To each his own. Even when travelling together, people can be surprised and caught by different details, moment, stories. While I usually tell my own experiences on this blog, today I’ve asked other volunteers to tell theirs. What they saw during their volunteering travels abroad, what struck them, who they met in Africa.
Antonella and the African clinics
Antonella talks about her experience in Cameroon in her own blog I viaggi della Anto (Italian only). But how did she end up in Central Africa? Let’s take a step back and let’s go to Madagascar, in a clinic where a very special woman used to work.
Her name is Delphine. Sister Delphine.
(by Antonella M.)
We met in Madagascar. She was in charge of the post-surgery hospital stay dedicated to children who underwent surgery because of malnutrition limbs’ malformations. And she also saved my husband’s life.
He was a bold volunteer that, to avoid a zebu (some kind of cattle), had to jump into a ditch. Sister Delphine readily picked him up into the back of the pick-up and left quickly in search of help. It was Christmas Eve. It was raining like you only see rain in Africa. And still she drove for an entire day on flooded and unpaved roads to knock at two hospitals’ doors. But both answer the same thing: “There’s no electricity for a radiography. You better take the white guy to the airport and ship him from where he came from.”
Sister Delphine stayed with him the full night and the day after she drove him to the airport and made sure he was safely going to reach home. Then she drove all the way back, through the forest and the villages, to reach the mission and her children.
She’s such a brave and precious woman that not long after this, she saw sent to Goma, on the border between Congo and Rwanda. A place with a civil war going on, where ethnic groups were fighting each other. Sister Delphine’s thoughts were always with the women. In these cases, they are always the most vulnerable, the weakest, the most abused. With children to take care of, that were often the results of raping, HIV positive even before they were born.
Her smile is able to lit hope up even in the most hurt heart. But I remember a phone call on one evening, after the militia broke in the mission. She confessed she has seen things “she didn’t dare tell”.
When we eventually met in Paris, her gaze was lost in the faraway horizon and her thoughts always for those women and those children
She’s now in Cameroon. It’s a poor place but, at least, there’s no war. I find Sister Delphine and the other four Sisters that work with her very cute. Sometimes they seem still young girls: they laugh with little, they love chocolate, they sing loudly. I envy their ability to accept what comes with acceptance and resignation.
They take care of the sick, the poor, the old and the children with infinite love. And, once again, they help out the women in their most difficult task: to be mothers. Mothers with no health assistance neither after giving birth nor during the first months of the lives of their little ones. The sisters teach these mothers a healthy lifestyle. They give support when their men don’t respect them. When the families put pressure on them. They explain that if a baby is born prematurely, it’s not the mother’s fault. Maybe she’s sick or malnourished herself. Working with people full of preconceptions is is a difficult task.
It takes great patience and good skills to meet the needs of people in the right way. If the women think that drinking blessed water their children will grow up healthy, the sisters prepare bottles filled up with boiled, sterilized (and blessed) water, suggesting to drink no other water. Only in this way, the young mothers will learn to trust doctors more than the village’s sorcerer. It starts with the woman. If she is well taught, her family will grow healthy and the society will mature.
Silvia, coordinator for a Ugandan project
Silvia is the European coordinator for the African non-profit charity organization ROHP, Rokai Orphans Hope Project. I met her in Haiti a few years back. Someone would describe her as a person that cries a lot, because she is easily moved. I say she has a heart as big as the whole world.
(by Silvia V.)
During my latest travel to Uganda, last August, I went to visit a family supported by ROHP, a single mother with a boy of 9 years old called Mike. He’s a child with a sweet smile and lively and deep eyes. His simple face can brighten up your day. We brought the family some clothes, toys and primary needs goods.
My attention was drawn towards some toys on a step next to the house entrance. I’m always fascinated by the hand made-toys children build in the poorest countries of the world. I find them amazing, full of originality and genius brilliance. I asked who they belonged to and they were Mike’s. I went closer to take a picture of them and Mike run to pick up his brand new tractor we just gave him. He placed it next to his own toys, happy I was taking pictures to the collection, proud of his brand new piece.
I love children’s spontaneity, their way of showing feelings with simple actions. I love even more the fact that a child such as Mike, living in 10mq with a single meal per dar, can rejoice for a balloon and a little tractor even smaller than his own creations.
On that day, Mike also received a pair of shoes that were mine and that I used only once. It gives me joy to know that my shoes are now on his feet and keep him company in his adventures. I’m glad I’ve seen his beautiful smile that gave me more than anything I could ever give him. I can imagine him running and pick up other objects to build more toys. I can picture him in the future becoming an engineer or a pilot, as he wishes right now. I ask God every day to help me do my job in the best possible way, so that one day the dreams of Mike and of the other children supported by ROHP, might come true.
Elena The Hugger
I met Elena in The Philippines during my first international volunteering travel. Her 100th trip, probably! She’s a kindergarten support teacher. I’ve never met anybody with a passion for children like hers. When she meets one, her eyes turn into glowing hearths. If the child smiles back, she can’t avoid hugging and cuddle him. It’s a feeling stronger than her own will.
(by Elena C.)
The first time I’ve been to Africa, I visited Rwanda. I travelled with Compassion, a charity organization that implements children sponsorships in poor countries around the world. It has been such an emotional trip that my life changed.
I want to share with you the story of a woman we visited a few kilometres from Kigali, Rwanda’s capital. She was living in a small house made up by a sort of entrance and the bedroom. As for most African houses, the kitchen was outdoor. And don’t picture a real kitchen, but rather a single camping-like stove under a roof.
We were 8 people in the house and the lady asked the neighbours for some stools so we could sit down. Following the local traditions, she sat on a mat on the floor with her son. She was a widow and the boy was her youngest son.
She offered us bananas, the small ones. If you’ve been to Africa or South America, you know how tasty these fruits are! She told us her story, her difficulties in being the only parent to provide food. And while telling us this very thing, she was pushing us to take her bananas. This lady who own almost nothing, with love and generosity, was offering us what she had.
We brought them some gift, mainly rise, hygiene products and choose supplies for the child. And before living we prayed together. One of the volunteers asked if there was something specific we could focus our prayers on and she answered: “For my son’s studies, that he might be able to keep on studying and that he may never leave God’s ways. And I want to thank God for you that came here to visit me.”.
I clearly remember how felt in that moment: I felt small. I was expecting her to pray for a job or for her life situation to improve. She had the right to desire that! But instead she asked to pray for her son and for us! I left that house understanding what gratitude is. I realized that, even though I have everything I need, I’m often not grateful enough towards a Father that makes me lack nothing. And still today, when I eat a banana, I remember that woman in Rwanda that taught me to be grateful. Always. Be grateful!