The brilliant sun almost blinded me that first day. Walking out of the airport in Johannesburg, South Africa, my senses were bombarded by the glare and the heat. Modern buildings were interspersed with towering trees, creating a wood and metal jungle that loomed above the crowded city streets.
My mother, brother, and I were on our way to rural Bapsfontein to teach and minister to the children of the Aurora Primary School for a month. As we drew farther from the city, paved roads gave way to dirt, and vast corn fields stretched as far as the eye could see. Leaping from the van, we touched African soil at last.
â–º SEMI FINALIST 2012 TEEN TRAVEL WRITING SCHOLARSHIP
Early the next morning, walking down the long dirt road to the school, we found ourselves relishing the warmth and drinking in the sights and sounds of the South African summer day. Our hearts beat faster as the school gate came into view. Quickening our pace, we soon heard the children’s cries of “Teacher, Teacher!” carrying through the air. My heart stopped the moment I saw their beautiful faces.
Dark-skinned children grinned up at us as open arms enveloped us in warm hugs. Tiny hands grabbed for mine, and I grasped them tightly as I took in the scene around us. Concrete buildings with broken desks and weeds sprouting through cracks in the floor were their classrooms. Mobile units filled wall-to-wall with metal bunk beds were their homes. A large metal storage building served as the cafeteria, but most times they ate outside, without proper plates or utensils.
These children all had stories—sad stories of abuse and neglect in their crime-ravaged shanty towns. They lived in abject poverty, in homes built of scrap materials found on the streets. Often their parents were absent for days. Violence was a common punishment. Scars marred the faces and bodies of these beautiful children. Acceptable and affordable medical care was almost non-existent, yet they were so blessed.Although they had so little, they really had so much. Deprived of material wealth, they were rich in faith and trust and love. The children loved us because we traveled an unimaginable distance to teach them. They loved us because we crossed out of our comfort zones to help them. They loved us because we loved them.
Oh, how we loved them. Our time in the classrooms as teachers was much more of a joy then a task. We rejoiced to see their hands shoot up in answer to a question. The innocent, child-like appreciation of the middle-school aged children for a bit of Play-dough, a marker, or a brightly-colored piece of construction paper touched our hearts. Teaching these precious children alongside my mother and younger brother was truly an honor.
We treasured every afternoon, playing and sharing coveted moments with the children in the play yard. Sitting with my new friends amongst the long green blades, playing games, singing worship songs, and writing letters to each other, I finally understood what I lived for. The amazing children of the Aurora School, with their sweet faces and kind hearts, had shown me how I was to live my life to the fullest—one precious moment at a time.
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