It’s 5:35am and my alarm goes off. Every morning for the past 10 days it’s been the same (well, except for the two days I got to sleep in because I had malaria and was up sick all night). I roll out of bed, brush my teeth, wash my face and throw on some jeans and a tank top. Making sure there are no scorpions in my flip-flops, I slip them on and grab my backpack. I shuffle outside yawning; the sun still hasn’t peaked over the rocky mountains in the distance. Andrea is already waiting in the Land Cruiser. I open the iron gate and she backs the car out.
Andrea has lived in Dodoma, Tanzania for the past eight years. Originally from Germany, she is the coordinator of the Safina Street Network here, a non-profit that ministers to street kids.
She backs the car up to the house across from the duplex we share. Children pour out of the house, little boys dressed in khaki shorts and blue sweaters with a white collared shirt peeking out from underneath. Little girls wearing blue skirts and green sweaters carry straw brooms under their arms. These are the foster kids who live on the compound in two different homes. Some are orphans and others have parents that cannot care for them for different reasons.
The side doors open and the process to fill the car begins. Twenty-four children squeeze into two rows of seats. One of the 5-year-olds, Benji, is the lucky one to sit on my lap in the front seat this morning. I practice my Swahili with him as he climbs in and I buckle the seat belt over us both. “Did you already eat?” “Ndiyo- yes”. “Was it good?” “Ndiyo”. The local language on Clove Island is a Bantu language like Swahili so I’ve been able to pick quite a lot in my two weeks in Tanzania.
Once all the kids, and Imma, a German short-termer, have piled in we head out along a bumpy dirt road that has been worn away by the occasional desert downpour. We jounce along for about 10 minutes before we get to a smoother road and turn off the main road to drop a few kids at school. They’re the first at the school to arrive at around 6:10am. We travel around town to four different schools dropping kids off along the way.
We arrive at the Safina Office around 6:45am. A gate brightly painted “Safina” which means “ark” lets us know we are in the right place. Seven older boys live at the office and the oldest has already begun to boil water over charcoal.
Boys still living on the street begin to arrive at the office. Every morning around 15-20 boys come for tea, bread and devotions led by one of the older former street boys. These boys, for various reasons, have chosen to stay on the street. Safina works to reunite street kids with their families and get them back in school. If a child is willing to learn, Safina will do whatever it can to make that happen.
Each of these boys has a story. Perhaps their mother lives on the street as well, or they were abused at home and don’t want to return. Many are addicted to drugs and not ready to go to school. Regardless of their willingness to get off the street, they are welcomed each morning with chai and bread to warm and fill their bellies. Most of these boys greet me by shaking my hand and then holding it up to their mouths to give it a kiss. I giggle each time, which of course only encourages them. Some are no more than babies but some are older and hardened. I pity the lone tourist that meets them down a darkened alley, but with me, they are complete gentlemen.
I retreat to the office and quickly drink a cup of coffee while reading the Live Dead Journal that a teammate gave me for this month. Shortly thereafter, Andrea, Imma, four older boys and I jump back into the SUV. Safina is building a shelter for the boys who are still on the street, a temporary place for them to have a bed and a roof over their head- safety and security from the unfeeling streets of Dodoma. The house is built but they’re building the
wall now. I am just recovering from malaria, which completely zapped my energy but I wanted to help however I could. The guys begin by mixing sand, cement and water, then the base layer of bricks is laid. I’m given the task of putting the mortar between the bricks. I think I’m doing a really excellent job; my back is sore from bending over, as I’m not allowed to sit or kneel on the bricks behind me. But then I take a rest and one of the guys goes over my work again- filling in more mortar and packing it down. He sees me watching and beckons me over to show me what a shoddy job I’d done. Ok, I’ll try again. But doing it his way is so much harder! He tells me that a Tanzanian woman wouldn’t be caught dead doing this “men’s work”. I tell him it’s a good thing I’m not Tanzanian then but soon, I’m out of breath, my back is screaming and my arm muscles don’t want to lift the trowel and block anymore. I wait in the shade, nursing a cold bottle of water until Andrea shows up to check on the progress. I beg off, reminding everyone that I actually still have malaria…but no one is bothered. I wasn’t doing a very good job anyways!
We drive back to the office where I collapse on a fraying couch. Andrea, who never stops, is soon jaunting around Dodoma again buying shoes for the kids, more food or some other such thing. But I curl my feet under my body and try to read. Lunch is brought to me on a thin metal plate and I walk out to the courtyard to wash my hands. There’s a huge plastic water tank with a spout at the bottom. The kids use this to wash their hands and get their drinking water. I notice a leak to the side of the spout, point it out to one of older guys and proceed to use it to wash my hands. I retreat once again to the privacy of the office and I take the opportunity to call my mom. However, I’m soon interrupted by a breathless boy asking where to find “Mama Andrea”. I tell him she’s gone to the market; he harrumphs loudly and runs out again. Just then I hear, “BOOOOOOOOM!!” I make it to the courtyard
in time to see the last of the water spill from the water tank. It has exploded, filling to entire courtyard with about 4 inches of water. The plastic just busted in two, probably right where the leak was. The force of the explosion broke the outside kitchen fence next to the tanks.
