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girl and kid

By Lauren Dulude ’14
Holyoke Catholic High School

Editor’s note: Lauren Dulude was one on five Holyoke Catholic High School students who traveled to Africa in July, the following is her reflection about that visit.

After willingly going to Africa for three weeks, I can boldly say that it was the absolute best experience of my life.  Not only did I learn a lot about Tanzanian people and their culture, but I also learned some things about myself in the process. I was ready and anxious to begin our mission after my group spent the first week studying in the Makoko Language School. I had no idea what God had in store for me. Every day I experienced something new and exciting. I have so many stories and memories, so hopefully I can share small and meaningful parts with you.

First of all, I should begin by letting you know that it was not easy for my family to decide to let me go to Africa. (See her mom’s letter below.) Despite the majority of people that would tell me that it is too dangerous, I somehow always had the feeling that everything would work out. I never got discouraged. Most of the time people looked at me with utter confusion, told me that I couldn’t go, or made a rude comment about Africa. Although it was hurtful, I ignored them. I thought that no matter what they would do, it was my decision, and I knew that it was the right one. I was determined to go to Africa. I know that God helped me through that time and for some reason I had to go.

african students

In my last letter on: Iobserve I wrote about the overall character of the people and the surroundings of the Makoko Language School. Even though both the school and the House of Compassion are not in the bustling town, they are an hour apart from each other. Every day we left the school at 8:00 on our private buses which we used for our safari vehicles. On the way to the House of Compassion everyone stared at us from outside the vehicle. This was the first day. During the next few days more and more people began waving to us as we passed by them. I will never forget the kids chasing after our van, smiling, and waving.

My main focus throughout the day was the kindergarten class. Only six out of about thirty kindergarteners lived at the House of Compassion. The others walked back home before lunch. During the mornings I worked in the kindergarten with three other Holyoke Catholic students. With a sort of wonder in her eyes, the teacher said to us: “We want to learn something from America.” The children knew minimal English, but the younger children surprisingly knew more than the older kids. We taught the kindergarteners songs like “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star”, “If You’re Happy and You Know It”, and “Old MacDonald.” The kids also loved learning the chicken dance.

lauren and some kids

After morning class the kids would all put their shoes on and lead us by hand to the church to pray. The teacher did not come with us and did not have any worries. The children were quiet and respectful in church where they said a prayer together in the pews and quietly left the church. I reviewed with five of the six kids that lived at the House of Compassion after lunch. The kids were so happy and obedient in class. There were a few days that one child would get the occasional case of malaria and sleep during class. In the kindergarten classroom they only have a mat on a cement floor, the teacher’s desk, a chalkboard, and a couple lawn chairs. The teacher had only one box of school supplies for the whole class.

Three other mission trip students and I spent the weekend tutoring a few House of Compassion kids in English. The seventh graders that we tutored went to the community school. Although they had English class in school, they basically only knew how to say hello.  Their teacher must not have known much English at all because the children were confused. The seventh grade had been preparing for an English test that they were to take in two weeks. They would never go to school again if they failed their test, which meant that they will probably not be able to find that great of a job. It was extremely sad to know that just because their education system is weak, the kids will be the ones to suffer. When we tutored them we could tell that they were so eager to learn. They wrote down everything we said and worked for hours straight.

hc africa

During Mass the voices of all of the people were outstanding. The songs are led by the older seventh graders. Their voices brought tears to my eyes. Mass was so powerful in Tanzania. The people truly came alive in church. There were so many people at the House of Compassion that were mentally disabled and could not communicate well. In church, those people were singing and dancing. During peace everybody walked around the church giving peace to one another. We brought smiles to people’s faces and they returned the favor.

Every day after Church we played with jump ropes and soccer balls. The adults and children loved to play. They figured out how to do double Dutch and they would always try to beat their record. When we collected the jump ropes at the end of each day they gladly passed them over which surprised me. As far as I know, all of the children at the House of Compassion are orphans. The most beautiful thing was to laugh and smile alongside the children.  They stole my heart.

For the entire time we were at the House of Compassion I noticed that every child seemed to have about three different outfits. In the room that the adults shared they really only had a bed, a mosquito net, and maybe a box of belongings. Despite the conditions in which these people live in, they still enjoy life. They live simply, but it is beautiful. They are not dependent on material goods. Everybody at the House of Compassion makes up one big family. The abundant love, hope, and acceptance at the House of Compassion can be felt in multitudes and makes up the true spirit of the Tanzanian people whom I will remember forever.

The following is a letter from Lauren’s mother, Jodi Dulude, and their reaction to their daughter’s life-changing trip.

dulude family

It was a hard decision to let our daughter go to Africa.  At first we were hesitant in allowing her to go on the trip.  We were also blown away that Lauren, would consider going to a third world country.  She has always been afraid of all flying or crawling critters.  There must have been a more powerful reason why she was being pulled to go on a 21 day mission trip to Tanzania.  We came to the decision that it was something we had to let her experience.  The conflicts and safety that go on in other countries was extremely frightening.  So many questions needed to be answered.  Many meetings were held to prepare us with the day to day activities, Lauren would experience.  Her entire stay was at the Makoko Language School, it was comforting to be able to communicate, either by email, face time, or skype.  One of our conversations on skype Lauren said, “can we just hang up, I’d like to go have fun, I only have four more days here”.  Whether that  was to be with the four other students she had become close to, write in her journal, or prepare for the next day she wanted to be there 100% of the time.  Looking back at our decision and knowing it was the right one is a blessing.  The people she met and grew close to in a short amount of time will always be a part of her.   We have heard many stories of the children and people she met at the House of Compassion in Musoma, where the mission work took place. Lauren returned safely with an extraordinary experience she will never forget in a life time. She also has expressed an interest in returning to Musoma, Tanzania at some point in the near future.  The next time will be an easier decision to make.