This has been one of the best experiences of my life so far. I am sad to leave, and I don’t think it will fully hit me until I am gone. Before I decided to take off the year from law school, to come to Tanzania and volunteer in an orphanage, I asked a lot of people for their advice. Would this negatively impact my future job search? But what if I want to work in a firm, what will they say? Can I join a journal if I take the year off? Will I miss my friends in 3L year? Everyone I talked to, from the Dean of Admission, to the Dean of Students, to my professors, to my friends, were really supportive. Aside from a few friends who didn’t want to see me go, but knew that it would make me happy, everyone seemed to think it was a good idea, and the right time to do it. There is one piece of advice, however, that really stuck with me. 1L year I signed up for the women’s mentoring program, like most of the women in my class, and was matched up with an alumni from the law school. She was terrific, and I have spoken with her a few times since I have been in Africa. I remember at our last meeting, when I had already decided to go, we were having dinner at a place downtown. She was supportive of me from the beginning, and one of the main reasons I worked up the courage to go. She told me it was a great thing, but she said, “make sure you get out of it what you want.” She reminded me that this would likely be the last time I could easily take off and do something like this, and I had better make it count. She made me realize that I had to figure out what I wanted to get out of this experience, and that I had better make sure I got it before my time was up.
Well, I can confidently say that I did. Volunteering in Thailand last summer was unreal, and so amazing, but for me, that experience was more about the people I met, and the country itself. This time around, I wanted to make it about the kids. I wanted to feel that I truly made a difference and was helping somebody, even if it was in a small way. This may be egotistical, but I really do think that I made a small difference here, at Tupendane, in ways other than by buying things with the money that I fundraised, although that is important too. The volunteers talk about this all of the time, and I think that most of us agree, that even if it is just playing with the kids and picking them up every day, we have made a small difference. All they want is to be loved and given attention, and our presence here does at least that.
My director told me today that my last day would have to be next Tuesday, instead of Wednesday like I was planning, because they are cooking pilau and have a whole celebration planned for me. I think I almost cried right then. Since I have been here, they have never done anything like this when another volunteer left. It made me feel like they really appreciated me, and felt as sad to see me go as I do to say goodbye to them.
Also, I like to think that it is not just about the money. While I have to admit to myself that had I not built toilets, a playground, gotten the kids HIV tested, and sponsored three kids, they would likely not have thrown me this whole celebration, I like to think that regardless, they would have seen how much I care about the kids, and appreciated me being there for that reason. Other people and volunteers have come by the orphanage, and the director has said to them that him and his wife and I are now equal. I am not sure exactly what he means by this, but I think that he knows that I care about the kids as much as he and his wife do, and he means that we are all in this together.
In other news, Nancy, the other volunteer with me, is sponsoring one of the girls and sending her to Intel school with my three. We will be taking her shopping Saturday, and dropping her at the school then. I am planning to say goodbye to my three kids there on Saturday, which will be really sad. I know that I have to come back here at some point, to check up on all of the kids, and them especially.
Tomorrow, as my thank you to Tupendane, I am taking the kids and directors out for lunch. There is a local place on the corner that sells meat and rice, or chips mayai for less than a dollar each, and today we took orders to see what the kids wanted. Surprisingly, everyone wanted chips mayai. I would have thought they would have wanted meat, considering they never get it, but no, 100% chips mayai (chips and egg). They will each get a dish and a soda, and I think it will be a nice afternoon for everyone.
That’s it for now. I still don’t feel like I’m leaving anytime soon, but I am sure it will hit me eventually. Although, it will probably not be until I am on the plane out of here, and I realize that it is really over.