A day that started very normal, quickly changed into something I could never imagine.
I was heading to a local restaurant to meet my boyfriend for lunch when I spotted them. Three small boys, probably ranging from 5-10 years. The youngest of them approached me, head down, and mumbled something in Swahili along the lines of “I’m hungry please give money for food.” He then quickly ran back to the other boys before I even had a moment to react. Now, I’m use to being asked for money, it happens every day, but today felt different. I approached the oldest boy and started asking him question in Swahili. I asked if he had eaten today, he said no. I asked where his mom was, and he said gone. I asked where his father was, and he said he was dead. I told him I was going to meet my boyfriend and then we would come back to talk about this.
After we had lunch I told my Tanzanian friend, the situation I had encountered. The boys were close by outside the restaurant when we came out. My friend started asking them a lot more questions than I could have come up with, with my limited Swahili. The next thing I knew we were walking across town! The walk was quite long, and the whole time I was wondering how these boys ended up all the way on the complete opposite side of town. We all hopped on a dala dala (overcrowded mini bus/taxi) and then got off again about 10 minutes later in an area of Arusha called Unga Limited. We then weaved in and out of narrow alleyways, carefully navigating the copious amounts of mud, sewage, and trash. It was clear most of the adults in this community were either high on drugs, drunk, or mentally ill. They all just gathered, or stood alone, outside the various local dukas (small shops).
After what seemed like forever, we arrived at the house of a bibi (grandmother) where two of the boys lived. She lives there with her one son (who was only maybe just over a year) and 4 other children under the age of 10 who are all somewhat-distantly related to her. The house was one room, connected to many others (think like a hotel). Inside was a bed, a couch, a small coffee table, and some dishes. It was obvious though that the dishes were unused for quite some time, and that food was nonexistent. Elicana talked with the bibi for awhile and then we decided we should go to the house where the other boy lived.
We walked and walked some more and came upon an even more distressed looking house. Made entirely of mud and sticks, it looked like it had sure seen better days. Inside lived two bibis, one was so old and frail she was bedridden. It was unclear how many children were living there with them, but they seemed to say they were are related (though distantly) somehow. My friend talked with these bibis for quite some time and I mostly nodded my head and tried to follow. Every now and again he would stop to explain something to me. The most incredibly thing was this one bibi kept going on and on about how we were like angels, how we passed by house after house after house and showed up at her door! She said our visit was the most incredible of blessings, for us to enter her house was a sign from God that He had not forgotten them. She asked if she could pray, and of course we said yes. She began with a small chorus, “Anaweza… anaweza… Yesu anaweza,” Jesus is able. Then she prayed so fervently that my eyes welled with tears. I knew our visit was more than enough but I wanted to leave them something tangible.
I discussed with my friend that I wanted to supply them with some food items, especially since it was 3 days before Christmas. We talked about what was a reasonable price per family group and came up with 15,000 TSh (Tanzanian Shilling). That means for approximately $9 USD we were able to feed these families for a few meals. We went out to a few local shops with one of the bibis and about 5 of the kids. They were all SO excited they practically skipped from shop to shop. We bought them beef, rice, sugar, tea, spices, and oil. Along with some biscuits for the kids. We sent them on their way back home and we headed on our way, but only after promising we would be back to visit.
My heart was so greatly moved. Here are these old women, somehow barely related to these children, but still they’ve taken them in. They don’t have much, they barely have a roof over their heads, but it was clear they love these children and they are TRYING to make a difference. They could have just abandoned them on the street, or left them outside an orphanage, BUT THEY DIDN’T. This is a beautiful thing. This is the stirring of my heart. Providing women, and widows with the means to support children who don’t have anywhere else to go. So what if they’re barely related. So what if they aren’t related at all? Children belong in families, in homes with people who will love them, not in orphanages. Even as I wrote this post and googled more about Unga Limited, I mostly found people talking about “rescuing” children out of Unga. Literally TAKING children from their mothers to put them in an orphanage. Why not help the mother thrive to care for her own children? Why remove a child from someone who is trying, but just lacks resources. There is a better solution!
Honestly, I’m not sure where I go from here. I’m still praying and discerning and doing a lot of research. But I know God is reawakening my heart to what He was speaking to me from the beginning. And I’m excited to see what’s next.