To round out our series of reflections on mission, here is returned missioner Sharon Wahl (Class XXIV) reflecting on her experience as a Franciscan lay missioner in Musoma, Tanzania.
This week reinforced the need for me to keep on moving, to keep willing myself forward. Working in a temporary shelter hurts.
Most of the boys here are ages 14-19, but their reading and math abilities are at a 1st or 2nd grade level. For appearances sake, in school children are put in the classroom appropriate to their age level. There are about 90 kids in a class, and most cannot add or subtract, and many cannot read well. Imagine them trying to do complex 6th grade math problems, when they can’t even get past the first step; they suffer, and it depletes their confidence even further. They challenge teachers, aren’t obedient and use street language to communicate, which further isolates them. I feel for the government school teachers here, trying to teach so many kids with inadequate resources.
In my class I only have 15 students, meaning I’ve been able to have three different lessons every period. These kids celebrate every correct answer with provocative dances. They are hilarious and witty. They still have hope, though they are not quick to trust, and tend to assume that promises won’t be kept. This is their armor; if you lower expectations, you won’t be hurt as much.
They are my ‘dusty foot philosophers’ (from K’Naan’s album). They don’t have shoes, but they have the wisdom of those who have seen many places.
Recently I received news that five of the kids making progress are leaving for permanent homes in Mwanza, a larger city three hours west of Musoma. As a temporary shelter, our task is the initial step—to get them off the street and clean from any substances they were abusing, to build their self esteem, to reestablish the patterns of schoolwork and community living, and then to place them with a family or in a permanent center. My co-workers have tried the best they can to ensure that the children are going to loving, stable homes, but having seen the shortfalls of social services even in the
I also wonder if the kids are psychologically past the point of having a foundation of security and love as human beings. Some are approaching the age to be married and start families. I wonder about their ability to be good husbands and fathers if they do not themselves have the core values or solid example of a father of their own. However, I see the potential in some of them, and if their next home is stable and loving, they are on their way. It is so hard to let them go, but we need to trust that our work is done for now, and that someone else will continue it.
The cycle of street life will continue. The departure of these children will create space for new kids, and there are many on the streets of Musoma. Being a missioner means empathizing with people, identifying the small things that will make a difference, and doing what you can to enable them to meet their needs. Being a missioner means recognizing the presence of God in every human being. Being a missioner means living with hope and faith when constantly faced with our vulnerability and weakness.