A day in the life

This article was written by Johann Van Rensburg in November 2014 to describe his inspection of the Grace Orphanage.

David Mtange, Orphanage Director, with Johann Van Rensburg

Arriving at the orphanage

We arrived at the orphanage around noon on October 23, 2014 after a two hour trip across the border from Bujumbura in Burundi, 30km away. It was very humid and around 32 degrees (C), and we were covered in sweat. We entered the compound through a steel door in an eight foot wall, where the gatekeeper, Mosi Kibururu is always on his post. Mosi is around 60 years old. I say around, as exact age is not commonly known in Congo. It was very quiet around the compound as we met David’s team, all volunteers, who were hoping for a small wage somewhere in the future.

The children arriving after school to meet the new visitors

The children arrive

Around 1:30 p.m. the bus pulled up to the gate (not really a bus, but a 15-seater minivan with 32 children inside!). As the gate opened, the noise level went up significantly as 32 children charged through to greet the visitors. It was so good to see all the faces that had been only pictures on the website for the last year. They all talked at the same time – in Swahili – and obviously we could not respond. They were fascinated with our arm hair, as it is not as prominent on their dark skin. Nathan’s red hair received a lot of attention. Each of us were surrounded by at least 5 to 10 kids at all times.

Lunch time

The three older kids arrived from Secondary school around 2 p.m. and it was time for lunch. Four kids rolled out two large woven mats on the dining room floor. Before the kids took their places on the mats, they each washed their hands, two children at a time, over a bucket, as one of the older kids slowly poured water from a jug. They took their spots and two assigned older children brought the food from the table where Sofia and Charlotte, the two amazing ladies who take care of the kids, have been getting it ready. The meal was “ugali” (corn flour porridge) in balls, with small dried fished warmed up with some tomato for a “sheba”, or sauce. They recited a prayer of thanks, which ends with “mercy” (that was all I understood). It was amazingly quiet, as the kids ate using only their hands. There was no talking, as they were just focused on the food.

Megan Johnson, a Nanaimo nurse on the trip

Afternoon relaxation

We spent the afternoon hanging out with the kids. Megan taught them some English songs and rhymes. It was so cute to hear the little ones with their accents sing along. Nathan tried to coach some basketball moves, and we ended up in a 10-on-10 game that quickly deteriorated as testosterone levels rose. The hoop was a kid on a chair holding a bucket. The older girls were called away to help with chores of fetching water and helping prepare for dinner. As soon as the girls went through the gate, the children started shouting “guguleo” “guguleo” with increasing intensity. Hosea explained that it meant “go to the lake”, as around 4:00 p.m. is swimming time. But, they had to do homework first, and Auntie Charlotte started calling them eight at a time to sit on the deck with her (on the floor) and get homework done.

IMG_5744By the lake

Lake Tanganyika is massive and looks more like the ocean with waves of around three feet when the wind blows down the longer fetch. The kids loved it, and some ran in fully clothed, while some of the younger boys ripped off all their clothes. The little ones played in a sort of tidal pool in the shallows and the bigger kids went in to face the waves. We were advised not to swim due to the high level of parasites in the water that our systems were not immune to. The three “Muzungos” (white people) on the beach quickly attracted kids from the neighbourhood, and the Grace kids aggressively protected us from any “foreign” attention. On the way back, several of the girls grabbed water jugs, filled them and skilfully balanced them on their heads as we walked back.

Nathan Johnson, teacher at Nanaimo Christian School, on the trip

Closing the day

After swimming we walked back (less than a three minute walk) and most of the younger girls were singing as they walked. It is amazing how the African kids can sing. As it grew dark, we had to wait for the electricity to be turned on. In the meantime, the ladies finished the food preparations under the light of cell phones. Dinner was a repeat of the lunch procedure. After dinner, different pairs were assigned to roll up the mats, wipe the floor, wash the cups and wash the plates. If all the homework was done, the kids could watch a movie on the laptop, which is either Lion King or one other animated French movie. It was after 8 p.m. when David walked me back to my hotel, as some of the little ones were falling asleep on the floor, since their wake-up time will be 5:30 a.m.