It was Monday September 16th 2013, I woke to the clatter of the busy hostel kitchen and showered and dressed before most of the 27 or so other hostel guests. Today was my first official day within the Orientation Programme at the Amani Centre for Street Children. To say that my life was massively different at that moment would be an understatement. I had left a fifteen year adventure living in Spain. Most recently I was leaving a commission only telemarketing role and lodging at a dear friend’s house, my property having been rented since the previous May and thus funding my volunteer trip. All the same, a hostel environment in East Africa was a zillion miles from any norm that I had ever experienced.
The Amani staff bus was due to pick me up at 7.45am and my first few hours had been scheduled to be spent in a General Meeting, conducted in Swahili. I ate my breakfast of pancakes and fresh fruit with excitement and trepidation coursing through my veins.
Unfortunately there was some confusion re communication with the driver and I was still at the side of the road at 8.15am. Eventually I arrived at Amani and it a decision was reached that I should stay outside in the play area with the kids while the meeting continued. On Monday mornings at Amani there are no classes, as the staff all attend the meeting, the gymnastics tutor comes in from town and so I witnessed my first display of the kids agility. I wandered the compound feeling a little shy and nervous. The kids were all busy playing either football or gymnastics. Some were tyre walking and others just chasing each other around. It was a happy place. I chatted with the Social Worker on duty and learned she was a student from Dar es Salaam on her three-month practical experience toward her degree.
The kids came up and chatted, there was great interest in my cheap as chips, throw away, looky looky man watch, which amused me. I had only been in Moshi four days and I was already regretting my extreme caution re personal possessions. I had brought nothing, no jewellery, no watch, nothing. I found myself sat on the steps of the round auditorium style area with a very small young boy next to me. He spoke no English but had a smile that broke all language barriers. His tiny face was full of big dark eyes that hinted at sadness and were permanently guarded. His small frame looked fragile and I had first noticed him as he tried to walk the tyre. My concern when I witnessed him fall onto the hard concrete floor had won me my first ever smile from the boy you may recall having met before, within this blog, here he I have called him Joshua. He had picked himself up, dusted off his hands, grinned at me and climbed back up.
On that first morning I stood watching this tiny boy fall and get up for twenty long minutes, he managed no more than three or four steps atop the tyre in any one attempt but he was delighted at my encouragement and claps when he achieved these small victories. The Social Worker said he was a new boy, not long arrived from the streets of Arusha and they knew little of his story as yet. She had laughed and told me he was still at the “fibbing” stage. Apparently a lot of the new kids lie about their families to start. It takes trust before they tell their real tale,
So we sat, with the sun blazing down, two “newbies” at Amani and we tried to introduce ourselves to each other. His name sounded like gobbledygook to me as did mine to him. We were laughing and exchanging simple words, watch, I told him as he looked longingly at my wrist, sar, he told me (I now know this to be saa). Joshua solved the name issue when he turned and leaned to the dusty ground and wrote his name with his finger. Aah, got it says I, Joshua. His real name is withheld. Gill was a little more difficult but after several goes and breaking it down one sound at a time he got there. Joshua and Gill. We were friends and soul mates, two new guys, both feeling a little awkward and out of our norm.
For those of you who are new to my blog over recent weeks, Rescuing Children, features the story of how I discovered Joshua back on the streets of Arusha just ten days later. Joshua’s story, is to be my representation of the Amani process:
Rescuing Children, Restoring Hope, Transforming Lives.
I wanted to take you back to my first meeting with Joshua in order to set the scene for continuing the story of this one small boys travels through the Amani process. I have had the privilege of witnessing the full cycle (and awesome power) of that process as a whole through my relationship with Joshua.
I will share with you how I watched Joshua as hope was restored, from the sullen glue addled boy who returned to Amani at my side on the bus that day, to the prize-winning entertainer at the Christmas Party who won everyone’s heart. How he progressed through the education system at Amani, emerging from a slow start where he would contribute little to class to a bright and clever young man ready to face school in his home village with confidence and an excellent chance of passing his exams.
How during his final week at Amani, prior to his reunification with his Grandmother and step father, he lit up the corridors and hallways of the Amani building with that same awesome smile that had captured my heart so long ago on that Monday morning. How now, that smile reached those big dark eyes, that no longer wore a shield. Those eyes and that smile were a joy to see and a clear reference to a young man whose life was in the process of transformation.
I will never forget that smile and those eyes.
For Joshua and all the children at Amani. Xxx