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  • Writer's pictureJoanna

A Perfect Month for New Vision

The time was creeping closer and closer to my date of departure from Perfect Vision and I was filled with a mixture of emotions.  I had really gotten to know these women, I was enjoying my empowerment stint here… but I was excited for the next leg of my adventure.  The thought of seeing the Silverback Gorillas absolutely thrilled me and I had begun to count down the days…

It just didn’t feel like a month had passed… ONE month in Arusha!


WOW…


A long time… yet, regardless of gorillas, I still felt I had some unfinished work to do here.


So I extended my stay. For later on!

AFTER the gorillas…


I leave on January 26th to do my tour, and I return on February 22nd to Arusha for another week or so of volunteering. I actually have NO idea if I will be placed at Perfect Vision when I return, but I sincerely hope so.  I told the leaders to just place me where I was needed… and now I can only hope it’s not construction or agriculture.

Or children.

Or medical.


Not that I’m picky… lol

Fingers crossed…


Perfect Vision just celebrated it’s 3rd birthday... and we figured that was a good enough excuse for a big party!  The day prior, we loaded up on silly hats, candles, balloons and other assorted festive paraphernalia.  Elvis, one of the administration assistants, made a special cake... and all the girls decorated the entire room with colourful celebration wishes.


Once the room was properly fit for a big bash, the speeches began. Each of the girls got up and said what they appreciated about Perfect Vision.


Pretty much each speech was exactly the same. They all said the exact same thing. EXACTLY the same thing.


They introduced themselves, told us all they were a member of Perfect Vision and said they were happy to be there.


Most of the girls don’t get too deep. Perhaps it’s their age. Perhaps it’s their level of comprehension of the English language.


I don’t know.


I sat down and personally interviewed 13 of the girls at Perfect Vision and I think 9 of them had the identical answer to each of my questions.


The questions were…

What makes you unique?

Why do you get up every day and come to Perfect Vision?

What makes you happy?

What makes you sad?

Who is your hero? Who is the one person that motivates you to be a better person every day? The person you most want to impress.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

How can Perfect Vision help you reach that goal?

The Perfect Vision Volunteers

EVERY SINGLE one of them answered the exact same way.  Sure, there were slight variations, but nothing too out of the ordinary.


~ Each one of them was unique because they were hard working and kind.

~ Each one of them comes to Perfect Vision everyday to learn new skills, like sewing, doing beed work and making soap and bleach.

~ Reaching their goals one day makes each one of them happy.

~ Selfish people make each one of them sad.

~ Their hero?  It was unanimous… across the board - their mother.


All. The. Same.


My original intent was a small, personalized article on each of the mamas, focusing on their lives and their dreams.  After reviewing my notes, I realized that was going to be impossible, unless I somehow fabricated stories in order to make each article more colourful.  I couldn’t do that.


I needed back stories… but I didn’t want to pry.


After each interview, I did give the girls the opportunity to tell me more about themselves and their lives, but hardly any of them chose to go deeper.


Mama Joyce, Joyce and Tina were the only ones that slightly opened their own doors to allow me a glimpse at what their lives were, are and hopefully will be in the future. Their chats transferred from professional to personal in mere seconds and left me absolutely heartbroken, and I fought hard to keep the tears at bay.


As much as I try, I will never ever be able to even begin to appreciate what these women have gone through… and continue to go through day to day. It is poverty and devastation I will never fully understand.


I lead a very privileged life.

Mama Joyce

Despite the life that Mama Joyce has lived, she is a jolly character and lights up the room when she walks in.  She recently suffered a mild stroke, so there is a slight droop to the left hand side of her face, but it doesn’t stop her from exuding happiness most of the time. She is always willing to participate in any of our lesson plans, and regardless of her age, Mama Joyce is determined to continue trying to better herself and improve her life.


Her husband died twelve years ago, leaving her with five children, no job, no money and absolutely no prospects. She suddenly found herself without employable skills, and as an older women HIV positive, she was unable to secure permanent employment.


Her eldest son is 29, addicted to drugs, and to this day, continues to steal anything Mama Joyce has ever had.. Her own sister has had a lifetime of sickness, so in addition to providing for her own children, Mama Joyce also takes care of hers. There have been so many health issues and devastating poverty for Mama Joyce that it’s hard to believe she has the strength to continue every day, let alone be the one to spread happiness to everyone that comes into contact with her.


Mama Joyce should have been finished with Perfect Vision months ago, but on the day of her graduation from the program, she broke down in tears, begging the coordinators to let her stay.


“I will die if I don’t have this place to live for.”


And of course, Mama Joyce is still with Perfect Vision. Every day her English improves, every day her spirit elevates and every day, she gets closer and closer to her dream of living an independent life with her own business.


The support and inspiration she receives at Perfect Vision feeds her heart and her soul and gives her reason to keep moving forward.

Mama Tina

Tina

Tina is a kind soul, but her eyes tell a completely different story. They tell a story of someone filled with such sadness. Tina was abandoned by the man she adored and left not only penniless and to fend for herself… but pregnant on the streets.  Without money or food… and without any family to lean on, Tina couldn’t see how she could possibly raise a daughter in such a cruel world. Such a cruel world in fact, that Tina tried taking her own life.


Tina’s story is heartwarming because she was essentially saved.  She was taken out of a life of hardship by Mama Happy and she was given a million reasons to live. Mama Happy was the lady who originally started Perfect Vision. HIV positive and from a tough background herself, she decided to dedicate her life to helping young women in similar situations.


