In this post I wanted to talk about mine and Debbie’s trip to Zambia, because as well as our trip there being one of the most memorable in both of our lives it has a special place in our heart for another reason than that because they are, as many of you know the first receivers of our tambourine adventures!! Our old school does an annual volunteer trip, and this year we sent tambourines out on the same trip we’d been on the year before. Talking to the group after they got back, really got me thinking and reflecting on our own experience with Donata and her school for the disabled. I wanted to share our experience….but also the message that really stuck with us that these kids had been labeled as ‘disabled’ and in their country it meant they were robbed of, in some cases a family and normal upbringing. However whereas as I thought I would spend the day feeling sorry for them I spent the day laughing as they joked around and played games, marveling at how they didn’t even seem aware on the obstacles life has placed upon them.
During our trip in Zambia we quite frequently found ourselves in situations where the saying “thrown in at the deep end” seemed quite apt. As a child I had always laughed at this phrase….being a confident swimmer I saw no fear in the deep end. But when the situation was being paired and entrusted with a child you had to yet met, for the day, who not only had a language barrier but also some unknown disability, now that….really was a deep end to all of us in the group, an incredibly daunting day lay ahead of us! Yet what followed on from this trepidation was one of the most memorable days of my life.
Donata school for the disabled is in Zambia, Africa . Our trip to Zambia was for 3 weeks in 2012 a team of 12 of us and our 2 leaders. The day I refer to was when Donata School for the disabled was visiting and we were to lead the kids in a day of activities.
“The smile in her eyes so evident, even if her face was scrunched up in anxiety, almost as if to echo the sense of trepidation I myself was feeling in that moment.”
I was paired with Grace Maaba, some of us had deaf kids others had kids with unknown disability we were paired and left to almost figure it out! Grace once she relaxed around me (and once I relaxed also!) was a gorgeous girl, who laughed nearly all day. Grace was facially disfigured, however in the UK if you had the same issue you would not for any reason be put in a disabled school. I asked Donata later in the day what was wrong with Grace she said she was given up because of what she looked like, because no man would ever marry her it was essential she get a good education so she can actually get a job and provide for herself. This broke my heart, but out there….this is evidently normal and accepted behavior.
We all headed down to the lake for raft building and team challenges, no mean feat when half your crew is deaf! Me and Debbie and two others and ‘our kids’ were on one raft…..which we promptly sank on its maiden voyage. However once we got out on the gorgeous lake we had a blast. The next hours consisted of playing catch with a ball between three rafts, racing, and swapping team members which resulted in the loss of one of my beloved sandals. We got out very soggy…..and our jaws aching from laughing and smiling so much, the kids loved it, as did we.
We then had an afternoon of team bonding and team games with our kids. Later on they taught us some American sign language that we used throughout the afternoon as we just played with them kids, the rope swing and volley ball tournaments were a big hit and a simple bottle of bubbles resulted in great peals of laughter and huge grins as they chased the bubbles desperate to pop them.
But amongst the day of fun there was a something more powerful stirring in all of us, these kids were amazing, yet they had for the most part been abandoned by the families, unwanted for their disability. Yet they didn’t care what obstacles they faced they didn’t even act like they knew there were any. Later that evening after dinner, we all sang around the bonfire till we’d exhausted our song list!! As the fire blazed I looked around the circle at my closest friends and these beautiful kids, everyone mouths wide open singing at the top of the lungs and dancing as well, the deaf kids going for it even more than us dancing to a rhythm of their own. That memory is lodged in my brain, but what came next was even more poignant. The kids had written a rap which they signed in ASL (American sign language) and said “disability is no inability, oh no disability is no inability”. Words that lodged themselves firmly within me and Debbie’s hearts, and something we believe reigns true.
The kids we met that day changed something in all of us, the whole group I know will never forget the experience.
I spoke of the kids acting unaware to the obstacles they faced, that’s partly because they are in an environment where they’re are cared for and they’re talents nurtured and encouraged. Donata has really given them a chance to live the amazing lives they are all capable of. I think more than that they opened my eyes up to the obstacles and labels I place upon myself, may they be insecurities that hold me back from opportunities because I think I’m not good enough, or the comparisons I make of myself that bar me from really growing in myself. These kids showed me that though the world has and will continue to put obstacles and labels on them they shrug these off with beaming grins, living the life they’ve been given with an abundance of joy that we were lucky to share for that day. I think if we all look at ourselves honestly, then we can all see where we label ourselves….. “too young to make a difference” “to old to try that” “too shy to go for that opportunity”. I said that the kids seemed unaware to the obstacles they faced, but actually I’ve realized they are aware….they know they are deaf, or blind, or can’t run around and play like the others, or learn as easily, but they refuse to let those define them or restrict them. Being deaf didn’t mean we couldn’t make rafts or race, or even play duck duck goose! It didn’t stop them doing anything all day…..because they didn’t let it. So who are we to let labels and obstacles stop us living our lives to the highest potential, we can face our own labels and then shrug them off and refuse to let them define us if we choose to.
I will always remember the smile in her eyes, that made me want to radiate that same confidence that despite the labels others put on me and the ones I put on myself, I can smile no matter the situation not just a fake smile to keep up pretenses but a smile like Grace’s.
I also wanted to include a link to Nikki Hulks blog post about Donata. Nikki was one half of the amazing leadership team (the other half actually being her real life other half husband and our tutor Ben Hulks….still Mr Hulks to all of us though!) Both Nikki and Ben greatly influenced both me and Debbie with their support, encouragement and inspirational examples. Her post explains a lot more about Donata herself and her school for the disabled in Zambia.