Called to Serve… the Least of These
Published on 07/01/2023 |
How did a surfer girl from Florida wind up 8,000 miles from home in a local market bargaining for sinks in Swahili, hiring plumbers, trying to balance a box of ceramic blue tiles on her head like the locals, and designing a dental hygiene room?
I’ve been interested in global missions since I was a child, but my journey truly started about six years ago when I stepped off a plane by myself into the dense green mountains of Arusha, Tanzania. I was hit by a wave of humid air and jolted out of my Western comfort zone. Here I would discover my life’s purpose and be motivated to launch my own nonprofit to benefit children in Tanzania.
During that first trip to Tanzania in 2017, I volunteered independently at an orphanage and nursery school for three months. While there I developed curricula and taught classes, instituted health policies, installed sinks for hand washing, and oversaw the construction of a dental hygiene room (Happy Teeth Center) where nursery school children can learn how to properly brush their teeth. Daily I would go to the nursery school armed with self-made lesson plans and crafting supplies, with eyes open for areas needing change.
In high school I had worked as a Little Lamb director for our church’s Adventurer club. This experience came in handy for working with these young children. However, in a low resource setting I had to be even more inventive. For example, I made paintbrushes from scratch by cutting tree branches with a machete, scraping the bark off, and attaching dish sponges with a hot glue gun! As I got more attuned to the local area, I found a store selling small paint brushes so I will not be repeating that challenge—but the experience of making them from scratch taught me grit and ingenuity!
Tackling hygiene issues led to further innovations. I got each child their own labeled water bottle to be filled with boiled water every morning instead of the children sharing cups. Then I purchased mattresses and bedding so that nap time was not on the cement floor and oversaw the construction of a chicken coop to provide the nursery school with both food and a means of building capital. The nursery school has an aim of providing child care to needy families and this was a mission I could support.
Creating tangible change in a short time lit a fire in me, and I returned to Tanzania for yearly projects. In 2019 I launched my 501(c)(3) nonprofit “From Hearts 2 Hands Inc” which works to “transform the goodwill of our hearts into action for children in need in Tanzania.”
I spearheaded projects such as the construction of a playground, funding pediatric medical care including cleft palate surgery, and purchasing and refurbishing a bus for the nursery school to provide safe transport instead of packing 15 kids in a five-seater car.
Although the 2020-2022 COVID pandemic could have stalled the forward momentum of the nonprofit, through divine providence From Hearts 2 Hands had launched an education sponsorship initiative called the “Mind Investor Program” the year before. Eight students were transferred from extremely overcrowded government schools (with ratios of one teacher to 80+ children) to private schools with smaller classroom ratios; two others were sent to vocational school or college. This project was able to continue remotely. In addition, two new projects were created and completed remotely. In 2021 the Tanga Wheelchair Initiative provided 10 paralyzed children at an orphanage for the disabled with new wheelchairs. Then From Hearts 2 Hands undertook the largest project to date—the Kwamkono Handicap Accessible Bathroom Project—which was completed in 2022. Ten handicap accessible bathrooms and showers were constructed at the same orphanage!
It has been exhilarating to witness the growth of From Hearts 2 Hands over time. During the first two summers I went to Tanzania I raised money through word of mouth, the online fundraiser platform GoFundMe, and employer donation match programs. As I continued to share pictures of the work that was being completed and the children that were being helped, interest grew. I knew that founding From Hearts 2 Hands as an official nonprofit entity would allow for more growth and translate into more improvements for children in need. This endeavor has been able to grow by speaking at many churches, utilizing social media to spread awareness of needs and projects, and partnering with different organizations. The Loma Linda University (LLU) School of Dentistry has supplied toothbrushes and toothpaste to restock the Happy Teeth Center so that it can continue promoting good dental hygiene to young children. The LLU School of Medicine class of 2022 sponsored a child’s education for a year, while the class of 2023 hosted a fundraiser providing much needed medical equipment for a pediatric ward in Tanzania.
As I write I am currently traveling across Africa for ten weeks serving at hospitals in Liberia, Chad, and Tanzania as a part of my medical school electives. As a fourth-year medical student at LLU School of Medicine, my future goal is to be a pediatrician in an underserved country where service will help eliminate inequities and provide better baseline health standards for those considered the lowest in their society—particularly children. I’m excited to combine my clinical knowledge with the nonprofit’s goals of providing critical resources to communities and children.
Though some express surprise that I was able to start and run a nonprofit during my studies, that’s exactly what kept me grounded and renewed my soul during the strenuous rigors of medical school. Buying cows 8,000 miles away via text and purchasing plumbing fixtures via FaceTime during a break between my classes did make for a unique medical school journey. But I wouldn’t have had it any other way. How rewarding it was hearing the squeals of unbridled glee as children used the playground for the first time.
It’s beautiful to know that while their lives may have hardships, this playground provides them moments of joy. Here they can be the carefree children they deserve to be.
Seeing children happily splashing and washing their hands in a sink before mealtimes, I’m acutely aware of the fact that the opportunity to perform this simple hygiene practice offers them protection from parasites and bacterial infections. This is deeply fulfilling. To see the pure gratitude and shock on a family’s face when you say that their child’s education will be sponsored—nothing feels better than that.
Upcoming projects now include a sister project in Chad that supplies kid’s clothing and postpartum female supplies. In Tanzania the current initiative is to supply the orphanage for the disabled with reusable sanitary products. Providing these products and a sewing machine for students to make more on their own will allow for both an ongoing solution and a self-sustaining skillset to be passed on to these girls in need. My vision for the future is for From Hearts 2 Hands to expand while maintaining our core values of transforming children’s lives and their community. It can be the bridge between those who have a need in developing countries and those from developed countries who want to help meet this need. Recognizing that one of the largest refugee camps in Africa is in Tanzania, there are endless opportunities for creating change there that can be explored. Perhaps in the future the mission will spread to other countries.
It has been said that when you find that which breaks your heart, then you will find your passion. For me, witnessing children suffering doesn’t just tug at my heartstrings but pulls on my very being. This is why I founded From Hearts 2 Hands Inc. The question that guides my life is, “What is the wrong I was born to right?
I challenge you to ask that question, too. Then let your heart call you to action following the example of Isaiah, who said, “Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?’ And I said, ‘Here I am. Send me!’” (Isaiah 6:8).
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