. But these kids usually have no shoes -- if they are really lucky they may have a shirt of some type, and of course raggedly torn pants!
The 19 boys are locked in one filthy cell and are allowed out ONLY when I get to work. They sleep 3 kids to a bed. My 2 girls have a luxurious private room with a single bed, and piles of rusted metal and other construction trash. Toilet facilities consist of a small hole in the corner of each cell, and the kids, when they are lucky, get an incredible gourmet meal of about ½ cup of watery gruel or small amounts of rice every OTHER DAY!!
I've only seen them receive anything to drink twice in the last month. A couple of weeks ago, it rained every day (I guess God didn't realize that the rainy season is over!!!) One incredibly wonderful day, a shipment of rice was delivered -- theoretically for the consumption of my guys, but we all knew they would probably NOT get any -- good food, electricity, etc. tends to all end up somehow in the backroom with the television for the guards' children to enjoy.
We lucked out; there was a tiny hole in the bottom of one bag and, much to the pleasure of my guys, a tiny trickle of dry rice fell out into the mud. The boys checked carefully to be sure no one was watching, then scrambled for this muddy treasure, quickly shoving it into their pockets, a few grains at a time (IF they had pockets). They savored these morsels a few grains at a time (and proudly showed me their treasure, because they trust me)!
Although I'm a nature photographer, I've taken few pictures because much of my time is spent giving these kids Math lessons daily (yes, of course they are all on different levels, and I don't think many have had any schooling at all). All the work I do with them has to be handwritten -- pencils are treasured and usually one is shared by 2 or 3 kids. At night, when I return to my home base, I use my pocket knife to sharpen the pencils (and pray the leads don't break the next day).
Life is very unique for me, yet I'm gloriously happy!!! My guys have learned that I AM a safe person and deeply care about them (probably, for the first time in their lives, they have an adult that can laugh with them. is totally accepting of them, and is teaching them manners as well as helping them to learn self-respect!) At night, I collapse in bed under my mosquito net. I seldom have electricity, but don't care; I just go to bed when it's dark. Our meals are almost all vegetarian with tons of fresh fruits. I love waking up to a rooster call, and the Muslim call to Prayer. I love knowing that I AM making a difference in people's lives. Many of my values may be changing slightly, but I KNOW I'M WHERE I NEED TO BE -- I CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE!!