In July 2011, I accompanied my mother to Zimbabwe to visit our relatives and the city where my mother grew up in. This was my first trip there, and my mother warned me how different life would be compared to what I’m used to in the U.S. There would be poverty and sickness almost everywhere. My parents thought it would be a wonderful learning opportunity for me if I were to visit a nearby orphanage and do something for the children. They wanted me to learn to not take my comfortable life for granted. After reflecting on their suggestion, I came up with the idea of conducting a drive for school supplies at my school so I could donate supplies to the children at the orphanage. This drive would also help me break out of my comfort zone and reach out to young people who looked and lived differently than I did.

Collecting school supplies

Before this trip, a couple of mornings during the week at school I would make an announcement to the whole school, sharing with them this project and requesting items that were needed. It was gratifying to see my school friends donate generously, and we managed to collect enough supplies to fill two whole suitcases. I was happy just thinking of the smiling faces of the children at the orphanage being very excited to receive all these gifts.

Visiting Emerald Hill Orphanage

When we arrived in Zimbabwe, I could not wait go to the Emerald Hill Orphanage in Harare, Zimbabwe, and deliver the donations. On my journey

there, however, my whole mood changed. I felt a little excited but also very nervous, because I didn’t know what to expect or how I would feel seeing the living conditions and health of the children. But the butterflies in my stomach soon settled.

When we arrived, we found that the children, except for the little ones, were in school. We handed over our donations to the woman in charge, who thanked us profusely for the school supplies. She then gave us a tour of the children’s living quarters. The senior girls’ rooms held two girls per room. There were posters, brightly colored bedding and furniture, and even comforts like stuffed animals. It made me realize that these kids have the same needs for comforts as any other teenager.

The junior boys’ rooms, on the other hand, each housed about 20-25 boys, with very little space between beds to even walk around. These rooms looked drab, and in one room were three young boys lying sick in their bed. When I saw their sad, pleading, and curious eyes, I realized how lucky I am to have a loving family to take care of me when I’m sick.

The orphanage had a total of 98 boys and girls. When I heard that sobering fact, I felt deeply for the kids because it meant there were 98 youths either without parents or with parents who couldn’t take care of them. It also made me feel thankful that God had given me a loving family, a roof to stay under, food to eat, and other material things. I prayed to Sai Baba to take care of those kids and provide them with whatever they needed.

After we toured the kids’ rooms, we went to the main study area where the children complete their homework after school. In the elementary classroom, I assisted a second grader with addition and subtraction. I even gave him a few extra problems just for practice! Then I spent time in a middle school room where I helped a sixth grader with place values of numbers. It was a great feeling to help!

My second visit

We had a chance to visit the orphanage again during our trip, and this time we brought milk, cookies, and lollipops to hand out. I witnessed the children’s joyous reactions to these simple gifts – each and every one of them said “thank you” as they received their goodies. As I saw those smiles, I knew my dream had come true, and seeing their faces light up was so gratifying. I have a deeply etched picture in my mind – of smiling kids, holding hands, with me right in the middle, singing a song of thanks and gratitude. I could feel the good energy surrounding me, and such joy. I really felt like I had made a small contribution somewhere in the world. I had taken steps beyond my home, into my community, and into the greater world.

Deepening divine understanding: seeing God in all

Sai Baba says, “Love All, Serve All.” I tried to put this message into practice – start off doing something within one’s neighborhood, and then gradually serve in expanded ways with love. I also learned that God is always with me if I leave everything up to Him.

I know He was present during the project. I know He was the one who planted the thought to carry out the project. I know He provided the big box of supplies for the orphanage. Even more important, I know He was the one saying thank you and smiling at the delectable treats as He received them. He was with me throughout this whole journey and will stay with me always.

During my two visits to the orphanage, I felt His love and warmth in the children who embraced me. I am blessed to know that I have the Lord constantly looking after me and guiding me in a way that I can be closer to Him!

I am so happy to have carried out this service. I stepped out of my comfort zone to allow new experiences to touch me. I went to Africa with two suitcases filled with donations and came back with a heart filled with love. This was a type of service activity I had never done before, and when it was over, I wrote in my diary how exciting and impactful the whole experience had been, and how it had changed me! 

Raina Desai

Sathya Sai Center of Farmington, CT