Finally, after my extended Christmas break and two cataract operations, I returned to Amani wondering whether Joshua and his smile would await me. I had no idea what to expect of his planned home visit and I wanted to see him safe and sound in a loving family environment but… Yes part of me wanted to have access to that awesome smile, quick wit and affectionate nature and yes, that is the selfish part of me.

Joshua’s home visit had gone well, there was a family and structure to build on and start to plan his reunification. The Social Worker explained that now he needed to co-ordinate with the local school, sort out payment of fees, order school uniform and books etc. But the good news was that Joshua’s Grandmother and Step Father were there, they were keen to see his return and there was a home for him to return to. It would take up to two months to organise. So it was that both sides of me were satisfied.

There were many changes awaiting me, some children had “jumped the wall” and returned to the streets, including one particular boy who had drawn me tiny pictures of animals and people and demanded that I keep them private in my moleskin notebook, which is always with me of course. He was a deep and sensitive boy, surly and almost aggressive on the outside but highly responsive to my attempts to break through those barriers and to know him better. My heart still cries for him and I still ask after him regularly of the social workers but he has not been seen for some while now.

If you and I should meet one day in some far-flung corner of this earth and if you remember to ask, I will show you those pictures because, like my notebook, they will always be with me.

Classes had changed too. Nearly all my Starters groups had earned promotion to the formal education programme that would prepare them for their Secondary School graduation exams. This was fantastic news, education is everything. I truly believe that. But I was wrong; this was not good news for Joshua.

“Me Tembo, Gill.”

It was a simple statement of fact and he would not be persuaded otherwise. Others like Mary, one of my Pirates that had been learning the basics of reading and writing, were overjoyed and greeted me proudly saying.

“ Me no Pirate, Madame Jelli. Me Classee C.”

Joshua was happy to attend his new timetable as part of Class B and proud to be a part of that class but come Monday afternoon, straight after chakula cha mchana (lunch), he would be at the Library door loudly proclaiming his right to be there as a Tembo!

The result of all the changes and a sudden influx of new kids resulted in the original Starter groups falling apart. I didn’t disband them. They just disappeared with the wind as the original members all moved on.

Joshua and I reached an agreement that during my Library and English Club classes with Class B he was and would always be a Tembo. This was enough to satisfy him.

This tale, which I hope brings a smile to your lips, shows far better than I or my words can, how important stability and a sense of belonging is to these children.

Life has denied them the most basic of children’s rights, food, love and a safe place to play and learn. Often they have been shunted around, kicked and beaten, treated as animals and slaves and forced to learn lessons of survival that no child should even know about let alone live by. Bring them into a stable environment like Amani and they often rebel, as Joshua did, and revert to the hard but simple rules of self-survival on the streets. If we can manage to bring them back into the stability of Amani then they start to cling to the very structure and stability they first rebelled against.

A simple gesture such as a club identity, Elephants / Tembo quickly becomes an important part of that stability to some of the children and you cannot take it away.

I am proud to have provided that structure and stability for Joshua and I dream of a bright and successful future for him. I picture him as a handsome man who sits with his grandchildren on his knee and tells them the tale of his being a Tembo.

For Joshua and all the kids at Amani.

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2 thoughts on “The importance of being an Elephant

  1. The first real impactful thought was that we are so lucky (I refer to my own invasions of Nepal) to be able to hop back to the relative safety of the Western world to get our medical needs attended to and can then just pop back into the lives of these people. This becomes starkly obvious when I consider two questions I received during my travels: Have you ever seen the sea?” and “Do you have monkeys in Ireland?” It’s heartbreaking to hear that some of the children jumped the wall and more poignant because of the moleskin notebook. I’m sure you will treasure those drawings and I hope the child comes to no harm, returning to the safety of the refuge when the time is right.

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  2. Hi Gill Happy Birthday we are thinking of you we have sent you a birthday card two weeks ago i am not sure how the post is with you How is everything with you well we hope.Spring seems to have at last arrived here fingers crossed .It has been terrible weather here but we are at last planting the alloment both Pat and myself have been painting pat is getting very good. We went to Jennys and Robs last week for a meal . Keep well we both miss you hope you had a great birthday all our love Tony Pat xxxx

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