One of my favorite experiences in East Africa was the time spent with the children in the Osiligi orphanage. The moment we arrived to the orphanage, the children circled us with affectionate greetings. They smiled brightly like they already knew us. Their English was not perfect, but their diligence in greeting us was. We spent two hours there, and those two hours taught me one very important thing—that happiness was a choice.
Those children chose to be happy although they didn’t have everything we had. They worked hard to learn and memorize the rhymes performed for us. They listened attentively as we taught them to sing the ABC song as they washed their hands. They were vibrant. They were loving. But most of all they were happy. You could just see it.
Another one of my favorite experiences happened at our stay at Dr. Friberg’s house. We were returning from his clinic when we all went to take a look at the school nearby. There again we saw the same bright faces waiting to greet us. We played with them. They were so quick to smile and laugh. Some of those faces followed us to a project we were working on nearby Dr. Friberg’s house. They wanted to help us. Their families helped us too. And again they did it with smiles on their faces. What mattered were the people around them because they didn’t have the “things” that make us happy here in America.
Africa was more than the beauty, the teaching, the clinic, the service and the magnificent animals. Those were incredible too. But for me it was the people. Their laughter, their willingness to share the little they had, and how their happiness came from affections shared all around them. There’s a quote by Suzanne Evans that I often think about as I look back on my time in Africa, “I hope you have an experience that alters the course of your life because after Africa nothing has ever been the same.”
For me, it hasn’t.
—Monica Kommu, 2015 Volunteer