“It just goes to show that we have much to learn from the people here about how to be truly human.” -Matthew Kennedy
When Matthew Kennedy woke up on June 27th, he expected to eat a quick breakfast and head down to a local orphanage in Moshi, Tanzania, where he was volunteering as a part of the Global Leadership Adventures Heart and Soul of Africa program. The warm, charismatic smiles of the children would greet him, and he would work hard playing games with them and helping to fix up the broken-down building that housed the orphans.
Instead, when the Michigan teenager awoke, somber news awaited him.
A prominent member of the community where Matthew and his group were staying, Babu Tomaeni, had passed away at the age of 93. While he and his fellow volunteers were given the option of returning to their volunteer site that day, many instead chose to attend Mr. Munishi’s funeral, hoping to show support for the community that had taken them in and provided them with so much over the previous two weeks.
Reflections on an Unexpected Day
Read Matthew’s incredible reflection on his experience below:
“Today was a bit different from what was officially planned on the syllabus that our parents have read.
Instead of going to Tulani Orphanage, we decided to attend the funeral of Babu Tomaeni, the grandfather of Agape, one of our local mentors, and the father of Mama Toma, one of the local GLA staff. This was not just some village funeral that we attended as part of our “cultural learning experience,” but it was an affirmation of our being accepted into the community of Rau Village. I gave a short speech at the funeral, and I mentioned the fact that every single person in our group who chose to attend the funeral (attendance was not mandatory) did so, not as tourists or even as visitors, but as members of the Tomaeni family.
To sum up the funeral, there is one major aspect to understand. In Tanzania, everybody in a community attends the funeral of a fellow villager, and this could not have been more obvious than at Babu Tomaeni’s funeral. After the funeral, Mama Simba told us that 2,000 people had attended the funeral. The seats were filled, but not with well dressed, hollow attendants who came only because of a sense of obligation. The seats were filled with people who truly cared about the Tomaeni family and considered Babu Tomaeni to be their own grandfather.
The warmth with which they welcomed us into their community was truly amazing, and for many of us it was a realization of the compassion for fellow human being that has largely been lost in the hustle and bustle of Western life.
As a GLA group, we created a goal toward the beginning of our trip: to make a positive impact on ourselves and the community, to connect with the community, and to take something from this experience that will impact our lives positively and permanently. The attendance of this funeral fulfilled this goal in all three parts. Not only did we give our support – both emotionally and monetarily – to the Tomaenis, our extended family, but we also affirmed our group as a part of the community through this support.
Finally, we saw firsthand the beauty and comfort of a community in which everyone genuinely cares about one another It is this final lesson the I believe will have a major impact on the rest of our lives, and it just goes to show that we have much to learn from the people here about how to truly human.”
Although, as Matthew stated, attendance at the funeral was an unplanned option in an otherwise structured program. It is in these unexpected moments, however, that GLA students truly realize the depth of their experiences abroad, and it is these supremely human experiences that stay with them forever.