I first learned about the work done by Save a Child’s Heart during a visit with my synagogue in 2010. I remember spending most of our visit with a two-year-old boy from Angola. While neither of us spoke a word of the same language, we instantly connected, spending the rest of our short visit playing, laughing, and smiling. I couldn’t believe how instantly we had connected, and knew I wanted to come back for an extended period of time to experience that kind of instant connection with the kids again.
Fast forward six years later and here I am for a two-week full-time volunteering internship at the SACH home. I spent the days before my arrival reading the manual cover to cover. I had written a list of activities, brought a menagerie of arts and craft supplies with me, and was ready to be (what I believed would be) a great camp counselor to the children; however, I soon realized that this experience was going to be quite different from the fantasy I had pictured in my head.
As someone who is used to working on a strict schedule with deadlines that have to be met, I wasn’t really understanding the whole concept of “hanging out” with the kids. I spent my first few days attempting to be a camp counselor – enforcing rules and making sure the kids were participating in activities, all while attempting to keep activities (relatively) mess-free. However, after a few days at the house and a phone call home about my experience, I realized that I wasn’t really enjoying my time here. All the kids and mothers that were living at the house had already established their relationships with each other, and I felt a little bit awkward and out of place. It almost felt as if I was thrown into the middle of a song with a guitar and someone just told me to start playing along with everyone.
So, I woke up the next day with a new mindset – I was going to just relax and spend time really getting to know the kids, with a few puzzles and arts and crafts thrown into the mix. Instantly, things were going better. The kids living at the SACH home are just looking for someone to hang out and play games or do puzzles with them, and most importantly, be their friend and give them unlimited hugs and kisses.
Since then, things have been going especially well, and have been getting better everyday. My time spent building relationships with the kids through working on puzzles, arts and crafts, and various math worksheets has been outstanding. The children here are absolutely incredible. Their tenacity, enthusiasm, and positive energy truly fosters a wonderful environment in the home. Every morning, I come downstairs and am greeted by a whole “herd” of smiling faces, hugs, kisses and overwhelming love. While not every moment is sunshine and rainbows, and there are definitely many challenges, the overall experience has been exceptional.
Reflecting on my time here, one particular memory stands out. I was coloring with a few younger children when I noticed 9-year-old Jameson from Tanzania fighting with 8-year-old Munir from Ethiopia over a toy. I started to walk over to try and investigate the problem but was interrupted by 11-year-old Sadam from Ethiopia. Sadam walked over to the two boys and quickly intervened, taking their hands in his and saying “Munir and Jameson, come you don’t need to fight. You both say sorry to each other.” To my disbelief, the two boys quickly apologized and shook hands, before walking away and picking up new toys. They then started playing side by side, quickly forgetting their fight.
What makes the experience here even more unique is the differences in culture and language among the house. We currently have children living in the house from Romania, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Gambia, and Zanzibar, and there are a number of different languages that each child speaks and understands. It has been a very interesting experience learning to communicate mainly via hand gestures, drawing pictures, and using facial expressions rather than just words. I have even managed to pick up a little bit of Swahili since living here, including words such as jambo (hello), asante (thank you), pole (sorry), and habariza asubi (good morning).
While it may have gotten off to a challenging start, my time here really has been an experience that I will never forget. I can’t believe I only have five more days with these amazing kids, and I’m looking forward to making the most of them!