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What Will Hilda Remember?

Hilda and Gael share a smile for the camera.
Hilda and Gael share a smile for the camera.

On a long-anticipated trip to Africa this past June, Gael Kurath and her husband, Dale Schultz, spent some of their most memorable moments in Tanzania visiting Gael’s sponsored child, Hilda.

Fresh from her adventures, Gael sent us the following letter:

This past June, my husband Dale and I were fortunate enough to finally make the trip I had dreamed of for years—to Africa, to see and feel some of the wonders there. We chose to spend most of the time in Tanzania, partly because we wanted to visit our sponsored child, Hilda.

I have been a Plan sponsor for many years, enjoying writing to several children as they grow up in a world I only know from their stories. When we arrived in Tanzania it was difficult to make phone calls, and our visit was nearly cancelled when the Plan Tanzania office found that Hilda’s family had traveled out of the district. But the people at the Plan office were so helpful that we eventually did climb into one of their jeeps in Dar es Salaam to spend a most amazing day.

The following is what I wrote in my travel journal that evening:

Hilda—huge lovely eyes. Hair cropped short. Nine years old. Very shy, but not anxious. In white shirt, blue pleated skirt, and worn tennis shoes and socks. I don’t guess those feet are accustomed to shoes and socks. Beautiful smile. How very strange it must seem to have these two “mzungu” (Caucasians) arrive for a visit, way out in remote Kibaha at the end of 21 miles of extremely rough dirt track, traveled only by Plan vehicles, and impassable in the rainy season. The drive helps crystallize the reality of the difference between our worlds. But here we are.

Hilda, her sister and a cousin. And Hilda, with her sister and a cousin, sat on a mat of woven banana leaves in the shade, by the day laborer housing for the railroad line. Her parents also shy, on a bench by the mat. Dale and I were given wooden chairs that Plan staff from the capital city had brought us. We also had local Plan organizers, community leaders, and the headmaster and teachers from the school built by Plan Tanzania. This gathering was in the afternoon, in rural Kibaha, in the Kwala district—a part of Africa we would never have reached without the help of the Plan staff.

Other children appeared when the Plan organizer brought out the sweets we had picked up at the market in town. Maasai women also appeared, with facial tattoos and babies slung on their hips. We exchanged greetings, and then gifts, and my poor Swahili was better than nothing. Hilda’s father liked the baseball cap, and her mother the water bag. Everyone likes to see the small photos on the small screen of the digital camera.

The Plan staff members who accompanied us were marvelous—it makes me very happy to support this organization. In this remote community of 5,000 people they have 450 sponsored children. That’s a lot of organization. And now that we have seen firsthand the distance and difficulties they deal with, I am firmly bound to support Plan Tanzania.

And what will Hilda remember of this visit? It’s hard to say. Mzungu bearing gifts. There wasn’t enough time for real communication, but enough to relax away the initial shyness and smile together. Hopefully Hilda will receive the photos I send, reminding her that there are people in the world outside her community who care about her. I would love to know what she thinks or feels after this visit, but of course I cannot understand the world from her perspective. At least they will have a big feast with the rice and the staples we brought from the market, thanks once again to the help of the Plan staff. I hope the feast was full of smiles—like the big smile of the community leader “Mzee,” the curious and hesitant smile of the tall Maasai woman, and the sweet, shy smile of Hilda.


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