Written by Cecilia Lachat

Founder of The Paolo Zanichelli’s Children’s Home

I’ve always been an early bird and today am still one. My beloved and adored grandmother would awake at four in the morning and because she was practically deaf, would make lots of noise. When I would hear her, I would also get up as I enjoyed this special moment alone with her. She would prepare some warm milk and a slice of bread with jam for me and would tell me stories of her life.

I am also awake at four thirty or five in the morning. I am happy to get up, happy that I am well and happy for the new day. Last night, the two owls that live in my thatch roof made so much raucous while they were hunting and I heard throughout the night the jackals calling in the distance.

Outside it is still dark. I can hear the different movements of the wildebeast and waterbuck all around. It’s wonderful! Around six o’clock the horizon begins to illuminate, the sun starts to rise and creates a beautiful light show.

The temperature is delightful, my mind is clear and I feel at peace. My sweet dog Lea rubs against my leg. I have a cup of coffee and sit at the computer. I answer emails, write letters to the sponsors of the children and much more. At this time of the day, the internet is working quiet well.

Then I put my shoes on and grab my walking stick to go for my morning stroll. I go through the camp and take off on one of the many paths that surround the camp. I am the only person out at this time of the day, me and all the animals. Amongst all the innumerable tracks in the sand of antelopes, zebras, birds, snakes etc.., I also see my tracks from yesterday, the day before and so on. I think I also recognize the tracks of a leopard or cheetah, but it could also be of a jackal, I am not an expert in tracks. The fresh and recognizable dung from the rhinos tell me that they also passed through here last night. Amongst the bushes I see a herd of the gracious impalas with their long curved horns that look at me as I pass by. Then one gives off an alarmed grunt of a signal, and the entire herd begins to run. They jump and run away with such grace and elegance over the bushes that sometimes I believe that they jump just for fun.

During my stroll, my thoughts begin to wonder. I think about my loved ones in Italy and in switzerland and feel a longing in my heart. I miss them all. I enjoy this moment of silence amongst the beautiful, wild and untamed nature that surrounds me, but then my head begins to fill with all the preoccupations and worries from yesterday. I think of Dabe with his sad eyes and his ballooned stomach from malnutrition. Did he have dinner last night? Has the social worker done something about his neglected status? And where will Paolo end up, he has lost both of his parents. And what will the doctor tell me about the TB of Gaone? And then there are some of the adolescent children that we follow that are not schooling anymore. I am full of anxiety about all of these things.

My friend who is a priest always tells me : “You don’t pray enough!”. “But how can I pray when I am filled with so much doubt?” “You pray anyway, I am also filled with doubt, but praying helps me, you should insist!” So one day I decided to pray. When I got to the large acacia tree, I directed my thoughts to the sky. I believed that it would ease my mind, it was just an idea, so I went on with my prayer.

The annoying flies begin to buzz all around me and the sun is already heating up promising yet another very hot day.

When I get back, I prepare my breakfast with home made yogurt and banana and then head off in my very old car on the busted, rocky road to the children’s home. I am very attached to my old Rav car, it is full of little problems just like me, but it always gets me to destination.

A large grey oryx runs across the road. The black and white contrast on it’s face makes it seem that it is wearing a mask. Far away, I see the long bushy tail of a jackal disappear into the bushes.

The children are on the playing field and are entertaining themselves with a ball. They have already had their breakfast porridge served with milk. When they hear my car coming down the road, they all begin to chant out : Dumela Ouma! Before going into the office I pass through the kitchen. Maria is cleaning dishes and Ruth is preparing the bread for the morning snack. On the stove top is a large pan where the meat is cooking for lunch. Tentu brings in from the garden a large basin full of spinach. Thanks to Daniel Mistrangelo (our volunteer agronomist) and the men who work daily in our garden, we have a constant production of vegetables. It is a great satisfaction and provides noticeable savings on our food purchasing.

