Before the Trek

God moves in mysterious ways. Some might call it serendipity or perhaps coincidence. Others might go so far as to call it divine intervention. I’ll just leave it at the realm of heavenly mystery.

Noah with teammates from Amani. Phil LaBelle, 2017.

Upon our arrival at Kilimanjaro International Airport (JRO, for those who want to know), Noah and I dealt with customs, collected our bags and headed out into the night. Our tour company informed us we’d be met by a driver holding up a sign with their logo and our name. I quickly found him and he came to help us with our bags.

After “Jambo” and introductions we were told there’d be a few more people joining us who also were on our flight from Amsterdam. Within a couple of minutes a man named Frank came and I figured he would be trekking with us. I learned however that our tour company—Tusker—was doing two simultaneous hikes on the same route. Frank’s team—all of them from Toronto—had raised money for a children’s home and school in the local town of Moshi as part of their trek. Frank and the four others with him would be visiting the children’s home after orientation in the morning and then would dedicate their hike to the kids. Soon the people we had been waiting for arrived, and we made the fifty minute drive to our hotel in Moshi.

In the morning we had orientation and a gear check and that would be followed by a trip to the market and exploring the area. I asked Frank if he’d mind if Noah and I joined them on their tour of the home. He thought it’d be a great idea, and so I spoke with our tour operator and our guides. Arrangements were made and then we mentioned it to the rest of our team—five others would be hiking with me and Noah—and all of them wanted to go too. So our entire group joined up with Frank and his group at the Amani Children’s Home.

Amani works with homeless kids in Moshi and other local towns. The kids—many of them boys—run away from home for a variety of issues: abuse, lack of love, being forced to work, or thinking they could make a better go on their own. They’re young, many between the ages of ten and thirteen. The director and social workers head out into the local market area to build relationships with the kids and invite them to a better life. While on the streets a large portion of the kids become addicted to sniffing glue; it’s easily accessible and cheaper than food and it dulls their huger pangs.

It didn’t take long for me and others to realize that Noah fit the age demographic. I couldn’t imagine him running away from home to try and make it alone. I couldn’t fathom what these kids might be going through to decide to leave home. I watched Noah as he took it all in.

As we watched a video of the program for donors, I made another connection. I have newer parishioners who mentioned the home because their daughter helped found it and ran it for a number of years. They had mentioned that I go see it, but I figured I wouldn’t have the time given the logistics. And yet here I was watching a informational video about Amani with their daughter—the former director— in it working with the children.

I could tell you much more about that day, the simple meal we shared with students, the classrooms and bunk rooms, the program they’re establishing for older students who “age out,” but I want to share just two important aspects. First, Amani’s team works to reconnect kids with their families. Rather than thinking all hope is lost and taking children in for the rest of their school years, Amani’s social workers reach out to immediate and extended family members to work with them on what happened. They offer training and grants, help get the kids into their local schools and support them for a significant time going forward to help these children succeed.

Second, Amani practices unconditional love. When kids come in—and they can house up to 85 of them—they get treated with love and respect immediately. Even if they leave Amani—that flight instinct has become quite pronounced—they will be welcomed back. The children are told that there’s nothing they can do to ever make the staff stop loving and supporting them. With that care and three nutritious meals a day and schooling and a chance to be kids again, they flourish. When we met them to play some games that afternoon you would never guess their past given the smiles on their faces.

At the end of our time we got to play soccer with the kids. This was the moment Noah had been waiting for. They quickly pulled him onto their team while we adults were informed that we would be their opponents. We got a star from the Amani kids to help us —and later two more would join us because we were so outmatched. I watched my son play with these other kids whose faces expressed joy and a determination to win. When Noah scored a goal they kids circled around him giving high fives, I couldn’t have been more pleased that we took the time to come do this before our trek.

The time to say goodbye came too quickly. This chance encounter, this serendipitous moment, put the whole trek in perspective for me. People of all ages experience the wilderness, and it’s love and compassion that brings them healing. Before going on an eight day hike, I needed that reminder.

And if you need a great charity to support, you would be wise to check into Amani. We certainly are.