The JBFC Difference

July 15, 2013 2:01 pm Published by

When I started my new position at JBFC just under two months ago, I was 100 percent sure that regardless of how many new challenges the job presented, I had been in Tanzania long enough that nothing could surprise me. Now, seven weeks into this job, I have to admit, I was wrong. Very, very, very wrong.

In my four-plus years in Tanzania, I have visited more orphanages than any one person should see in a full, well lived life. I have seen more children alone in the world as a result of HIV/AIDS and extreme poverty than is fair to do to one set of eyes and one heart. I have witnessed well-intentioned projects, run by well-intentioned people, fall short of their goals, whatever they might be, time and time again (not that they haven’t made a difference, for certainly they have). I have seen the painful look on too many Tanzanian children’s faces when they realize that the person, whether it be a parent, a relative, a volunteer or a matron, is leaving them and they are alone- again. I have been witness to too many meals where the numbers are too high and the plates of food not enough.

I don’t know when it happened, but it did. When you move to a country like Tanzania full-time, I think there are stages that each of us goes through along our journey. First you are a volunteer- maybe an intern or paid employee for some organization in some far off village. You see mostly the good. You are energized by children’s smiles, their laughs, how positive they remain despite their situations, their motivation, their perseverance, their adolescent goodness. You think their world is great- or as great as it can be. Next, after

 some time, you start to learn these kids’ stories and you really start to feel their pain- not just for them, like feeling bad for them, but you actually start to feel what they feel. You realize that it is by chance, circumstance, luck, maybe, that they are in an orphanage and you had great parents- or a parent- or maybe no parents, but still a shot at life. You can put yourself in their shoes and see that their lives are only a couple small degrees away from yours – a couple of degrees that literally make the world of a difference.

And, finally, you get numb. You get used to it. You start to think that the pain, suffering, sadness, and lack of opportunity is where these kids in some random village come from and it is all they’ll ever know.

This happened to me at some point in the past four years. I became numb. Tanzania hardened me. While I still felt, deep in my bones, actually, the pain that these kids felt, I was no longer taken aback by it. It had become part of me, like, I suppose, it had become a part of them. It was there, the pain, but it was a part of my life and, in my mind, it was a part of their life.

This numbness lasted until I arrived at JBFC and, as if I was hit by a train, I woke up.

On several occasions during my seven weeks at JBFC I have heard Chris Gates say that he doesn’t like to call JBFC an orphanage. It’s a children’s home (mostly, a girls’ home). Let me try to show you what that means.

For the first time since I have been in Tanzania, and for the first time since I visited more orphanages than any one person ever should, I have found a family. In reality I have found and met lots of families in Tanzania since then, but what I really mean is that I have found an orphanage, that operates like a family. That makes it- surprise- a children’s home!

It might be hard to describe this in writing, but any one who has ever visited JBFC knows one simple truth; instead of sharing just the pain that the girls here have felt (and, of course, they have allexperienced more pain than any young girl ever should), what you feel, deep in your bones, is that you are looking at as real of a family as exists in the world. You are looking at a group of sisters (and a couple of brothers), anchored by their own strength and will, looked after by a group of dedicated local and international staff members who have become their family, enriched by the loads of volunteers who come to JBFC and join the family, and, above all, who love each other and who love any one who is willing to give them a chance to love and be loved.

What JBFC has reminded me of is the power of love. It has reminded me that when you build something with love, care, compassion, understanding, and patience, what you will end up with is something that’s foundation is as strong as that of any good family.

What you end up with is a group of people who care when one of their own is upset- care so much that they come to tears. You end up with a group of girls who come to check on a sick volunteer. You end up with a group of girls who stop by to remind guests that dinner is ready. You end up with a group of girls who can be found painting toe nails with Kayci. You end up with a group of girls who call Chris, “Dad.” You end up with a group of girls who wake up in the middle of the night when they hear a car that they know is a returning group of volunteers and wake up at 5:00AM to say goodbye to a group of first time volunteers heading to the airport. What you end up with is a family, in every sense of the word. What we have ended up with at JBFC is something completely unique to Tanzania, and maybe to the world.

To say that the JBFC family has surprised me- from the Mamas who cook and clean everything, to the fundis (workers) who build and fix everything, to Chris himself, to the many guests and volunteers, to all of the other local and international staff- and- of course- the girls- would be an understatement.

Guest Blogger, Seth Diemond, is JBFC’s new Campus Director. He worked in Tanzania for four years, before joining the JBFC team in May.

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This post was written by Mainsprings