Why is it that African children make my heart leap? Anyone who has been to Africa, who has stepped onto the precious red soil, will know that African children have the ability to change you profoundly.
As the Day of the African Child comes this Saturday, June 16, I want to celebrate African children and three life-changing things that they’ve taught me.
- They taught me joy.
I first encountered African children in Kigali, Rwanda. There, day in and day out for six weeks, I played with orphans and abandoned children. They were some of the 59 million orphans across Africa.
Pictured with me below are two of my little best friends, Arienne and Dorcus. We did everything together. Simple play with sticks or grabbing little flowers from the dirt brought great delight. The sight of a new bug or new flower on the compound caused excited squeals.
Nothing seemed too small to celebrate. I look into these African eyes and I see joy. I see happiness in small things.
- They taught me selflessness.
I met James at a child development center in Kibera, one of the largest Kenyan slums. After I met his family and brought them some food, they gave me all they had — a bag of mangoes. I asked my translator if I could politely refuse what this family offered.
I knew what a great sacrifice they were making. She told me it would be culturally inappropriate to refuse, but I could offer a mango to each of the children in the home. When I passed one to James, he smiled and held onto his new treasure.
After being in his house, and trying to imagine living in such a small space, I was overwhelmed by this family. How could they give me so much when they had so little?
Later in the day, James split that mango among his friends at his child development center.
I look into his African eyes and I see generosity. I see a young boy who shares in the midst of great need.
- They taught me survival.
No matter how difficult their situation, I see children in Africa who cope with immense suffering. Perhaps because it’s the only life they’ve known. But when I encounter them, I take a piece of that survival home with me. The stuff I thought I needed? It feels less important after I see the battles they face daily.
HIV/AIDS, malaria, and poor sanitation ruin lives. According to UNICEF’s State of the World’s Children 2011, 2.3 million children in Africa live with HIV. And only 20 percent of African children under the age of 5 sleep under life-saving mosquito nets.
Although malaria is still the number-one cause of morbidity for Compassion beneficiaries in the Africa region, it is encouraging to see a decrease in cases and an increase in prevention and awareness.
For example, from January to March of this year, the eastern African countries we work in treated 10,759 children for malaria — a decrease by 17 percent from the previous three months.
Our western African countries are also seeing a decrease in malaria morbidity. In Burkina Faso alone, malaria deaths decreased by 32 percent during the same time period!
Much of this has to do with the Bite Back program and malaria nets we give to our beneficiaries.
We realize that so many of the children in our Child Sponsorship Program are the fortunate ones who’ve survived.
That’s why we began the Child Survival Program.
In Africa alone, we have more than 6,660 Child Survival Program beneficiaries — moms, babies, toddlers.
This past year in Rwanda, we successfully opened four new Child Survival Programs with 50 beneficiaries each … one that includes this little baby!
Our Child Survival Programs include pregnant mothers and children ranging in age from 1 day to 2 years old.
These new centers will increase opportunities for the health of the mothers, survival of the infants and toddlers, and early disease prevention, detection and treatment.
I look into these African eyes and I see fighters. I see a future and a hope.
I look forward to future trips to Africa. To bless these precious children and to receive the new lessons they will teach me.
This upcoming Saturday, June 16, celebrate the Day of the African Child with me. Celebrate Arienne and Dorcas and James. Celebrate joy and generosity, and a future filled with hope for African children.