By Jesse Price
Jesse Price was one of four filmmaking students, along with their filmmaking professor, Bill McCord, at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts who joined The Nyanya Project in Tanzania in June, 2008. These students are currently completing a documentary about our trip and how it affected the lives of the Wake Forest football players. All of the students are seniors and should complete their film by May, 2009. Their trip was made possible by a grant from the Hanes Family Foundation. Upon our return, Jesse, the film’s director, reflected on what the trip had meant to him.
After my first trip to Kawe village, I was not depressed, or even sad for that matter. This was shocking and confusing to me. I had just been to a place, for the first time in my life, where the conditions were almost unthinkable.
The streets were dirt, there was one place with running water, the houses were made out of mud and sticks, many children didn’t have shoes, their clothing was tattered and faded from age, and everyone knew of someone who had died of HIV/AIDS. For most, that “someone” was a family member.
Was I that emotionally vacant that when I finally saw these conditions that I had heard about and seen in pictures and movies that they made almost no impact on me? Why wasn’t I sobbing for these people? Why was I not overcome with guilt? Why was I not furious at God or the government or someone? Why was I not filled with some sort of emotion – anything?
One of my classmates mentioned that he was having the same thoughts, and then another classmate agreed. We all were surprised with how little we were depressed or angry or guilty about what we had just seen on the outskirts of Dar Es Salaam. Then, after a couple of hours of thought one night, it hit me.
The reason: Because the people living in Kawe are exploding with joy. It comes out in everything they do. Every glance they give you, every smile, every dance, creates a small explosion of joy.
They are deeply in love with life, with their friends, with their neighbors, with their brothers, their sisters, and with anyone who will let them love them. And, they celebrate it constantly. I wasn’t sad because Kawe isn’t sad, it is a harbor of joy.
I am not suggesting that they are not sometimes overcome by depression, but that they do not succumb to it. In fact, they conquer it.
How is this? How are these people who deal daily with HIV, malaria, hunger, death and profound struggle – how are they happy and not just happy, but truly and deeply joyful?
The people The Nyanya Project helps have had the most difficult struggle possible. They are fine, however. If they were not to receive any help, if they were never given assistance for food, or clothing, or medicine, or to send their children to school, they would still have a deep-rooted joy in them that could not be removed. They would not harbor how unfair it is or how daunting their battles in life will be, then be sunk by negativity and depression.
Instead, they would focus on the beauty of life and push forward to try and make their life better for themselves and their family – with hope and nearly eternal optimism as their only weapons.
And these people who deserve all of the best things in life don’t have even the most essential things in life.
These are the people we are helping. People who would not take for granted or waste the small gift of a smile.
Just imagine what they would do with a little help from us.