Regular readers of our blog will recall that medical students from the U.K. visited Arise School recently whilst in Tanzania as part of the Kilimanjaro Community Support Project (KiCS). One of them, Ariadne, has since given one pupil, Walter, a young man aged 12 years old, a wonderful gift that has changed his life. Ariadne sent us the piece below:
“I first heard about Walter (W), early during my stay in Tanzania, before visiting his school, Arise Community School, in order to do voluntary work. I remember sitting in the common room of our house at dusk with the rest of the group when our coordinator started sharing W’s story. I remember feeling tightness around my chest whilst, bit by bit, she unfolded all the details. I always feel that way when I am facing an unfair and harsh reality.
W’s story started with the word ‘violence’. Walter tried to escape a physically violent outburst by his uncle who then threw a stick at him. Not being lucky enough, the stick hit him in the eye leaving the boy with something that wasn’t just a minor injury – W was left with one eye. One eye! I cannot imagine the physical pain one experiences when losing an eye, one of the most sensitive parts of our body, let alone the psychological trauma experienced afterwards.
W stopped going to school for two whole months and this had tremendous effects on his literacy, social life and overall health. When forced by his mother to go to school, he would put salt on the wound! It sounds awful and one would wonder why cause more pain to yourself? But, wouldn’t anyone in his position do whatever possible in order to hide from the public eye? I was once told that shame and worthlessness are commonly felt emotions among the abused.
Upon his return to school, W was not welcomed with sympathy or empathy. He was instead called the ‘blind boy’. He would often set off to school and hide in maize fields for the day, away from all the mockery, bad comments, staring and gossiping of people. He would hide for long hours and then join his schoolmates’ journey back home pretending to his family he was returning from a long day at school. Obviously, there were consequences when his family found out about his clever plan.
Frank got to know W and his story when W started going to the school every Saturday for the Kisimani Kids’ Club. Frank then visited his house to learn more about the conditions in which W lived. He offered him the opportunity to join the school properly as some volunteers from the USA wanted to sponsor him for schooling. Unfortunately, promises were not kept and W was left disappointed. Thanks to Frank, he remained in Arise School and was included in the ‘to be sponsored list’.
The Arise School has now become family to W. Family to me is a concept I do not relate to blood. Family is a team that works for the catholic good of its members and gives equal chances of survival to all of them. Family should make you feel loved, worthy, important, included, confident in yourself, embraced and accepted the way you are. Family has the ability of moulding you and the resulting ‘shape’, if not always, often determines your chances out there in the jungle. There is a reason why I often call it the Arise Family and not just the Arise School – and I am glad W is part of it.
W, now 12, is a tall, thin, affectionate, beautiful boy who is always smiling and has excellent manners. The first time I spent a significant amount of time with him was when we took a couple of Arise kids to an animal park. I felt an instant bond with this child and a lot of admiration for his ability to live so enthusiastically after what he has been through. If I were to make a list of the words that came to my mind when looking at him I would say ‘happy, slightly mischievous, slightly shy, a leader, fearless, motivated and curious’. I was mostly struck by his curiosity about his surroundings and the workings of our world. I once read somewhere that the future belongs to the curious – when I met W, I was convinced this notion must be valid.
I, therefore, decided to help provide a better future for W along with the Arise Family and give him the means to conquer the world on his own terms. I knew that what was most important to W at the time was to feel more equal and wanted. We started by arranging a hospital appointment for him to have a prosthetic eye fitted – such an eye would not restore W’s lost ability to see through both eyes, but it would serve the aesthetics we were after. Frank and W’s mother escorted little W to the hospital to have the procedure done. When I received the photos, I could not believe the work that had been done (see for yourself!). Frank told us that W now calls himself ‘New Walter’ – brand new indeed!
People often ask how much it cost. It only cost me around 60 EUR, including the transport, for it to become reality. I could hardly believe that such an amount of money that seems so very small by our standards and can hardly satisfy any of us, at the same time, managed to change the world of a child.
Having completed my first aim, I then discussed with ACE about sponsoring W’s education. I heard Frank often say that W learns without fear. I am sure that knowing that there is someone out there securing his place in the school would help him learn even more without fear.
Walter is now my little hero and my promise to him is a life with better opportunities”.