Sunday, July 31, 2016

Rhotia Valley Lodge and my friend Mary

One of the last lodges we stayed at during our trip was called Rhotia Lodge. It was located on the outskirts of the Ngorongoro Crater, which is where we went on safari the next day. There were many reasons why it was my favorite lodge of the trip. First of all, it was absolutely beautiful. The view from the lodge was stunning. Second, and most important, not too far from the lodge was Rhotia Valley Children's Home. This is a home for children in the area who are either orphaned, or only have one parent who is not able to care for them during the day.

Since part of the proceeds made by the lodge go directly to supporting the Children's Home, the lodge offers small tours of it to the guests. However, the tours are only given once a day at the same time, and are only offered to guests, not to the general public. At first, I thought this was strange. I was a little disappointed, because at the time I was thinking of how great it would be to some day come back to Tanzania and potentially volunteer there. After speaking to my professor on this, she brought it to my attention that it was to prevent the Children's Home from becoming a tourist attraction. While it was appropriate in our situation, because it was a part of the lodge we were staying at and we weren't intruding on anything, too often orphanages seem to be put on a bucket list of places to visit while in Africa.

During the tour, we were shown the living quarters, the classroom, and the garden that the children worked on (fun fact - a lot of the meals at the lodge came from food in the garden!). We didn't get a chance to interact with the kids, though, because by the time the tour was done they were eating dinner. On the way back to the lodge, I was able to ask if there were any children with disabilities. I learned that there was one girl. I asked if I could come back and potentially meet with her, and with the help of my professor, I was able to go back the next day.

Mary came to the Children's Home about 5 years ago. She was found on the side of the road by one of the workers at the Home. She had great hypertonicity in her hands, which is why they believe her family abandoned her. In a society where farm work is so essential to survive, and Mary unable to fully use her hands, her family viewed her as nothing else but an extra mouth to feed. Mary also seems to have a developmental delay, which can't be determined if she was born with it, or it occurred due to malnutrition from her neglect.

Since coming to the lodge, Mary has received endless love and support. She's 12 years old, but sleeps in the quarters for the younger children because she likes to play with them best. I had the opportunity to walk around with her for a bit after initially meeting her and asking questions, and everyone we came across smiled and said hi to her. The other students treat her the same as they do any of the other students, which I think is especially great. Even though she doesn't receive any formal schooling, she still sits in on lessons with her peers, because they feel it gives her great social skills.

I asked if there were any homes or schools in the area specific for children with disabilities. They did say that there was one opening in Dar Salaam, and they were doing some research into it. However, they are afraid that if she does, she will be just a number amongst the other students, and not have the same loving environment she has at the children's home. They are still going to look into it, though, and are ultimately going to do what is best for Mary.

Here are some pictures from the Children's Home, along with a picture of me and Mary! (We had permission to take pictures)


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