Luisa Maldonado (Colombia)

I started this trip without really knowing what to expect, because what one hears about Africa could be real as it could be something far from reality. The moment I landed in Kenya, I did not know how to mentally prepare myself for the next days or situations that I was going to live outside of my comfort zone, surrounded by a frankly harsh reality. The poverty that I found in the coastal city of Mombasa, I had not seen before in any place; my eyes could not believe what I was seeing. Not a single street leaving the small airport was paved, despite being the second largest city in the country. Rubble on both sides of the road, still water in every hole and vultures surrounding mountains of garbage. It was night, and the only light that illuminated the road was that of the cars. Other times I had helped in organizations or donated to orphanages in my country, but this time I wanted to do something different. The result was a volunteering in which I would be completely immersed in a totally new culture for me, and living with them for 15 days, without understanding their language and without being able to communicate fully.

I lived in the same four walls of this orphanage’s house where life isn’t easy, neither for this small creatures nor for the staff that helps daily there. The lack of water, hygiene, medicines its obvious and painful. Understanding their language wasn’t necessary to understand what these kids were missing: tireless cries day and night that only one second of distraction could calm. From the first day these kids would throw themselves into my arms begging me to carry them or for me to hug them; while I hugged one the others cried… So young and they’ve never received the love and affection they deserve.

The way they eat everything without mumbling any word, even though there’s flies everywhere and that what they’ll eat wont feed them, well they don’t get to eat protein daily. How they obey all orders of whom they feel as their mother, Josephine. The way they cry every time another child takes away they’re object of distraction. They screams, sobs, and laughter don’t leave my mind, I think about them all the time.

Every day we put them to bed at six in the afternoon. Very obediently they would all climb into their cribs. No matter their size or age they still sleep in them, and some don’t even fit in them no more. Despite these life conditions, these fourteen kids are the most thankful and they didn’t know in what other way to show me the immense affection they developed for the time I gave them. Every morning they ran into my room to wake me up so I would feed them and play with them, I became like a mother to them in just fifteen days. Day after day I did my best to give all my energy and affection I knew that they appreciated and needed it. There where tough days where after not sleeping nor eating well and living in those conditions of intense heat and no hygiene it was hard to come out of my room with energy, but this weakness left my body once I saw the happiness in their faces when they saw me.

When the time for my departure came, I could not help but feel an immense sadness because I did not want to think that my help would stop there. I shared so much and saw so much potential in each one of them, that I made the decision to join with Sandra and continue supporting everyone in this orphanage. I had always heard that many volunteer organizations don’t really use the money they raise for the purposes for which they are created. Many people want to help, but they do not investigate enough where their money will actually end. I am completely grateful to Sandra for showing me that it is possible; I was able to verify that every saving that I had been accumulating for this trip was destined to those who really need it.

It took a lot of courage on my part to make the decision to go completely alone to a totally unknown destination, where I would be day by day feeling very strong emotions. However I took it and it was the best experience I could have. This experience filled my heart and I am intensely satisfied to see that it helping is possible expecting waiting in return nothing but a full heart and a big smile on your face.