The first person I met stepping onto the property of my home in Tanzania was the beloved, Kaka, or brother, as they say, in Kiswahili. His real name is Nassary, but it was only natural for us to call him brother seeing as he is the kindest, friendliest and most loving man I have ever met in my entire life. Even as I think of him now, I am filled with comfort, joy and hope. Kaka was the security guard at the home and stayed up every night ensuring the volunteers' safety in the area (while also cracking jokes, handing out hugs that'll knock the air out of you, and giving free lessons in Kiswahili).
Kaka cared for each volunteer so personally; so specifically; and genuinely sought to make each person understand their importance and worth in this world -- as if they were a part of his own family -- so it was nothing other than pure joy for me to learn more about he and his.
"Do you have children, Kaka?" I asked him one night. "Yes," he replied. "FOUR! You must come see them, and my wife! Come to our home Breeteen!" Yes, Briteen... for some reason the locals had a hard time saying Britni. No matter. For all the love he showed me, he can call me whatever he wants.
Kaka cared for me on several trying occasions when very real and serious challenges ensued ... I could not have felt more grateful for his love, presence and protection.
And so I went to his home the day before I left Tanzania. As he gives an open invite to every volunteer, I had heard stories about the limited size of his home, but did not fully understand it until I went myself. Kaka and I met by the school where I was teaching and he led me hand in hand through the winding slums to his home. "Karibu!" -- "Welcome!" he said with open arms.
I entered into a dark, single room. A single room with a mattress propped up against another, one table, one chair and a couch. The furniture was so pushed together, I could not make my way around to sit down. My legs hardly fit. "Do you all live here?" I asked Kaka. "Yes, Briteen." he replied.
All six family members living in one room. He and his wife sleep on one mattress with one of the children, and the other three children together on the other mattress. Cut up sheets dangled from the ceiling attempting to segregate the space. "Have some rice." Kaka said. His youngest sat on my lap and from the way they guzzled down their food, I could see this rice was an unusual treat for my purposes.
"Your home is lovely," I told Kaka. And I meant it. The amount of love and peace amongst those six in that one room was more beautiful to me than anything I'd seen before, although I could see it was a true struggle for them.
As Kaka gave me their one soda, I handed the oldest boy money and asked him to go get soda for the rest. "You know, Briteen," Kaka began, "...thank you so much for coming. You see my family now and how we live. You can help us if you want, but you do not have to. There is no pressure. We invite you because we are thankful you come to Tanzania."
My heart ached in a way I simply cannot explain. I understood why God placed me there and what a blessing it was to see this man offer so much love and seek nothing in return. Kaka has invited volunteer after volunteer after volunteer into his home and never expected anything from them. Rather, he wanted them to feel loved, as simple as that, to understand true friendship and warmth; a genuine desire to enjoy and appreciate one another.
And as we finished our bowls of rice, one child leaving a leftover for the next, I asked to take their photo. "Kaka, how can I help you?" I asked.
"We need land." he explained. If they could purchase a piece of land, then he could begin to build a home for them. "Alright, Kaka, we will help. But, please be patient," I said. "Let me go home and find others to help, too. Okay?"
And the others...? Yes, they did help ;)
After finding wonderful sponsors to feed the school children, purchasing Kaka's land was a huge goal that's been in the works for months. While purchasing the land there is certainly cheaper than purchasing land in the U.S., it was no small price for just a few to take on... But, we did it! With the help of some truly open-minded, amazing contributors, we purchased the land for this family of SIX to build the home they much need and deserve! We have changed their lives forever. Because of you, these children can grow in a more comfortable, sustainable, cleaner and healthier environment. Thank you:
Fiore Pennacchio Jr.
Paula Stewart Chess
Binaifer and Navroz Dabu
In the photo above, Kaka holds a cardboard home in his hands. The carpenter who made the desks for the classroom gave me that home as a gift for giving him business. Because I could not check it on the plane, I saw fit to give it to Kaka. He hopes to build the home after that model.
"My family and me, we pray every day for your friends and family, and for your job," he said with tears as we confirmed he had received the money. My job, I think to myself, could easily be seen as making little here in the U.S. and yet it is everything to this man and his family. How silly we sometimes are to not appreciate every single thing we have. Our jobs, our families, our lives are a blessing. Kaka found a piece of land he'd wanted months ago and waited patiently til we got enough donations together. "Now that you have your land, how will you begin building your home, Kaka?"
