Board Bios – Emma Shaw

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This is the first of a series of introductions to our fabulous board members – meet the lovely and talented Emma Shaw! 

My name is Emma Shaw and I came to Tanzania through the organisation “Oyster Worldwide” as part of my gap year between school and university. After considering many other countries including Patagonia, Nepal and Zambia I chose Tanzania because of how much the placement had to offer: teaching English to both primary and secondary school children, voluntary work at the local hospital and, of course, care work at Nkoaranga Orphanage.

What I didn’t expect was that I’d become so involved at the orphanage – that I would be the one trekking across the hospital grounds at night, carrying a small, unwell child huddled in blankets. It made me realise that, when it’s a child in your care that needs treatment, the hospital is no longer an ‘interesting place to gain medical experience’. When you’re scared for a child and in need of help you don’t care about any of that. You just want them to make your child better.

It was moments like these that made me realise that volunteering at Nkoaranga Orphanage wasn’t going to be something I could just drop and move on from once home. I really didn’t expect this, and I have no idea why! I didn’t realise how important making sure that the children have a safe, happy future would become, which is why I’m so glad to be a part of The Small Things, and so determined to do all I can to give them as bright a future as every single one of them deserves.

Although my hardest moment physically at Nkoaranga orphanage was the morning after my first night shift when we were helping to wash all of the big kids – I remember feeling almost sick with tiredness (a first for me) – it gave me a whole new appreciation of the incredible work the mamas do every day. However, my hardest moments overall were definitely when I was scared for a child. I was scared when Gracie (normally so placid and sweet tempered) was crying so unstoppably, hysterically and harshly and we had no idea why, and I was constantly scared about losing Ebenezer. He was so sick, tiny and premature when he came in – then months later, after he had come so far, he got profoundly ill again and reignited all that fear. I found changing him very hard as there was no escaping how much weight he’d lost and how tiny he’d become. I was scared I’d break him. 
Ebenezer shortly after his hospital stay –
still back and forth twice a day for IV medication
On the other hand, another thing I found really hard was refusing the children water because there wasn’t any that had been purified and I’m so excited that, thanks to the success of Project MAJI, that will never have to happen again!!!
I had SO many amazing moments with the children – all of them hilarious, touching and unforgettable. For me, it was so rewarding to see Pendo settle in, and this sometimes cheeky, sometimes serious but always beautiful, kind and sweet girl emerge from her shell – and give everyone lots of kisses on the cheek! I always found putting the big kids to bed really special. They’d call my name and I’d go over and crouch down under their mosquito net to have a whispered talk with them, before kissing them goodnight, wishing them sweet dreams and telling them I loved them. It meant so much to be able to do that for them. 
Pendo cuddling with her buddies Farajah and David
And then I have tons of hilarious memories, such as the time one of the schoolchildren, Tumaini, and I were searching for socks in the pile of laundry in the sink and, being the adorable but clumsy girl she is, she switched on the tap, soaking everything! Her eyes went wide and her “Ohhh…pole! (sorry)” couldn’t have sounded more shocked (or amused)! Being there for Ester’s first steps; Frankie’s inevitable bawling at my lack of speed whilst feeding him; hanging out the washing and realising that the two little boys helping me were helpfully “rinsing” everything in a muddy puddle before passing it to me…the list is endless!
I think the thing which concerns me most at the moment is ensuring that not just the children ready to go to school this year, but that all those in the coming years will be able to go to school and have a good education, hopefully through our partnership with The Foundation for Tomorrow. While the children are at Nkoaranga orphanage I feel happy knowing that, between Mama Pendo, all the other Mamas, and volunteers looking after them, the children have people who care about and want the best for them. What worries me is when they leave and have to fend for themselves, and the life that awaits them. As we grow and develop as an organization, it is a challenge we will have to face. 
However, I think it’s impossible to say what the most important work to be done is in the long term, because everything that contributes to a healthy, happy childhood for the children matters: it’s important to have the filtration system fitted so that the children don’t have to be denied water, or risk sickness from drinking it straight from the tap; it’s important that mosquito nets are correctly used to avoid malaria; it’s important that formula is available to keep babies healthy, and to aid recovery if they do fall ill; it’s important that the hospital is also supported because all children need healthcare at some point; it’s important that any psychological issues that a child has are addressed, and it’s important that when they do go on to school, they are happy, healthy and fully ready to do so. Our job now is to try to balance those many important jobs to be done, and we hope you’ll come along with us for the ride!