By: Christine Shaneberger
Another bittersweet day in Karagwe, Tanzania. We had the opportunity to visit AIDS orphans and families helped by the AIDS Control Program. Each evening Dr. Winkler leads a period of discussion and reflection on various topics. Last night’s question was “If you could raise money for any cause in Karagwe, what would it be?” Before today my answer would most certainly have been HIV and AIDS treatment. After today, I’m not entirely sure what my answer should be. It was obvious to me today that I had no idea how complex the problems are here, and furthermore how engrained these social problems are in the community and individual families. The AIDS orphaned children show so much promise, but are often shackled to their situations. As a child I grew up hearing “you can be whatever you want if you are willing to work for it”, but that is not always the case here. Some of the children we met are in school only because they receive educational aid from Mr. Venant and the Aids Control Program. Some of them are nearly at the top of their class because they have such a drive to succeed but their aspirations are limited by their family situations. Today, we witnessed a brief snapshot of the harsh reality of AIDS, not only for those that are infected, but by their children and grandchildren. One boy, Ananias in particular is very motivated academically but was unable to further his education because he was solely responsible for providing for his family, and had been since the age of 12.
This program has been nothing if not exposure to the realities of rural Africa. After meeting briefly with Ananias and his family we went to a private school where his grades and potential were discussed with the head master. It was decided that he would attend the private school to repeat forms 2 through 4 and then retake the national exam in the hopes of moving on with his education. Ananias had preformed very poorly in school because of his difficult family situation but both the school and Dr. Winkler are hoping for better performance if he is put in boarding school.
The most difficult part of the day was when we visited Benitha’s family. She is 13 years old, and thankfully attending a boarding school. Her mother is completely blind and raising her sister’s children who are both under 4. When we arrived we saw how malnourished the young boy was and had to explain to this small girl that her nephew was sick. Watching Benitha’s reaction was extremely difficult. While she was extremely composed, it looked as if her world was crashing around her. She is only a child, but she is dealing with an incredibly difficult situation. We urged her to assist her mother in getting this boy some more protein, but she will only be at the house for another 2 weeks before she leaves for school again. Benitha has a bright future ahead of her, but I couldn’t begin to imagine the responsibility and hardship that is hers alone.
The will to succeed is so strong here. It makes me evaluate how much has been handed to me in America. Too often, education is treated as an unwelcome obligation. Education is such a privilege and should be treated as such. I think the children here are wise beyond their years. They understand the importance of every opportunity they are afforded and are so grateful. I hope that I will have an answer for Dr. Winkler’s question by the end of my experience in Africa because I really hope to have a better understanding of the need in Karagwe.