I have always been told that I am too sensitive. Even as a child, images, stories and movies that most young children could watch with little to no effect, would leave me upset for weeks. As an adult, this still holds true. I am sensitive. I can’t brush off experiences like many can. I am haunted by people and places. With each trip to Tanzania, I come back emotionally drained and to a suffering bank account! It takes me months to re-calibrate and function properly again. I am told that I think with my heart and not my head, and that maybe I am just not cut out for this type of charity work.

So on this last trip to Tanzania, earlier this month, I built a wall of self-preservation. I decided to focus on all of the positive aspects of Tanzania  including the beautiful mountainous landscape, the incredibly kind and generous people, the new infrastructure being built that would improve lives, the success of our current students and graduates, and the refreshing Tanzanian culture where family comes first. I was going to focus on the good and transition easily back into my Canadian life. It sounded like the perfect plan. Keep my focus on “happy thoughts”.

Enter Milambo, also known as Rambo!

Milambo aka Rambo, Tanzania

Milambo aka Rambo, Tanzania

While visiting the local market to order food packages for Mom2Mom Africa families, he approached us in dirty and ‘barely there’ clothes. He was hungry. So we bought him lunch. He wasn’t done yet. He followed us through the market, asking to be sent to school and explaining a life of begging on the streets. And just like that, my walls came tumbling down. He is the same age as my youngest daughter. It hit me hard. We drove to his home. The smell was overwhelming. His father had left the family. No one had heard from him in years. Milambo’s mother was illiterate; actually the entire family, including Milambo, could not read or write. He was a beggar on the street. That was his job. He was required to provide for his family at 9 or 10 years old (no one knew his real age as they couldn’t read the birth records). He left us all shaken.

Milambo and his brother

Milambo and his brother

Milambo is now a student in our program thanks to the generosity of my friend and travel partner, Brenda. His brother is also a student, in order to prevent the job of beggar to be passed on to him. Their lives are forever changed. They will lift their family out of poverty at some point. They have teachers and our partners on the ground watching out for them, monitoring their progress and health, and making sure they are successful at school. A few short weeks since that chance meeting, Milambo is reading. He walks to school every day with his brother. It is a 40 minute walk and they are always on time and have never missed a single day.

My point is that there is no such thing as being too sensitive. Imagine a world where sensitivity prevailed! Good would happen. I am just the right amount of sensitive to see the world for what it is and to hopefully make a difference.

Sensitivity is not a flaw; indifference is.

If I had kept that wall up, would I have even noticed Milambo? Would his story have affected me? Probably not.

Shout out to my sensitive travel companions and kindred spirits Marieke, Brenda, and Corrina who let me cry, get frustrated, get incredibly angry and then melt again because they do the same… so get it! And special thanks to Milambo, who made all four of us realize that being sensitive is okay and might just be more of what this chaotic world needs.

This is an original post written for World Moms Blog by Alison Fraser of Mom2Mom Africa

Has there been a time in your life when you were grateful for your sensitivity?

Alison Fraser

Alison Fraser is the mother of three young girls ranging in age from 5 to 9 years old. She lives with her family in Cambridge, Ontario, Canada. Alison works as an Environmental Toxicologist with a human environment consulting company and is an active member of the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry (SETAC). She is also the founder and director of the Canadian Not for Profit Organization, Mom2Mom Africa, which serves to fund the school fees of children and young women in rural Tanzania. Recently recognized and awarded a "Women of Waterloo Region" award, Alison is very involved in charitable events within her community including Christmas Toy and School Backpack Drives for the local foodbank.

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