Camden Hills Regional High School student visits Imagine orphanage

From Maine to Mozambique

Posted:  Tuesday, August 20, 2013 - 2:45pm

'When can we start' was the first thought as I stepped out onto the sun-baked African ground. I kept picturing what "Imagine," the Mozambique orphanage, would look like. Imagine employs six foster parents who bring orphans and other children in need into their Family Homes to love and nourish them.

There are approximately 50 children living at the orphanage. Imagine works alongside the community to achieve long-term social improvement for the people living in the area by providing food distribution, the building of water bore holes for more access to clean water and hiring trained professionals to develop agricultural associations.

Abigail Matlack is16 years old and attends Camden Hills Regional High School. Her aunt, Laurie Lee, is a nurse practitioner, who volunteers in third world countries. She invites Abigail and her mother to go along on these trips and help.

My mom, my aunt, my uncle and I were going to the orphanage for two weeks to volunteer our services. How would the children respond to a complete stranger coming into their homes? Would they be shy or outgoing? What type of impression would I make on them?

During the seemingly endless 30-hour travel to Mozambique, these and many more were questions that circled through my mind as I counted down the hours to our arrival. After settling into our rooms and meeting Lorraine, director of Imagine, we were off on the bumpiest road I had ever been on. Pot hole after pot hole covered the sandy dirt road alongside which local vendors sold home-grown vegetables to chickens in small cages.

As we pulled around the corner I strained my neck trying to get the first glance of the place I would soon grow to love. Three brightly painted white and blue houses stood behind a wire fence. There were some trees, but very few, trying their best to survive the dusty dry weather and giving the front yard some sign of life. Most noticable walking through the gate were unique concrete squares making up the pathways between houses. I soon learned every child had his or her own square that they had made with their name, handprint, and the date they came to Imagine.

It was very easy to see that each child was very proud of his or her own square, and that everyone at Imagine was part of one big family.

The children lined up, waiting for a turn to greet us. As I shook each little hand I had to lean down so that I was able hear their soft voices telling me their names. I have learned from experience that one way to make each child feel special is remembering each individual’s name. It is just something small but it shows I really care about getting to know each of them instead of treating them as just a group of needy children.

After shaking our hands they would run just a few feet away and stand in a group, trying not to make it obvious that they were intrigued by us. This was my chance to break the ice. I walked over to the group of children and asked them how old they were in my best but very shaky Portuguese. Soon I had brought smiles to a few faces as they laughed at my attempts to pronounce their ages. Fortunately, one bold girl named Rosa stepped forward and gave me a lesson on counting to 20, for which I was very grateful!

While getting the tour of Imagine one three year-old boy had been following us the entire time. He showed us how he could water the garden and knew the different names of the plants. As my mother was taking pictures he walked up to her and pointed to the camera. We soon learned that he loved to touch everything we were touching. While we were walking away from the garden I held out my hand to Vincent and he ran over and took it. This was the start of one of the most special friendships I have ever had. Every morning when I arrived he would run over and take my hand. Throughout the day he would stay by myside, leading me wherever I needed to be. Vincent would sit waiting while my aunt and I gave medical exams to the sick children.

One of the funniest moments of the entire trip was when we were giving Ernie, an HIV positive baby, a daily checkup. Vincent was sitting on one of the house mother’s laps waiting patiently for us to finish. My aunt absentmindedly crossed her legs while talking. Vincent also immediately crossed his legs. He soon began to mimic my aunt’s every move. She put on her glasses to read one of the prescription bottles. Vincent jumped up and ran to his room and returned quickly with his Spiderman sunglasses, which covered most of his face. Vincent had a way to turn any situation into something light-hearted and fun. This was until it was time to leave. Everyday when we were about to leave, there would be long hugs and sometimes tears. I would wait until the last possible moment to get into the car so I could spend as much time as possible with him.

From the first day to the last I saw a world of a difference of how the children acted around me. In the beginning they would barely talk in front of me. As the days progressed they began to trust me. Gradually they became more comfortable around me and by the end we were all playing together like there was no difference between me and their other friends at Imagine. We would play with Llegos and see who could build the biggest tower, toss tennis balls and draw each other’s portraits.

One day, we blasted music and had a dance party. Even though every child put my dance moves to shame it connected us on a different level than ever before. I finally felt fully accepted into their loving family. The children would dance as though they did not have a care in the world and at that moment nothing else mattered other than having a good time. Their faces lit up, making it clear that dance was something that brought great joy to them all.

This was my third volunteer trip to a third world country. I continue to volunteer because I feel that in some way I can positively affect a child's life, whether that be in sharing a laugh, making a long lasting friendship or providing them with something material that they need. The memory of faces lighting up is something that will stay with me forever.