We are often asked the question, “Why are you helping people in Africa when there are so many in need right here in the US?” This is a very legitimate and thought provoking question. It is said that “charity begins at home” and we can all agree on that. For us at Elimu Africa, our families, friends and communities are our first priority. But after that, the line delineating where to spend time, talent and resources becomes more difficult to define.
We at Elimu Africa have been moved in various ways to help our friends across the world. After seeing the injustice and difficulty of their circumstances, we have realized that in Africa, they do not necessarily have access to the government and private services that we enjoy in the US.
On our trips to Tanzania, we met people who were:
- Unable to get an aching tooth pulled or treatment for malaria because they could not get the few dollars together to pay for medical care.
- Unable to send their kids to school due to poverty and a shortage of schools and teachers.
- Living without clean water and electricity in a mud hut with a drape serving as a doorway.
- Living, while seeing friends and loved ones dying of AIDS and other treatable illnesses.
- Feeding their families on less than a dollar a day, with meals that lack in proper nutrition.
- Disabled and living their whole life inside their homes due to lack of mobility aids and handicapped assessable areas.
- Having to take their babies to orphanages because the child’s mother died and the family could not afford formula.
- Having their children become street children due being unable to care for them. Situations leading to this include early marriages, rape and unwanted pregnancies and HIV/AIDS leading to early death.
But most of all, we were moved by the strength, grace and courage of these people. They have remained gracious, generous, joyful and hopeful in the face of adversity that most of us can only imagine. One day, while walking down the road, Kristy, the Elimu Africa Chair, ran into a friend who was a young artist, trying to make it on his own, living away from his family in a one room hut. When asked “How are you doing?” he replied, “My business is very slow. But I am thankful for my blessings and my heart, it is still beating.” These lovely people practice an attitude of gratitude and truly see their glasses as half-full.
So at the end of the day, when deciding how to help our world become a better place, each of us has to ask ourselves questions such as:
- “After I take care of my priorities with family, friends and community, how much time do I have to devote?”
- “How do I find my niche and how do I get started?”
- “What kinds of help do I want to lend; time, funds or special skills?”
No one can answer these questions but you. And, after taking care of your priorities in life, you truly have to go where your heart leads and where you have a special talent or skill to offer. Is it a local opportunity such as the crisis nursery, the homeless shelter, the nursing home, Big Brother or Sister, your church, humane society, environmental protection groups, political groups, the local hospital or advocating for a cause in which you believe? Or does your heart lead to help someone in developing countries because of something you have read or heard about their lives and their struggles?
It is obvious that we are living in an intricately woven web of life and those in our human family live in our homes, next door and halfway across the globe. And we are called as citizens of the world to extend our help and support to anyone who is in need.