Tales from Tanzania - O'Neil Family Blog

Though we have already been in Tanzania for one year, this is a journal of our time at Haven of Peace Academy in Dar es Salaam. Karibu sana.

May 21, 2008


I remember being back in the States and seeing news reports or advertisements showing the desperate situations in Africa. I remember feeling helpless way over on the opposite side of the ocean to do anything remotely significant to help Africa. I also remember thinking, if I were there, then I would be able to do something. I thought that I would instinctively know how to respond.

But my response is so slow - so inhibited from just doing something. I often times freeze up unable to even process what I see. Or else, I analyze the situation looking for the perfect solution while the problem passes me by while I am lost in the mumbo jumbo of a developmentally and culturally appropriate response. The other day I was driving down the road in the pouring rain. The traffic was bumper to bumper and one could only move if the car in front of you moved. We surged forward and as we drove past, I saw out of the side window of my car, a boy - a teenager - sitting in the pouring rain on a heap of garbage eating what he had picked out - rotten ugali (traditional staple food) - most likely. Tanzania is very poor but the cultural value of community and sharing basically keeps everyone poor but very few starving. I'm sure it happens but I had not seen anyone sitting and eating garbage since we've been here - and certainly not in the pouring rain. I basically froze, barely registering what I had seen, and kept driving. Why didn't I turn around? Why didn't I stop and do something - I don't know what - but something?

I noticed this lack of response again later when I was walking down the street. A young boy walked by me and I greeted him. As he passed - he was walking much faster than I was as I had Tommy in one hand and a big bag of bread in the other - I noticed that one of his arms hung limp and useless by his side. As he moved further in front of me I clearly saw (although I could hardly believe this to be true) a bone about two inches long jutting out from his skin half-way down his forearm. It was completely healed but the bone still stuck out from his arm. I believe now that he had severely broken his arm at some point but it had never been set. Instead, somehow, he must have survived infection and the skin healed around the broken bone leaving the bone outside of the skin and his arm rendered useless. Yet this all barely registered in my mind until the boy was gone beyond my sight. Again, this lack of response concerns me. Why didn't I stop him and ask what had happened? Why didn't I give him my bag of bread?

Mary is a mother of HOPAC students. She has nine children and has lived in Tanzania for many, many years running orphanages. Her children attend HOPAC and I teach one of them. Mary does not have a slow response time. She sees something and begins doing something about it. Mary was travelling in southern Tanzania when she came across a tragedy. A village in Kyela had been struck by so much rain during the rainy season that they were barely surviving. Their homes are made out of mud and with so much rain, most had basically been washed away. The immense rains had damaged their corn crop which was about to be harvested so food was short. Their bridge was underwater and they needed to walk across the hand rails over crocodile infested waters to get to school and the center of the village. They were basically in trouble. Mary saw all this and immediately returned to Dar es Salaam and began a plea for help. She turned to HOPAC and the student council took over with a quick response and addressed the student body. They came up with a plan to all chip in oil, flour, sugar, beans and have it all shipped to Kyela . This is precisely what the students of HOPAC did. They gathered 1.3 tons of food, had it loaded into a truck, and delivered it to this remote part of Tanzania. There, it was distributed quickly and to grateful recipients. This all happened within the time span of about one week - a quick response. It most likely did nothing to solve the long term problem or even their lost crops, but it did do something for their next days and weeks.

I learned from Mary and the students of HOPAC. Thank God that He has put people on earth who see an injustice and respond with their hearts quickly and easily. I need to observe them more often and let their uninhibited love show me a better way. There is no joy in a lack of response - only haunting memories of the tragedies we see. I pray that I would learn to have a quick response to what happens around me - not slow, and thoughtful to the point of uselessness, but heartfelt and uninhibited and fast. But there is blessing in a quick response - there is not only joy and satisfaction in knowing that something is being done, but there is joy and satisfaction from the recipients of our responses - even if there is no lasting solution.