One of the most satisfying of all the rewards of serving others here is the gratitude and happiness of those we serve. I still cannot yet articulate how good it feels to receive emails, text messages, and letters all addressed to “father” for it is how they think of me. They call me “Baba” in Swahili (father) and “dad” in English when they see me, yet all I have ever done for them was to help them a bit with their education, or provide them with a biosand water filter, or give them a Bible in Swahili, or maybe mosquito nets for their families. We don’t really do all that much, not when compared to those groups who build boarding schools, orphanages, and hospitals. There are some boys and girls for whom I have done little more than pay their school fees for government school (about $50 a year) and yet, without that, they would have been made to become cattle herders, goat herders, or farm workers which is what happens to the children who cannot go to school. Shaban’s father wouldn’t let him go to school, so when he was only about nine years old, he ran away to his uncle’s home in a distant village. His uncle, who had large herds of cattle, welcomed him and asked if he wanted to work with the cattle or go to school. Shaban wanted to be educated, so his uncle made sure that he was—all the way up to and through vocational school for mechanical and carpentry work. Along the way, Shaban’s uncle needed help driving his vehicles, and he paid for Shaban to learn how to drive everything from buses and trucks to motorbikes and taxis. Shaban’s driver’s license allows him to drive anything that travels the roads of Tanzania. What Shaban wanted from his father was to be allowed to go to school, and his father’s refusal to do that drove him away.
There are so many here who know what it means to be educated and who want it desperately. The scholarship students we have helped at the Bunda Teacher’s College stay in touch with us, thank us, and call me “Baba” when all I did was administer funds raised by other people. Karen is called “Mama Africa” by the children she has taught and loved. They are the ones who came up with that name and have always called her by it because she taught them to love learning and that they were loved. For many of the orphans we have fed and taught, the very fact that we loved them enough to provide the food and school were proof that they were loved and accepted—a very important thing to anyone. We can help children by giving them things but those lessons are brief and non-lasting. More importantly, we can help children to love learning, to love themselves, and to love others—and in that lies our greatest triumph. Just this morning, I got this brief text message on my phone, “Good morning, Father. God is good all the time.” That was the entire message, but it made my day because it was from an orphan I helped learn to love.