I am Leigh McGruder and I'm the photography intern at The Houndstooth Press. I have been to Africa four times. The first time I went with my family to go on safari to see animals. We were trying to kill a couple hours one day before our flight when my mom saw a sign on the side of the road that read "Imani Orphanage." She asked if we could visit them and let me take pictures of the children. We were welcomed happily by seven orphaned girls of Imani Orphanage, Imani means Faith in Swahilli. The leader of the orphanage is a pastor and his wife, John and Sarah. We fell in love with them and the children that day. Little did I know that the next three summers I would be blessed enough to go back.
We keep in touch with John throughout the year via email and send them funds when they specifically need them to meet a child's need. During Christmas we pack up shoeboxes full of tiny gifts and candies and ship them so the kids can have something to open on Christmas day. Before we travel there in the summer, we pack up childrens clothes, shoes, toys, crafts, and lots of candy and ship them to the orphanage for us to entertain the children with while we are there. We try to make it the most fun, happy time for them while we are there.
Here are some of the children I have gotten to know.
This is Sedekiah. I probably shouldnt have a favorite, but he is my favorite. Since the day I met him on the second trip, he and I have had this sweet connection. He was the youngest kid and he was shy when I immediately picked him up when I realized he didnt want to sing welcome songs for us. I had him on my hip probably 75% of the first trip because I just couldnt put him down. The second year John told Sedi that his momma had come back for him, referring to me. This past year he warmed up to me alot more. He would even get jealous if he saw me holding other kids. Hes a special one with a big sensitive heart. Hes my boy.
This is Neema. Neema means grace in Swahilli and that is what she is. She has always been the oldest child every year I have been to Imani. She has always been behind the scenes helping the older women cook and clean and look after the younger children. She serves without question and has a precious attitude as she goes about doing the chores that come with running an orphanage in Africa. Neema is a beautiful, timid, humble servant making the most of the lifes shes been given.
This is Deborah. Her heart is kind and patient. She listens and is very smart. She is much more mature than the other children her age. She watches over the youngest to make sure they are happy. She picks them up when they are hurt or just need to be loved on. She told me she wants to be a nurse when she grows up.
The moments Ive gotten to have while Ive been in Africa are amazing and I will never forget them. The experience of getting to spend time in a third world country is more than something I can put into words. It puts your whole life into perspective. Not only did these children give me an unconditional love that I can cherish, but they inspire me to be better, and to make something of my life. Despite their circumstances, their joy is exploding. They strive for more. They work so hard in school so they can make good grades and continue their education if the funds are there. They do not know how much they have impacted me. I think about them everyday.
Im studying Communication and African American Studies in college. I want to know more about non profit organizations and Africa's economy and history. Im also going to learn Swahilli so I can communicate with them. The more I know about the country of Tanzania the more I will be able help, because they mean everything to me.