About 30 kids run out of the classroom in shoes and socks splashing around this new wading pool. I snap some quick pictures and WhatsApp them to Andrea, letting her know she should make her way back to the office ASAP.
I won’t lie. It was kind of fun, exciting in an unexpected sort of way. But my joy was quickly dampened with the arrival of Andrea as she explained that they don’t have the $300 needed to replace it. Another thing on a long list of needs.
After an afternoon of polishing 40 pairs of little girl and boy shoes, we go back to the wall. Andrea and I begin moving heavy bricks from the front of the house to the back where the wall is. A man approaches us and asks if he can help. Andrea answers that we have no money to pay him. He continues to pester her so one of the boy masons yells up from his work, “You see white skin and all you think is money. But they are black wazungus (foreigners or white people). They are like you and me! They have no money!” Our would-be helper walks away dejectedly.
After moving just about a million bricks, and seemingly seeing no dent in the pile, we make our way to a “chip stand”. “Chips”, you may know, are how the British say French fries. Being a former British colony, Tanzanians have adopted this term. Every Friday night, Andrea with a Tanzanian co-worker and a worker from a local children’s home come to this chip stand at 7:00pm. For the next two hours boys arrive in groups, greet each of us respectfully and wait for a plastic bag filled with a French fry omelet, some pieces of meat and a bottle of water. Some stick around to chat; others wander off into the darkness once they have meal in hand. Andrea combs the crowd looking for new faces, asking for updates and encouraging the boys to come to Safina the next morning for tea. This night a girl comes. She stands out as she is the only girl, she is young and she has a baby strapped to her back. Holding her hand is a small boy carrying a toy car. He gets unceremoniously plopped on my lap while his child mother talks to Andrea. I find out his name is Juma, he is two and he was born on the street when his mother was 13 years old. She is addicted to glue and uninterested in school. Juma has lived on the street his whole life. He immediately steals my water bottle that I foolishly left on the table and begins throwing his car at the other boys gathered around the table. When I stand up with him on my hip, he begins beating a small boy, who stands right at Juma’s hand level, over the head with the car. I mean, seriously beating! I am shocked, stop him and tell him to say sorry. He ignores me. So I rub the poor boy’s head and tell him I’m sorry.
The night is winding down; just a few older boys are left sitting around the table. We’re chatting companionably when a boy of about 10 runs down the street towards us crying and yelling. Immediately, the older boys stand up and start hurrying down the street and around the corner. What’s happening, I ask. The children’s home worker says there’s a fight between street boys. That’s sad, I think, but of course the other boys want to watch. Let them go. But then I see Andrea walking down the street toward the commotion. Well! If she goes, then so must I. I jump out of my chair and scurry after her with Imma close on my heels. Around the corner a large group of men gathered; some are wearing kofia’s, the round hats so popular among African Muslims. Andrea is the sole woman. She is a small woman and I see her on her tiptoes trying to hear what the men are saying. The small boy is still crying and carrying on outside the gathered men. One man is the center of all this attention and slowly the story is revealed.
The boy was walking by his store and seeing that he is a street kid (which in this man’s head automatically made him a thief), he began to choke the boy. He picked the wrong night to discriminate. This man found himself surrounded by very large, very angry street boys and former street boys. It took the mediation of many men to keep him from getting the crap beat out of him. Or at least, I think he remained unharmed. We walk away before the crowd disperses while a heated conversation is still taking place.
It’s 9:30pm and I still haven’t yet eaten. We drive around the block, thinking we’d stop by the office to pick up some stuff but eventually make our way back to the chip stand. Drained, I shovel fries, covered in a pink excuse for ketchup, into my mouth.
It’s 10:45pm before we arrive back at our secluded haven. My body is truly exhausted but my mind is full. My heart aches for the children who live pitifully on the street, dependent on the kindness of strangers for their survival. However, their lives are not hopeless; they are not forgotten. God knows every name; he knows every insult they have suffered; he sees their pain and he cares. He has called his people from across the globe and close to home to reach out to these most vulnerable and beloved children. Safina Street Network, directed by a mzungu but held together by an amazing Tanzanian staff and former street boys, is proof that God sees and cares.
I would ask that you consider donating to Safina to help them buy a new water tank. It was a completely unexpected loss and definitely not in the budget. You would be blessing the 150 children with whom Safina works and strengthening the faith of those who pour their lives into these kids day in and day out.
Here are the steps for donating:
- Go to https://www.egsnetwork.com/gift2/?giftid=BA2CB0A93B314EC.
- Scroll to the bottom and click “Search For Designations”
- Type “Safina” and click “Search”
- The Project number “ER-TAN-0169U Safina Housing” will appear. Click it, then Continue.
- Continue through the process to create an account. This donation is tax-deductible for US citizens.