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A glimpse of my journey in Africa

Emma Wallace and her mother, Michelle Smith (center), share a moment during a 
goodbye ceremony at the Rafiki orphanage, which is located in Moshi, Tanzania.
Emma Wallace and her mother, Michelle Smith (center), share a moment during a goodbye ceremony at the Rafiki orphanage, which is located in Moshi, Tanzania.

I recently went to Africa for about 20 days with my mom, Michelle Smith, and my life has been changed. We stayed in Moshi, Tanzania, in an orphanage right outside of town. This quote by Amy Carmichael perfectly captures my feelings about missions and how it feels to go and help the less fortunate:

"Does it not stir up our hearts, to go forth and help them, does it not make us long to leave our luxury, our exceeding abundant light, and go to them that sit in darkness?"

The following is a quick glimpse into my experience in Tanzania.

Day 1, June 13

As we arrived at the Kilimanjaro International Airport, many thoughts were going through my mind. Mostly wondering what it was going to look like. If Tanzania would look like the stereotypical pictures of Africa that every American is used to seeing: the great plains filled with wild animals and an orange-toned hue.

Well, that's not what I saw.

We traveled through empty roads with wandering goats and chickens on the side and through small towns with run-down shacks that were known as stores and restaurants to the people who lived there. Kids running around with ragged clothes and women walking the streets balancing baskets of fruit on their heads and babies slung across their backs. It wasn’t exactly was I was expecting, but just the ride to the village alone was an eye-opener.

The village where we stayed in near Moshi was called Rafiki. Rafiki is a Christian-based foundation focused on building villages across Africa and creating school-systems that better the lives of African children. The Tanzanian village had about 57 orphans staying there. There were boys’ and girls’ cottages within the village, and each cottage had a “Mama” and an “Auntie” to take care of the kids. The school also takes “day students” who live in Moshi and come to school and leave after the school day is done.

Day 3, June 15

That morning we attended the Anglican church service at St. Margaret’s, which was a little church in the town of Moshi.

On the way there, I was expecting a very modest, little building filled with joyous people from the town. The only part that was different from my expectations was the building. Although it wasn’t huge and overbearing, it was so much more beautiful than I was expecting. It had gorgeous exotic plants outside, and the doors were all open, inviting us inside. Beautiful stained-glass windows were apparent on almost every side of the building, with the African sun shining through.

All of the church members were so sweet and welcoming, it made me feel at home. The sound of the hymnals being sung in different accents (English, British and African) was enough to make me fall in love with the place.

After the service, I talked to one of the members. She was an African woman who had been attending the church for quite some time. She asked me whether I liked the service, and I said yes. I mentioned how one of my favorite things was the open doors.

After she gave me an astonished look, I explained how – where I live – people might find it too risky or even too cold to leave the doors open. It made me realize how even in foreign countries, people can take luxuries for granted. The people there might not see open doors as a luxury, but coming from “The Windy City," I would be so grateful to always have my doors open.

Day 7, June 19

After a few days of getting to know the kids better, we helped out with their “Field Day,” which included different stations with different games for the kids.

In Tanzania, the school system works on a term basis. There are about three-week breaks between each term, and when we arrived, their term was ending. This meant the beginning of “Games,” which is what the kids do in between each term to keep them active. Field Day was a way to kick off “Games Week."

My mom and I were in charge of the limbo station. Now we are very familiar with the game limbo. African children, however, had no clue what we were doing standing there just the two of us with a stick.

After explaining the game and doing a couple run-throughs, the kids fell in love with the game. Seeing how a simple game such as limbo brightened their faces and gave them joy made my heart melt. Kids typically aren’t content with an iPod shuffle, yet these children would be overjoyed if they were given a used jump rope.

In fact, most of them wander around the village looking for long pieces of weeds to use as a jump rope. And they even fight over them!

One of the most prized possessions that the kids have are rubber bands because they use them as little sling shots. They would practically cry of happiness if I were to give them a rubber band. They find joy out of the simplest things life has to offer.

Day 10, June 22

One of the coolest experiences on this trip was the safari that we went on. It was my chance to see the Africa that I was used to seeing in pictures online. Also, I have an irrational obsession with elephants, so it was time to get my elephant fix. (I nearly cried at the first elephant I saw.)

It was just us two, my mom and me, in a safari truck with the roof elevated upward so we could stand and look out into the fields. We wandered down many different paths to find all of the different animals. We saw many giraffes, elephants, zebras and wildebeests, and were even lucky enough to spot two female lions.

Seeing these creatures in their natural habitats, out in the wild, makes me look at zoos in a completely different perspective. Although zoos tend to help endangered species at times, it seems so unnatural for elephants and giraffes to be caged up in an exhibit. Especially when they are used to roaming the plains in Africa.

I don’t think I’ve ever appreciated nature so much before I went on this safari. Seeing all these beautiful animals and the people who work so hard to make sure they are safe and have their habitats as clean and natural as possible really is amazing.

• Emma Wallace will be a senior at Kaneland High School this fall. She enjoys art, music and being social. Contact her at

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