On our way to Neema orphanage, I was shocked to learn that many of the children that live there actually have a living parent.

Tanzanian orphanages are for children whose mothers have died. Many of them still have fathers. In Tanzania, there is no sense of obligation for the fathers to keep their children after a mother has passed away since they are unable to take care of them while they work. “Daycare” doesn’t really exist in our sense of the word. If the children are lucky, their fathers will sometimes visit on the weekends. If the fathers get re-married, it is up to the father & new mother to decide if they want to take the child back. In many cases – the answer is no.

When we arrived at the orphange, I was met with a lone pile of children’s shoes…a hint to what lay behind the building walls.

The Neema orphanage is divided into two sections – the nursery for newborns to 2-year olds and another section for those that are 2+.

We started off in the nursery. Meet Richard, Sara, & Salome.

I was amazed at how little the children cried. If you walked into an American nursery, you would be greeted with an entirely different noise level. The children that were old enough were being fed porridge from cups. The children had a few tattered stuffed animals, and those that were teething were chewing on old plastic and Vaseline bottle caps. A lone mattress was strewn across the floor.

I watched as one baby reached out to the other… “I’ll trade this bottle cap for yours” they seemed to say. They shared their meager toys without any fuss. No signs of possession or jealousy. Several got a big kick out of wearing my straw safari hat. Not too many smiles were to be found, though, and there seemed to be a hollowness in some of their faces. I managed to find a ticklish baby or two; and I have to say, peek-a-boo is a favorite in any culture.

We moved over to the older side of the orphanage. They were eating porridge mixed with rice out of metal cups. There were a couple of tattered soccer balls around, a muddy piece of broken Styrofoam, and the bottom of the empty Vaseline bottle (whose cap was over at the nursery). They seemed completely content, though, with their “toys”.

We gave them high fives, took their pictures, & let them see each image after it was taken. Unlike Tanzanian adults (who think pictures take away a piece of their soul), the kids were amazed at the digital screens that gave them a reflection of their own faces. They laughed and smiled with wide grins after looking at each pic.

As we were leaving, the orphans pulled their little bodies up against the window pane to say goodbye. “Kwaheri!” we said to each other in Swahili. It tugs at the heart, doesn’t it?

We headed back to home-base and began making plans for a holiday trip. Our volunteer group had decided to spend the long Christmas weekend together in Serengeti National Park and Ngorongoro Crater. Hard to believe that we’d be off to see lions, hippos, and rhinos in just a few days! We decided to go out on the town for dinner and take our chances at the Indo-Italian restaurant (on the safe list). 😉

Just like the name sounds, they had a full Indian and Italian menu in one place. Strange combo, eh? TAB (That’s Africa baby!) After some yummy pizza, we returned home to get ready for our first day of volunteering…