"Not Far From The Equator"
By Rebecca Arnold, written after volunteering in Africa in 2007.
When I work with nonprofits, the world is in a little more balance for me. Why? For most of my life, I’ve felt the sense of struggle on other parts of our globe; and so often it’s Africa. But what can you do? It’s so far away. It’s so vast. I’m so small. A lone soul, observing, caring, idle, in my corner of the world…..
Then, one day, I go there. I absorb it. Interact with the people on their soil. See their proud, rudimentary environment, hear their laughter, eat their cabbage, pick pebbles from the dinner grains… See the shaved heads of the girls and boys, done to avoid hair mites. Watch lack of medical help and HIV complications play out in some kids with overt physical ailments you’d never see in my country.. Privately, I contemplate how their young minds must wrestle with these serious things, how it stirs their inner worlds. How ever do they make sense of it as they go on to another morning, decide what to wear, and walk off to school. Life, goes on.
But I’m there now, amongst them. I’m impacting them, can, and do. This, is awesome. It hits cords from all points of my life where I wanted to do something. Something. Receiving and giving hugs when shared language is limited, showing true interest in a 12 year old orphan – this woman from Americaaa, interested in me!? – say her eyes. Painting happy murals in the kids’ dorm room; it’ll be the last thing they see when the moon rises on a chilly night, with only one wool blanket per child. It’s the first thing they see when the rooster outside crows to a new day. It’s what they gaze at when they’re ‘home’ from school sick, laying on the top bunk, with a tattered doll a volunteer brought from some land and time far away….. And the sole town doctor is only able to do and give so much. No parent to stroke her forehead, no family to count on, no healthcare system as a net, and nobody to say it’ll be alright. Because truth is, they really don’t know. It’s just the genuine generosity of the staff. And god bless it they-are-there. These people with giant hearts, and exemplary spirits.
This is a story of hard struggles on a very different level than what we see here, in my country. And the human will, generosity, and love, coming together from nothing. In a few short years, a single man decided to take care of the youth of his community. To collectively run a whole orphanage and children’s center where sweet little lives are influenced and touched, that would otherwise not have been. How awesome the human spirit is! All happening
quietly on a hill, off a country road at the last curve
before town, in the foothills, west of Nairobi,
not far from the equator.
I see this as big. Like so many throughout history before me, and many after, I want to do more. I wish I could bridge the giant divide of geographical distance – an everlasting obstacle to aid for this wondrous continent. But I have my camera, and my love for pictures. I can’t leave my help behind, my heart and hugs, but I can share my pictures. Their gift to use to support their organization, and get funding, the backbone to their existence.
I’d love to keep Africa in my life. See the vast, beautiful landscapes of terra-cotta sand and yellow fever trees that something in the primal cortex of my psyche senses as familiar, and drinks with eager content. And what I gain from them, all of them…kids ‘in the raw’ – no pop culture influences, just vivid humanness in it’s purity. And the staff, defining what it is to be a mensch, with no audience. Just because it’s what’s good to do, and it sits right with them.
I am in humble awe in what plays out at this place, on a hill, off a country road, on the
last curve before town, in the foothills, west of Nairobi, not far from the equator.
- Chronicling Rebecca's first experience volunteering in Kenya at Limuru Children's Center, 2007.