"One room at a time," he said. "I will start with one. And then I will wait until I can build another. And then I will build another and we will have a strong home! We will work together," he said with excitement.
;) Yeah... we'll start with one. That's how I felt with you contributors as it stretched from family to friends to strangers I've never met before. THAT is what this is all about. Thank you all for inspiring me to no end. You are helping to prove first-hand that we can make a difference because we are.
A very, very special thank you to my best friend, Gino Pennacchio, for being my partner on this project. Aside from contributing greatly himself, Gino was responsible for raising more than half the funds for this land. I could not have done this without you, G. Thank you for your endless support, for always being first to offer help, for reminding me every day how much this work means, for listening, for teaching me the value of friendship and helping me to conquer what could sometimes seem impossible. ;) You are a true blessing in the world. You've supported this for years, taken part in it, challenged me, inspired me, and I'm thankful for you every single day. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for changing my life and theirs.
Thank you all for being here! One room at a time. One home at a time. Here we go. We've only just begun.
More to come...
Friday, June 11, 2010
It's 1 AM as I'm writing this and I just might be insane, but I don't think so. Was getting my things together ready to head to bed while on the phone tonight and I noticed a man on the street. Homeless, sleeping on the sidewalk across from my building. I observed him for a moment. Hidden beneath his coat, a black trash bag sitting next to him. It's not completely rare to see homeless in the city of Chicago, but I just felt drawn to get my butt out of the apartment and over there to give him something. My full size bed is directly parallel to the concrete he sleeps on. I noticed people turn their head at him while walking and just pass on. Has that passerby been me before? Yup. But... in my own words from my own last posting, when's enough enough? If we feel an inclination for aid, why hold ourselves back? Move.
I grabbed some food in my cupboards, bagged 'em up, took a couple bills and headed out to him. He was surely passed out in a deep sleep. Black bags probably holding liquor bottles. Ok. I left the food next to his bag and the money in a cup next to his head. His head -- soft black curls rested on the filthy concrete. Next option. Go back inside or learn about where he might be able to sleep at night. I'm tired, but whatever. Walk over to the YMCA around the corner. Probably a drag for some people to live by... for me it's an honor on this night. Go in to the building where "so many drunks and drug dealers live".... well, we've more to learn and less to judge. I'm almost certain it's regular housing residents rent annually... yes, it is, the kind woman informs me. "Can you give me info. on shelters please?" She can't, but the residents do. Walk outside where a few of them are smoking. They're kind. They help. "There's a shelter on Roosevelt. CCIL. Give it a shot."
Walk home. Google. CCIL. call. "How would it work to bring someone in?" Well... they can't come in one night, especially this late. They must go to 10 S. Kedzie, Apartment and Unit Services, ask for a Referral Letter for CCIL. Questions will be asked. Answers will be given. Truths will be told and probably lies as well. If on parole or probation, they are likely to be taken in right away. Then, they can hopefully have a room that following night. If one has a larger drug/alcohol problem, they may be more likely to be taken in because they need more help. Surprising? Interesting. Good. I'm glad to have learned. "You with a Church?" Nope. "Just doing this?" Yup. CCIL - 2750 W. Roosevelt Rd. -- Roosevelt and California. Go with a referral letter.
I'm informed that CCIL has a school, classes, they can find them employment, they can live there, save money while working, maybe qualify for section 8 housing.
They have to want to help themselves? Yes. We can also lend a hand of guidance and kindness as well? Yes. It's possible that one night of help could remain as only one night of help? Yes. Still worth it? Yes.
Homeless shelters where they can be taken in right away? They must arrive before 7:00 PM and must most likely leave at 5:00 AM.
Could not give him a room tonight. Sorry, God. And thank you, God, for allowing me to learn more.
Let's learn more. Thanks for being here. CCIL: http://www.ccilworks.org/
Forgive my lack of eloquence - 1 AM. We've much to learn and more to give. More on Africa soon. God bless and thank you!
Find a shelter here: Shelters in Chicago
Posted by Britni Tozzi at 12:54 AM