Fortunately, I don’t have to spend much time in the office. The local management, now under the supervision of Charlcie (my daughter in law), does a wonderful job, much better than I would. Our new President, Dr. Giancarlo Fontana, director of the San Carlo Hospital in Milan has kindly accepted this position as it is necessary that the President resides in Italy. Manuela, my daughter, is Vice-President. For all the things in Italy, I think of Anna Re who is a great help and an important contributor to the good functioning of our association. The accounting is done by Andreas, my son. Margreth and Urs (my sister and brother in law) take care of all the german language translations and communication as well as fundraising in Switzerland. Giulia El Dardiry translates my letters into english. Daria Costantini, Marco Cesarini, Vincenzo Cesarini, Anna Re, Federico Moranzoni, Allessandra Brignoli, Caterina Vitali are our good counselors. THANK YOU to all of you, you are all precious and indispensable for this project.

Now, all the children are regrouped in a semi circle in front of the school. They sing and say a morning prayer. The teacher says : “Fold your arms and close your eyes.” They say a prayer of thanks. As I’m standing there, I have to refrain from laughing because a few of the children are observing me with one eye open and the other closed. Our little children are adorable, may God protect them! As look upon the teachers and the children, I wish so many good things for them and I feel a sense of belonging.

It is now nine o’clock. Before beginning the morning lessons, all the children are in single file to use the bathroom. “Have you washed your hands?” In class C, where they are the youngest (3-4 years old), they begin to form different animals and shapes with modeling clay. Later, written on the daily schedule, they will practice buttoning their clothes and will be read a story. When I go into the classroom, I interrupt the lesson and the children assault me. They put their hands through my hair, give me big kisses, want to high five and also just want to be hugged. I sit on the floor and let them have their way, they need physical contact and affection. At home they don’t get either or very little.

Next I go to class B (4-5 years old). The teacher has taken up a book to read about animals. They are all sitting in a circle on the floor and are concentrated on the story. In the middle of the circle there are many toy animals. They are learning their names, colors and how they live. “Are they domestic or wild animals? What do they eat? Where do they live?” Today, the teacher is teaching the lesson in Setswana and the assistant teacher is translating into English and Naro (the San language). Our teachers are very sweet, they have done a good job preparing for the lesson.

In class A (5-6 years old) there is silence, not even a fly buzzing. They are all sitting at their tables, bent over their notebooks with their pencils held firmly and they are practicing to write the letters V and W. They are preparing themselves for primary school next year. Lebogo shows me with great pride her notebook, her V’s are perfect. Khase is one of the best and has already completed his page and has a colorful sticker on his forehead. Cukury’s V’s aren’t following the lines and slant along the page and Tentu looks at me with two big eyes that are pleading for help; his notebook is still empty. The teacher comes over to help him. And our original Licia, after three lines of V’s has gotten bored and made a design in the shape of a bird with her V’s.

The bell rings for break time. The children run out with exuberance and file into a single line to wash their hands. Under a tree is placed a large basin and hanging in a mesh bag is some soap. The teacher holds the water hose and supervises the operation. With appetite and in silence, they eat their fresh bread and drink their rooibos tea, then they run off to play in the playground. One group runs around playing ball, another is having fun with jump ropes and others are exercising with hula hoops. Throughout the play ground reigns an atmosphere of good energy and happiness.

Three mothers of children who attend our school work in the women’s project “Basadi Bothagka” (independent women). First they learn how to sow on the manual sowing machine, then they work their way onto the electric sowing machine. They learn how to make aprons, bags, grocery and bottle bags, jewelry bags, etc., which are then sold in Botswana, in Italy and in Switzerland. They also learn how to sow simple clothes for themselves and their family.

Ivy has been with the project for many years but she still makes mistakes by not sowing straight or putting the buttons in the wrong place. I am very affectionate towards her even though I lose my patience some times.

Coro is always working in a rush and as a consequence lacks precision. Now she must undo all the work and start again! At this time she is a little desperate because she is pregnant again. She confessed to me that the child was conceived in a state of drunkenness. She knows who the father is but he does not recognize the child and has since disappeared.