Tina was one of the first Mamas with Perfect Vision.  She has been with the organization since the very beginning. Mama Happy would never her get down on herself and every day, she would urge Tina to learn more and do more… and always encourage her to stay strong, no matter how much life battered her around.


In the process, Tina learned to sew, do bead work, make laundry soap… and so much more. Currently, she is one of the coordinators at Perfect Vision and is the head seamstress, as well as the main English translator. Her daughter, Anshel attends a boarding school a little ways away, but every day is another opportunity for her to improve both of their lives.


Joyce

Young Joyce’s story is nothing short of inspirational and should serve as a story of hope for all young girls wishing to improve their life.


Like most of the other girls, Joyce joined Perfect Vision as a very young, shy girl.  She had little to no education, she lived a life of poverty that many of us can’t even imagine and she had lost all hope. She came to Perfect Vision begrudgingly, never quite trusting herself, the mamas or the program. Many times, she stopped coming, claiming she was quitting the program. Each time she did this, Tina or Mama Happy would venture to her home and convince her to come back.


They wouldn’t let Joyce give up.


Joyce had something incredible happen to her one day. An American lady asked her if she might be able to visit her home. Joyce agreed and took the lady out to the small hut she shared with her grandmother.  It was during this visit that the lady asked Joyce if she would be interested in going back to school.  It was Joyce’s dream.


The American lady agreed to fund her entire education, from primary studies straight through to university level, if that was really what Joyce wanted. There were many tears that day, as Joyce’s dreams finally came true.


Joyce graduated from Perfect Vision over 3 years ago now, but comes back at any chance she gets in order to support the new girls in the program. She is there to continue improving her English and give the girls what they need most in life… hope.


Other than those three, I did not really get much of a back story from the rest of the girls.  I do know life has not been easy for them. The reason each of them is at Perfect Vision is because the local community workers have recommended them due to the hardships they face.  Jennifer told me her mother sells vegetables on the side of the road. Sometimes, her mother doesn’t sell anything all week, so they don’t get to eat.


It really puts life into perspective speaking with these incredibly resilient women and I just want to make their dreams come true.

Thank you to everyone that has donated to the fundraiser I set up for Perfect Vision.  As of right now, I believe I have just over $1000 and I have extended the time, as I am heading back there at the end of February.  If you would still like to contribute to this wonderful program, click here.  It does not need to be a lot… even $5 helps them so much.


Thank you.


And…


Back to the birthday bash…!

I was a fabulous feast of cake, chocolates, Swahili pakora, mandazi, and carrot salad.  Placement normally ends at 12:30pm, but this day we sang songs and stuffed ourselves silly until past 3pm… then dutifully washed all the dishes and cleaned the place up!


Being a highly revered teacher, as well as an exemplary student, I was always looking for ways for Perfect Vision to make money. They had already covered a lot; honey, traditional clothes & bags, jewellery, laundry soap… so it was obviously time for a cooking class!


We tried one week with a Chapati and Beans class, but no one signed up, so sadly, it was cancelled.


For the next one, we decided on Samosas and I pushed it… hard. Begged, actually. Up until the last minute, I was worried that people were going to back out… but much to my amazement, 13 people showed up!


Even Vicki and Malika (who have only just joined the Perfect Vision placement) tried to back out, but I don’t think they were impressed with my reaction to their lack of support.  They came.

It was a bit of a tight squeeze, but everyone managed to squish themselves into the classroom for the welcome.  Editha greeted everyone, introduced all the girls and then told our guests a little bit about Perfect Vision.


When all the pleasantries were completed, we set about learning to make samosas.


Oh. My. Dang.

It was the longest cooking class on the planet earth.


For something as small and simple at the samosa… there were certainly a multitude of excessively long steps involved in the process.  Too many.

It never ended.


We cut up all the vegetables - one by one… in our hands… without cutting boards.

We cooked the veggies.

We made the flour paste.

We kneaded the dough.

We rolled the dough.

We cut the dough.

We semi-fried the dough.

We folded the dough.


Some of the volunteers were concerned about sterilization and clean water, and they kept asking me… but I had no idea.


Then we stuffed the dough and watched Editha fry up one by one.

It was gruelling.

It was beyond gruelling.


So much for efficiency and preparation.


We were there for over 4 hours.

FOUR HOURS +


We entertained ourselves with Tik Tok videos and silly photos.


At one point, I made a concerted effort to leave… but my attempts were quashed by Editha and I was instructed to sit down.


I was getting more and more anxious as the minutes turned into hours, knowing I was leaving very early in the morning. I had not packed at all, and I still had a lot of laundry to do in order to prepare.


I knew I needed to go.

When the samosas were FINALLY finished, I tried to leave again.  By this time the room had already emptied out. People had lost interest after the first hour, and by the second hour, they were only being polite, biding their time.  By the third hour, everyone was evidently done with the class … and by the forth hour… they just walked out as quickly as they could.


Editha was a bit upset that I was leaving, and I tried to explain my predicament, but she only cared about how much food would be left behind. I felt bad too. There was a lot. To try and ease the situation, I started to pack some samosas up, with the promise that I would take them back to Sawa Sawa for the girls to try.


Then Howell, a crotchety old volunteer, yelled at me for taking too much. By this time, my patience had worn beyond thin and I was done. I left all the food for Howell… and made my rounds giving hugs to all the mamas…


The goodbye was quick, but sad.

Granted, not as sad as it would have been had I decided not to return.

I am going to so miss these girls.


And with the promise I would be back in a month…. I left.


Kwaheri, Perfect Vision… goodbye.

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