Student News

Tanzania #13: Farewell Kitongo

Paulina Baltazar – March 23, 2018

Mae Emerson ’19, Erin DeMarco ’19, and Olivia Geraci ’19 describe the difficulties of saying goodbye to the people and place they have come to love.

Have You Ever Had to Say Goodbye?

By Mae Emerson ’19

“It is the friends you make on life’s path that makes it worth the journey.” (Mr. Max wrote this memorable quote on the whiteboard at the end of our last permaculture community service project session with the 4th formers from Joseph and Mary school)

Have you ever been forced to do something you dread? Have you ever hated the thought of doing something so much that you avoid thinking about it? Have you ever met a group of people who have impacted you beyond measure in a matter of ten days? Who cheer for you in bug-infested, pitch-black, night-time, when they don’t even know your name? Or smile simply because you are smiling? Or met someone who looks at life in every positive way, when they could just complain about anything and everything? Have you ever had to say goodbye to those same people?

The thought of saying goodbye to the Mainsprings JBFC girls and employees hurts to think about, and is something I do not want to do. It makes me dread walking to my last reading buddies session with Mag, it makes me not want to go to prayer at 6pm to listen to the gorgeous voices of the girls, and it makes me never want to crawl into the shaky wooden bunk bed that Megan and I have learned to call our own. The thought of saying goodbye to the girls is impossible.

The last ten days have changed the way I look at my teachers, my classmates, my dad and myself. I have learned to appreciate every smile, every laugh and every moment I have with special people I meet along the way. I don’t want to say goodbye to sweaty farming sessions, hand-washing dishes in a bucket of water, singing with Bella and Megan in freezing cold showers, and especially the 44 goodnight hugs from each and every girl. These ten days have made me smile from ear to ear so much that I sometimes thought I might smile forever. I hope I do when I think of Tanzania and the people I met there.

Erin DeMarco ’19

I write this blog with a heavy heart. We just said our final goodbyes to the girls and other members of the JBFC community. Our night consisted of attending prayer, eating dinner with the girls, and then dancing with them to various Swahili and English songs. All night, I dreaded the time when our trip leader would tell us we had to go back to our guest house for the night.

Before traveling to Tanzania, I knew this experience was going to be life-changing, but I never truly realized how big of an impact this trip would have in my life. Becoming immersed in JBFC’s culture and learning about the girls and the organization has made me reflect on the commonly used term love. JBFC’s Volunteer Coordinator, Jonas, spoke tonight at prayer, and one particular line he said stuck out to me and will always remain with me: “Because without love, life is nothing.” While I have grown up experiencing love on a daily basis in my life, it was eye-opening to witness love in Kitongo, Tanzania. I have seen love in action with the community members, with the workers, and with the girls. Since the moment we arrived on campus, the community has been nothing but warm and welcoming towards us. They immediately expressed their love and never hesitated to say “karibu” (which translates to “welcome” in English), even though we were complete strangers to them.

I have also seen love from the various individuals who work for this organization. Working with the farmers in the gardens, working with the teachers in the classroom, and talking with the program coordinators has made me appreciate how deeply invested they are in the work they are doing. They care so deeply about what they do, and they do everything out of their love for the organization and its mission. Lastly, I have witnessed the love between the girls who live in the JBFC home. They all come from different challenging backgrounds, yet they, nevertheless, manage to stay supportive of each other. They define the term “sister-hood”: they pick each other up when they are down, and they experience all the good things life has to offer together.

All in all, Jonas is right: life is meaningless without love. Love is being able to accept and welcome people who are different from you. Love is making sacrifices and going the extra mile for the sake of others. Love is supporting one another no matter what. I am beyond grateful to have witnessed such powerful forms of love in such a warm community, and I will always hold Jonas’ words close to my heart.

Olivia Geraci ’19

After waving our arms to Beyoncé’s “Who Run the World” and screaming along to Bruno Mars’ “Marry You” blaring from the industrial-sized speakers set up in the girls dining room, Ms. Coffin began weaving her way through the dining hall to tell us that it was time to start saying goodbye to the girls. The dining hall slowly transformed from dancing and laughing to tight hugs and tears. Saying goodbye is never easy, and tonight was no different. I think that all of us on this trip knew as soon as we met the girls that even after spending only two weeks with them, we would make lasting connections. Nevertheless, I, at least, was still shocked at how upset I was to leave. I’m not much of a crier when it comes to goodbyes, but it was impossible to keep it together when Vera, a girl I had gotten close to, placed her hands over her face to hide her tears as I hugged her. I promised to write her letters, and around me I heard my trip mates promising the same.

In that moment, I think we all really meant what we said. However, I couldn’t stop thinking about what Seth, JBFC Campus Director, had said to me at a dinner earlier that week – that hundreds of volunteers stay at JBFC for a short time, and when they leave they all promise, with real intentions of keeping that promise, to write letters to the girls. Seth told us that, in reality, very few do. He said that it is hard to blame these volunteers; many of them forget how busy they are back home. I know that back at Deerfield, our lives are so scheduled that sometimes it’s hard to even remember to call our parents. I’m writing this blog as a concrete reminder to myself not to forget the promises I made, and I encourage my trip mates to do the same. We don’t have to write every week, or even every month, but I remember how happy the girls were when they received letters from previous volunteers. I think that if I remember this moment, and with a little reminder from my trip mates, I can hope to make Vera just as happy with a letter in the mail.