So far, after 19 years of living, one person has made the most significant impact on my life. Her name is Yonga, and she’s from Tanzania, Africa.
Two summers ago, I visited Tanzania with a group of 10 kids from my high school. I volunteered and lived in an all girls orphanage called JBFC for 3 weeks. I know this probably sounds like a typical story of a white girl volunteering in Africa but believe it or not it was actually much more then that.
For girls in Tanzania, survival can be brutal. They are faced with an impossible choice: endure abuse at the hands of male relatives in exchange for shelter or fend for themselves on the streets, begging or selling their bodies just to have food to eat. It’s a vicious cycle of poverty and abuse that has ruined thousands of lives. JBFC gives these girls a way out.
During my time there, one girl in specific made a lasting impact on my life. Her name is Yonga, and she was born with fetal alcohol syndrome, a condition that develops when a pregnant mother has been drinking during pregnancy. Her brother was born with legs only above the knees, causing him to crawl wherever he has to go due to the fact that his mother was beaten during pregnancy.
Each day when I talked to Yonga, it was extremely hard to capture her attention for a long period of time. One minute she would be braiding my hair and the next minute I would turn around and she would be 10 feet up in a tree. I think it’s safe to say that there was never a dull or sad moment with Yonga. As you can see below, my favorite part about her was that you couldn’t ever get mad at her because of the smile she always wore on her face.
Although the kids were some of the most genuinely happy people I’ve ever met, one of the most impactful moments was on the morning of the last day.
Since it was our last day, we decided to wake up early, climb a little hill and sit on top of the water tower to see the sunrise. When we were woken up, I laid in my sleeping bag and stared at the mosquito net surrounding me debating if it was actually worth it. I was exhausted. My best friend eagerly jumped off the top bunk, dragged me out of my sleeping bag, and threw me a sarong to put on. My first thought: it is way too early for this.
When we walked outside of our little cottage I was still half asleep. It was cloudy so we weren’t even sure if we were going to be able to see the sunrise. As we climbed up the hill, I wasn’t the happiest camper.
It was early and as we walked up the hill these little sharp twigs would get caught in our skirts and scratch us. When we reached the top of the water tower, no one said and word. There was a slight breeze which felt good after several long scorching hot days.
As we sat in silence and watched the sun come up over a lake far in the distance, I finally felt at peace. It was the first time in a long time where I was just there. There was nothing else in the world that mattered about except being where I was in that moment. I then started to think about Yonga. The happiness that she was able to share with me in such a short time was incredible. She taught me how simple happiness can be. Yonga reminded me that the simple things in life are the ones that bring us the most happiness. Happiness is found in the present moment. I remember smiling to myself and just thinking wow, I wouldn’t trade this moment for the world.