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Stepping Back and Watching the Amani Children’s Home Grow

By Kate Thompson, Safina Center Kalpana Chawla Launchpad Fellow

Children at the Amani Children’s Home in Tanzania. Photo courtesy: Kate Thompson

In the end, it’s worth it. It but takes a long time to get to the end, which is very rarely the end and in actuality is more often or not the middle. It takes a while – and a lot of collaborative effort – to get to the middle.

I stayed at Amani for three months. In total this year I’ve been there a little over four months, for a lump sum of six months in the field in 2017. And it’s never enough. The library unfurled slowly and beautifully. What in August was a dusty, empty room is now a study space studded with laptops, lined with book-laden shelves, and bedecked with drawings of jem-colored Superb Sterlings, African Sunbirds, and Fischer’s Lovebirds. The walls team with wildlife and inspirational quotes, among them the mandate to Be a Voice for Nature!

Library at the Amani Children’s Home. Photo courtesy: Kate Thompson

This fall the library was home to as many wildlife lessons as we could cram into our hectic center schedule. We collaborated with the Wild Nature Institute and the School for Field Studies to teach lessons on megafaunal adaptions, the water cycle, bird and plant interactions, and the children’s favorite – Juma the giraffe. Wildlife lessons are on a hiatus at the moment, although the kids now have weekly and carefully supervised library time in their schedules. We’re still working on explaining the difference between reading books and coloring books to the little ones, but we’ll get there. And of course, our shelves still have a lot of space empty. It’s both an accomplish and a challenge. It’s only the middle, after all.

The Wild Nature Institute connected us with enthusiastic Tanzanian volunteers who plan to help me continue Wildlife Club remotely. Recent graduates from wildlife management programs, they’ll work with me to design and carry out lesson plans, supervise trips to national parks, and when possible conduct community outreach. I cannot fully convey my relief at the new collaboration, and in knowing this foundational round of work will continue and hopefully expand.

Photo courtesy: Kate Thompson

Work in Nyasi where we live is like the rainy season. I’ve lived on and off in Tanzania for six years now, but every November I still expect the seasons to change in a torrent of rain and wind. I am an impatient person. I expect the dust to erupt into amber colored flowers and emerald grass. Instead it begins with sputtering sheets gray rain. For a while all you get is thick, cloying mud. Every time I wait for a lightning-strike moment of change that never comes. Rather it creeps, it germinates, it leafs out slowly on minuscule branches that tremble in the heat. Progress comes slowly. Projects grow slowly. I am learning the pace of things.

Photo courtesy: Kate Thompson

Photo courtesy: Kate Thompson

As I packed up my overstuffed suitcases, and roll down towards the main road for the last time this year I looked over the beige hills and notice for the first time a thin film of green budding up where only sand was before. I’ve been so stressed and office-bound that the new growth has taken root without me even noticing. It makes me anxious and excited at all once. My last morning and I finally get to see my favorite moment in the Tanzanian calendar.

It makes sense though. I see just enough growth to sense it will continue. Beyond that I must step back and trust that the seeds will keep growing once I’m gone. It is terrifying and hopeful, small and green and sure.

Photo courtesy: Kate Thompson

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