learning a little, day by day

Hi again everyone, it’s been a long time between updates hasn’t it?  Well, I am bursting with things to update you on for that very reason. Just as is intended by the presidential scholarship, I am learning much about children’s rights and really benefiting from the global perspective.  Spending several months in different regions has brought me into a better understanding of the existence of certain regional problems as well as problems that are extremely consistent across the globe. For example using children for heavy labor is existent across the globe but is a much more excessive problem in Asia than it is in the rest of the world, but corruption is something that is everywhere (although admittedly that is something that is harder to measure, so it would be hard to say if it was worse in one area).

When I first arrived in Tanzania, I learned a few things about the dark side of good intentions, in the growth of a new phenomenon called “volunteer tourism”.  This occurs in fake orphanages which are orchestrated for the purpose of soliciting money and lining the pockets of the directors.  It also occurs in companies which connect wealthy tourists with “tours” of orphanages and local schools and make big money from the practice, while the local kids get little benefit and are arguably treated as an attraction rather than people.  It’s a twisted new kind of exploitation which takes advantage of people’s desire to help and does not truly benefit the children involved.  I used to be really irritated by organizations that were all about awareness building and did little in the field.  However, I am beginning to understand more and more that being in the field without understanding the issues that one hopes to alleviate is sometimes worse than doing nothing at all.  It is truly beyond important to do the background research and fully understand whether certain actions actually help people, and almost equally important to check our own motivations for going places and “helping”.

I still believe though, that there are plenty of people who really want to help, and that  kids really can benefit from people who care.  This adventure has shown me far too much of those who truly make a difference to let what I’ve learned of the bad make me lose hope.  So let me tell you a little about the good things that have been going on here.

On a day to day basis, I have been going to a children’s center for orphaned and vulnerable kids in the morning five days a week.  Going to the center in and of itself is an adventure.  It involves one taxi, a Dala Dala (Tanzanian public transport), and a 15 minute walk where you have to cross a river each way.  It’s good though because the commute can substitute for a gym membership any day.

The first few days that I went to volunteer, the kids were still on vacation.  All of them were at the center the whole day, so I took turns between the different residential houses doing art activities with them.  I made bead necklaces and bracelets with the girls one day, and did coloring and drawing with the boys and with the girls separately. We have also had some days where we make masks or flowers or other kinds of drawings and stickers.  I also usually do a little to help the mama’s (the guardian’s) with the cooking and vegetable cutting and washing dishes.  But mostly they want me to focus on doing things with the kids, which I am more than happy to do.  I am also helping out some with the kindergarten which is also held at the orphanage.  It’s sometimes a tiring schedule to be with energetic kids all the time, and take swahilli lessons as well, but it’s all worth it when I can have a few simple conversations with the kids, and teach them a few things.  Just really little things like helping some of them learn to write their names has been so rewarding.  It’s moments like these that remind me that though the world is a very broken place (hence the need to protect children’s rights), it is a place where things can and do change for the better. It is a place where a life really can be saved and justice really can be served.  There just need to be people who care enough to fight for it.

If you are interested in informing yourself about some of the pressing issues in children’s rights, here are a few articles related to some of the countries I have traveled in.( and some not)

the talibe and street kids in Senegal



the general issues of Children’s Rights in India


American Sponsorship of governments using child soldiers




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