I was traveling through Tanzania in 2004 when I stopped in Moshi for a few days. I came across a small brochure for Amani Children’s Home in an internet café and decided to pay a visit. Having just been opened for a couple of years, the facilities consisted of a small rented house with one bedroom crammed full of bunk beds and a large living area that doubled as a makeshift classroom with around 30 kids outside playing. Their needs were obvious and after talking to Valerie, the founder and director, I got the feeling that any help they could get, monetary or otherwise, would be put to good use. So after returning back home to the States, I helped raise money annually to send to Amani.
Some years later, I had the opportunity to return to Amani and serve as a long term volunteer as the English Club Teacher. It was with great satisfaction to see how far along Amani had come in during those years. Now providing for close to 100 children, they had a large new facility with 4 classrooms, staff offices, huge dormitories for girls and boys, full cafeteria, and plenty of land for the kids to play on.
The children welcome any volunteers with big grins because without volunteers there is not enough staff to keep the library, art room, or English Club up and running, all of which they love to take part in. For myself, running the English Club was a mix of creating games the children would enjoy but also allow them to develop their English skills. Twister was always a favorite.
Even after my travels through Africa in 2004, the hardest thing for me to adapt to was the ‘pole-pole’ or slow paced life style of East African culture. This seemingly lackadaisical pace can seem a bit frustrating at times especially coming from a Western culture, but in the end everything gets done and everyone has a smile.
Aside from seeing the day-to-day workings at Amani and all the benefits they are providing to really make a difference in the local children’s lives, my favorite days were those when a new child would come to Amani. They usually looked disheveled, hungry, and obviously nervous in their new surroundings but after just a few days they would be laughing on the swing set and playing with the other children like they had lived there all their lives. Seeing these kids smile was worth it for me after knowing what impossible childhoods they already had on the streets.
Even though it was hard to leave after my 6 months, I knew there would be plenty of smiles to come thanks to the Amani staff, volunteers, and donors.