D’kau has golden fingers. She is the most capable and is a big help to me and the others. Every morning she comes with her little Bofelo (her most recent baby) on her back and begins to sow. The baby is calm, sweet and good tempered and always wants to do well. When she is hungry, her mother sits on the mattress on the floor and nurses her. And everything is like that, simple and natural.

Another two women from the project are independent and work from home in the village. The “Basadi Bothagka” project allows these women to make money, be independent and help their family.

The class lessons continue until one o’clock in the afternoon. Then with relief and much noise, the children pour out of the classrooms, wash their hands and sit in a circle in the shade of a large lead wood tree. More than a hundred plates are filled up with pap (white polenta) a piece of meat and mixed vegetables from our garden. Many different spices are used to make the dish delicious. One after the other, the children file up to get their plates and each child waits until everyone has their plate before they begin to eat. They all eat with great appetite and in silence, there is not a bread crumb left. If they aren’t full, they can go and ask for seconds. Then it’s the turn of the staff. Their plates are overflowing with food. We gave them a lesson on nutrition and correct eating habits but it did no good, they still over eat. As children, many of them suffered from hunger and now they eat too much to compensate.

When finished with lunch, the children and teachers lay out on a large carpet in the classroom and take a nap. In the winter, when it is cold, they cover themselves with the knitted woolen blankets made by many wonderful women in Italy and Switzerland. Everyone, without exception, sleeps soundly until three o’clock in the afternoon.

When they wake up, they all go out to play on the playground. They also have a snack that consists of fruit, whatever is in season at the time, apple, pear, watermelon, orange… At four thirty in the afternoon, the school bus brings the children home to D’kar.

Bye bye children, see you tomorrow!

If I don’t have anything urgent to do in the village, for example, visit a child who is sick, consult with a teacher or meet with the parents and relatives of a child to discuss their progress, I head on home. I love my road in the middle of the bush, it puts me in a good mood. Everyday, the scenery is different and becomes for me an extraordinary excursion through the arid Savannah. It sometimes happens that I don’t see any animals, but today I am fortunate. First I find in the middle of the road a splendid, giant leopard tortoise. I stop and move it into the bush. Then off in the distance, I see above the tree line the long necks of the giraffes. They have come back down south. I move forward slowly, they don’t move, and I can contemplate their beauty and elegance. Today the temperature has risen to 40°C. A group of kudu have found a shady spot under a tree. They wait patiently for the evening coolness so settle in.

I hope so as well! The heat makes me quiet tired and when I get home, I take a rest.

Before I can put a price and expose in our little curio shop the different things that the women from the “Bosadi Bothagka” project, I must check everything piece by piece. Here an apron is missing a button, the pocket on the shopping bag is a bit crooked, but the majority of the things are without faults. I am satisfied with the ladies, they are making progress. Then, I begin to cut material to make a bottle bag. I do the small complicated parts because the ladies are afraid to do something wrong and waste material. Little by little, with patience and practice they will learn how to do it themselves.

If I can, I finish my day around six in the evening. I fiddle around a bit and continue to make the cooks’ uniform.

When the sun is about to set, I go out and relax and have an “aperitivo” in front of the lake (with the dry weather that we have had, the lake has been transformed into a puddle!). The light reflects in the water and paints a trace of red fire. The sun taints the sky with various colors: pink, lilac, purple, yellow and orange. Some waterbucks, wildebeast and other antelopes that have come to drink water reflect in the water like a mirror. Every evening is a diverse and beautiful spectacle that fill me stupor and emotions. Everything is marvelous and I am filled with admiration and the feeling of being so small, but important enough to be a part of this earth, Mother Africa.

After, I enjoy to cook for Charlcie an Andy. It gives me company for dinner and we often eat something cool as it is so hot. I then watch a bit of TG1 (Italian international TV) of the news on the BBC, but I often turn it off half way through as I prefer a good book instead of irritating news on politics and world tragedies.

From my porch I enjoy a moment of the cool evening air and contemplate the enchanting starry night and think about my loved ones up there. I go to bed and fall immediately into a deep sleep.

“Every evening when I go to sleep, I die. The next morning, when I wake up, I am reborn.”

(Mahatma Gandhi)