Wednesday, November 21, 2012

My Summer in Africa

Guest post by Ariana Kaufman, Class of 2012

Mahatma Ghandi famously said "you must be the change you want to see in the world." By going to Africa this past summer with the American Jewish World Service, I was able to fully comprehend the true importance and value of making a difference in a child's life. While my initial intent was to build a school for rescued child slaves, I left with an indescribable feeling of attachment and love for these young victims. Having witnessed firsthand their extreme poverty and illness, I feel a strong obligation to spread their stories and share their pain.

"No. My mother needed money so she sent me to sell my blood to a man on the street." This was the response I received when asking Abigail, a frail and innocent seven year old, if the one cedi (equivalent to 50 American cents) in her hand was because her mom had sent her to the market. Abigail, along with many other children her age, had a small weak body with a bloated stomach due to malnutrition and parasites. In addition, she had a protruding belly button due to her umbilical cord being cut improperly at birth. I caught myself staring at the gruesome and unprofessionally done needle mark on her hand, which the predator who drew her blood did not even have the courtesy to bandage up afterwards. I would also bet that the needle and apparatus that he used were not sanitary and could have exposed her to life threatening complications including Hepatitis and HIV. After staring for a few seconds, I realized no words could ever take back the experience that had just occurred to her or make it better. I simply gave her a smile, implying that I was happy that she felt so comfortable confiding in me. The hardest part was not being able to tell her I would always be there for her, knowing that that was not a promise I was capable of keeping. With this, Abigail smiled. I can't describe how happy I was to be there for her during a time of extreme discomfort. It is shocking how a simple smile and giving someone a hug can be such a little action with such a big effect.

On July 25 I woke up expecting a normal day of strenuous manual labor building the school, but realized shortly after my head lifted from my pillow that something was wrong. I got out of bed feeling dizzy and disoriented. I tried to stand but nausea overwhelmed me and I could not swallow food or even think about eating. Two days passed and in that time my fever increased and I began to vomit and faint continuously. It was clear that something was wrong and I was immediately sent to the hospital. Two days later I was diagnosed with second stage malaria. Fortunately, after a terrifying few days I began to slowly feel better. While I was recovering, neighborhood children would come into my room and express their sympathy. I even received letters and prayers from them, which meant so much to me. It amazed me how someone with so many problems of their own could take a pause from their daily hardships and worry about someone else beside themselves or their immediate family. I cannot possibly imagine what it is like not being able to afford vital medicine and receive immediate care. I realized that while I was able to touch upon the surface of their pain, I knew that I could never experience what these children go through on a daily basis.

In Ghana, we were able to spend time with many political and religious leaders. When meeting with the local Imam (Islamic priest), we discussed the importance of charity. I still vividly remember him saying, "well obviously if you have three shirts you give away one." This great motto drove home the ideal of what we should aspire do in our daily lives.

I went into this program with the goal of making a difference in the lives of these children and would like to believe that I succeeded in even a small way. What is clear is how much greater of a difference they had on me. My trip certainly helped reinforce many of the lessons on chesed that I learned in school and at home. I am committed to raising awareness of these critical issues and encourage you to contact me if you want further information or would like to help make a difference.

Ariana is currently spending a year studying at Tiferet in Israel before matriculating to Yeshiva University's Stern College for Women next year. 

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