December 23, 2009
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By: Mbada

I held her in my arms. My chest was her pillow. Her feet dangled to the ground and her eyes were wide as I wrapped her in my arms around her shoulder and waist.

Her name was Apiwe, and she was one of the many children at Zulufadder, a Norwegian sponsored organization that helps the children of Eshowe (Zululand), in South Africa. Some of the Children are affected with HIV/AID’s and have no parents at home. The majority of the children’s parents passed away because of HIV/AID’s and they now live with a close relative like a grandmother or aunt, who have taken in up to fifteen children; according to the Zulufadder website. The children will leave their relatives during the day and come to Zulufadder. Apiwe as well as the other children are fed 3 meals a day and the younger ones are given an education. Each child has a Norwegian sponsor. The sponsors send each child $40 a month for food, clothing and any other materials needed for schooling.

I am part of the Traveling School. A traveling boarding school, consisting of four teachers and twelve students. We are traveling throughout Southern Africa. Along with accredited classes and everyday learning experiences, we also partake in service projects. We arrived to help. Our service project on this particular day was to help feed the children at Zulufadder.

I stepped into a room, which was being used to educate the children. The walls were covered with posters of the alphabet, vowels, animals and shapes. Children crowded the entrance as my fellow classmates, teachers and I entered the room. As children spilled into the area, they gripped our hands and held onto our waist. There were as many as four to five children to a person. We quickly became overwhelmed with joy. Though some of us sat in chairs alongside tables in the middle of the room, the majority stood. As they stood, their torsos were constantly were pulled forward by children who wanted to be held. We got settled as our guide, Popi entered the room. Popi is a motherly figure for the children and shows a sense of love and guidance. She said one word and the children were quiet. The children read the posters fluently as Popi pointed to the walls. They annunciated and projected every word with excitement and enthusiasm, as they read off of the posters. They were proud to show us that they could read and were getting an education.

Every poster in the room was and we were taken to look at arts and crafts made by the children and local women. Jewelry, postcards and t-shirts were on display to buy as a way of generating revenue for Zulufadder. We pulled out our South African rand (money) the children still stayed attached to our hands, reluctant to let go for a second. This was when she approached me. She said her name was Apiwe. She grabbed my arms and hands, begging to be placed in my lap. As I lifted her off of the ground a white a white, illuminating smile grew across her face. I placed her on my hip. She clinched onto me, holding me as if I was her mother. I had then realized what not just she, but all of the children were yearning for. I looked straight into Apiwe’s eyes and saw the want. The want for attention, the crave for individual love and care. For someone to just hold her without saying a word. At that second, she was given what she wanted. That individual security.

Popi announced that it was time for lunch, as the tour ended. We entered the biggest one roomed building of them all. We started to set up the chairs as the children helped. The purpose for our arrival was beginning; lunch was about to be served. “Sometimes there are up to 150 children, other times there are just seventy five,” said Popi.

The chairs were placed as the children big and small took a seat. Steam came from two enormous pots on a wooden table, as a container of plastic plates and spoons was placed next to it. I was about to make a difference in these children’s lives. My teachers and I lined up against the wooden table as we prepared to make the plates. The rice, meat, vegetables and spoons are quickly added on the plate, as my teacher slides it down the far corner of the table to make room for more. I noticed the portions of food; not enough to cover the entire plate, but enough to feed each child.

As someone coming from the United States, I am use to obscene amounts of food. Before my experience at Zulufadder I would consider myself glutinous, eating food just because it is in front of my. I looked at theirt plates and saw that food was there, but limited. Though the children and I are priviledged to have food, I would not have been as grateful in the past.

Before I knew it, the table was full of plates. The plates were almost stacked onto each other. They were as close as sardines would be in a can. Each plate was child in front of me. A child potentially affected with HIV/AID’s, one that did not have their parents to kiss them good night and blessed to be part of Zulufadder. I could never feel or live with the complete understanding of how that child feels or lives; no matter how much I hold it or serve it a plate of food.

Just before they were given food, Popi raised her hand to the children. They became immediately silent as she directed them in prayer. Their eyes were tightly closed as their heads rested on their clinched hands. They started to pray. The room filled with voices and dialects of clicks and unfamiliar words. The praying was in unison one of the most powerful experiences I have ever encountered. For that moment, my heart stopped. To me it seemed as if they believed every word that came out of their mouth. Their heads tilt to one side while a word is said. The eyes squeeze tighter as the voices get louder. I don’t feel I have ever prayed as they did before in my life. They did it with passion, determination and a devoted sense of hopefulness. For a moment I wanted to cry, simply because I was overwhelmed. The fact that these children had at that moment displayed the emotion and feeling I could not hold onto; had stricken me with shock. My ability to comprehend had only skimmed the surface compare to what they feel.

By the end of the day, I changed. I had realized that the teens and young communities of the United States have never and probably will never have such an experience. As much as it moved me they will not completely understand. This will be a great comparison to the way I felt in relation to the children, on an emotional level. My comprehensive ability stopped at the rocky ledge as I strived to climb to the top of a mountain. I now see the world differently; as a place where I, like others have grown up without the worry of life lasting or not. Where Apiwe and many others life is a struggle through hunger, disease and the loss of family. A place where organizations like Zulufadder, save a life every day. I have learned to hold on to the message that life is valuable and ultimately what I do positively, no matter big or small makes a difference.

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