GRATITUDE FOR GOOD
A Blog by Gratitude Alliance
The Gracias Foundation recently partnered with the International School of Berne, Switzerland to offer selected students the experience of a lifetime: a week-long learning and volunteering program at the Maisha children's home in Kenya. Michael Forzato, a 17-year old junior wrote this blog on what he learned from his experience in Kenya. Check out his other moving essay on why he wanted to volunteer.
By Michael Forzato (Reposted from The Gracias Foundation, now called Global Gratitude Alliance)
What will I take from my experience at Maisha? Well I don’t think that question can easily be answered with words because words can never fully embody how someone feels or describe the connection that one has with the people of Maisha. This connection is felt right when you walk through the doors of the home, seeing the smiling faces of twenty-two children and the wonderful aunts and uncle as they welcome you as if they had known you for years. This connection only grows as time passes because the close corridors of the Maisha home leave little room for privacy and separation. You sleep together, you eat together, you laugh together, and you play together. This interconnectedness, and the people’s natural amicable character is what make Maisha such an ardent place.
One person that I will always remember is Mama. Even though very little was verbally spoken between us, we were still able to understand each other, assured by the exchange of a smile or laugh. Her whimsical laugh was just one thing that makes her unique. She went everywhere with us; into Nairobi to buy shoes for the children, on our hike at Mount Kenya, and the most impressive, into the Kibera Slums. Going into the Kibera Slums was one of those experiences that is hard to fully appreciate through a picture or a description, so being able to witness it in person was over-whelming. I was introduced to the flying toilet concept, which had its effect on every “street”, and the terrible living conditions for people. By seeing this I became aware of the things in life that are taken for granted, like running water and sewage, and air freshener. Mama, however, wasn't there for the experience though, she was there to make sure we were safe and that meant a lot. A seventy-year old woman hobbling around the inclined streets of Kibera with her brightly colored Crocs was rather impressive. She really did feel like a Mama to me.
I also can’t talk about Maisha without mentioning the aunts and uncle. It never ceased to amaze me how much they work, whether it was helping the children getting dressed, cooking meals, working in the fields, tending to the animals, washing the dishes, cleaning the floors, and the list goes on. I was glad to at least lighten their workload by offering my assistance to them. I feel like they appreciated my help and enjoyed laughing at my inability to hoe fields, chop wood, and cook meals. The aunts and uncle are the real heroes in our modern world; they give so much and ask for so little. Every time I had the chance I showed my thanks to them, complimenting them on their meals or asking for help.
And finally the children of Maisha. Every evening after a day outside the gates of Maisha, the children would be waiting for us to get back. The first time they asked me if I wanted to play at their playground I immediately visualized a typical playground with swings, however it was nothing like that. Their playground was a grass field with sticks placed into the ground as goal posts. It just goes to show you the differences between two places and how a few sticks and a ball can make everyone happy. You don't need the newest equipment to have a good time. Every night I had a final conversation with the children, said goodnight and watched them one by one climb into one bed for the night. It was very impressive that five children could fit into one bed. However they never complained, they never argued, but instead smiled and waved to me, as they all said, “I’ll see you tomorrow.”
I will continue to stay in touch and go back whenever I can to show them how thankful I am for them letting me into their home and allowing me to have the experience of a lifetime. I can now cherish what I have more and share it with people who, I now realize, need it more and deserve it more than me. This trip was a great opportunity to work with children who are less fortunate and help them keep their smiles on their faces, because that is what I love most about Maisha and that is what has and always will inspire me.