The people who run this place are amongst the most dedicated and amazing people I have ever met. I have learnt so much from them. Their personalities are all so different yet the one thing they all have in common is their love for this place and the passion they show for their work. They really are able to “be the change they want to see in the world.”
When I come to town I usually stay at one of their places. I know when I come I have 3 definite places that I can go stay without feeling like I am imposing on them. Through this I am also in complete contact with those who run this institution. It is difficult to capture the strength of these personalities but I will at least attempt to do so.
One of the volunteers here in Kibaha is an ex-banker who takes care of the accounts. He tries to make sure the fees are paid on time and Wipahs does not go into debt. He is 75 years old (but probably fitter than me). He has the option of living the good life in Dar es Salaam with an air conditioner, big flat screen and a nicely furnished place yet he chooses to live in Kibaha where his place is hardly even furnished, it’s really in the middle of nowhere and hardly any facilities .He is the first one at work at 7 am and the last to leave at 5pm. He even wants to work till later but says there are too many mosquitoes. !) He is a man who is used to doing things in a particular manner, he wears a tie to work, freshly ironed clothes and does things in a very proper manner. Because of the way he carries himself and the things he is used to it would be difficult to say that Kibaha is a place for a man of such caliber yet he has moved here and is working with full vigor and a hearty laugh.When people ask him what he’s doing in Kibaha, he tells them he is being paid 10 000 dollars a month (he’s a volunteer). They ask him what he gets there and he says as he counts on his fingers,” I get oxygen, no pollution, not too much heat and a nice breeze in the evenings.” His jolly nature is what keeps me going sometimes and he has become a lot like a grandfather to me and to the other volunteers. (He knows my favorite foods and when we go to other people’s houses and I’m offered them and I take modestly, he says out loud “ Take it Saara, it’s free bana!”
Another founder of Wipahs is one of my favorite ladies. She is an elderly lady but also probably fitter than any 20 year old I know. She is upfront and is not afraid to speak her mind. If she thinks you’re being lazy, she’ll tell you; if she thinks you’re slow at something, she’ll take over. It’s all about tough love with her J. She puts me to shame sometimes. If she tells you to eat – you eat. If she tells you to go with her – you go with her. And it’s not fear that drives you but the amount of respect you have for her. Every month she helps to organize an Eye Camp where volunteers travel to different parts of Tanzania to deliver free eye care. The accommodation is always very simple and the means of transportation are not always smooth yet she’s always there. She even leaves a couple of days earlier than everyone else to clean the place up. Every year she goes for the Holy Pilgrimage of Hajj as a volunteer. Hajj is known to be quite strenuous, there are a lot of people and there’s a huge rush but she’s there every year. In the month of Ramadan, she is among three woman who travel to different parts of the country to deliver food to people who do not have food to break their fasts with. Everyday for 30 days they are on a bus delivering food to different people. Even thought Ramadhaan is known to be a family month where families sit together and break their fast; these three women are delivering food to people who range from the disabled, to the orphans to the needy and do not spend one evening at home to break their fast with their families. It’s pure sacrifice yet never would they see it as a sacrifice, they see it as their duty.
The main founder of this place is a soft-spoken man who has the ability to inspire me beyond measure. I usually get to catch him at either breakfast or dinner when I am in town. He usually tells me stories of Kibaha or tells me of his ideas for Kibaha and I am always in complete awe of the creativity of his vision. His vision of Kibaha really never ceases to stop growing and continues to grow day by day. Not only that, it seems like everyday he’s on a different adventure whether traveling to Morogoro to look for seeds to grow in Kibaha or in a car on the way to Dodoma for an economic development seminar for women. Not only do they go 4 hours away from town, but they go further into the interior into the villages and are back sometimes on the same day or the next day because there is so much work to be done in Dar es Salaam. And even though he faces such tremendous pressure he always has a smile on his face and has time to sit and talk to you and always welcomes your feedback.
His wife is just as tremendous as he is. She was the first one I met out of these four and welcomed me into her house on the first night in Tanzania. She made me feel right at home from the first day and made sure I was ok (I had a terrible cough when I arrived and she brought me some raw tumeric to chew on for my cough). As I left the next morning, I thanked her for having me over and she said , “ No, I should thank you.” Personally, I’ve never had this response before and I asked why and she replied by saying “ Because you have brought Barakat to our house.” Barakat is blessing and it is said that when one has visitors over it brings blessings to the house. I had no response and just hugged her. After about 2 and half months of knowing her I have come to learn that she never sits down, she is always on the move. A couple of weeks there was a Hajj program-bidding farewell to those going on the Holy Pilgrimage. I decided to stick with her because I knew if I wanted to work she was the person to stick with. The event was happening in the backyard of another lady and big tents had been pitched up. Suddenly it started to pour. Food was about to be served and the kitchen was in front of the house. I thought that maybe we would wait for the rain to stop but this lady went back and forth from the kitchen to the guests giving them food like there was no rain and since I was right next to her and at least 30 years younger then her there was no way I was going to sit this one out. It was pouring, trees were swaying, and the tents were flapping yet we were back and forth like there was absolutely nothing. We were completely drenched but she did not even flinch, it was like there was no rain at all. The thought of getting sick crossed my mind but there was no excuse for me to sit out when she was out and about (then again she’s probably much stronger than I am) Soon we had all created a chain from the kitchen to the backyard and we all just passed the pot from hand to hand under the open skies.
Another instance where she showed her unselfishness was a couple of weeks ago in Kibaha. There were visitors who were coming to the orphanage and so it had been arranged that everyone would eat there. As me and others got there we looked for her so we could eat with her too but we couldn’t find her and when we did find her we saw her outside at the back of the orphanage bent over the tap washing dishes with the matrons. Even though she is the founder’s wife there is no element of pride, just pure humbleness.
The people here are really one of a kind and it is a blessing to be able to work with them. I wish I could say I have done justice to their personalities but there is no way I have even come close. If a little part of them rubs off on me or if I could even become half the person these people are then I would consider myself to be very lucky.