Mma Leburu: "Kamogelo, will you please bring your camera to the center tomorrow?"
Me: "Of course. But why? What are we taking pictures of?"
Mma Leburu: "I want to show the kids what they look like. They need to learn how to identify themselves."
Me: "Ooooook? Explain..."
And this is how I learned that most of the orphans that attend my NGO's pre-school don't know what they, themselves, look like. The walls of their homes don't have mirrors to look into and having a personal camera is something they could never imagine. Outside of a fluke reflection of themselves in a passing window, the children have never seen themselves before.
When I took their individual pictures the following day and showed them, their faces lit up in awe and amazement. They would look at me and then look at the picture and then smile huge smiles as they pointed at themselves and called their friends over to see too. Afterwards, I took a series of group pictures of all the kids in the classroom. When it came to the group pictures, the kids had an easier time pointing out their friends than finding themselves. It was like a "Where's Waldo" game but only this time the ever-hiding Waldo was them.
Knowing what you look like is something we all take for granted. At least I did. Like many of my friends, I had floor-length mirrors growing up and could easily nit-pick on the details of my physique, which I knew all too well. Coming to Botswana, this changed drastically. It took a while to adjust to having only a small face-sized mirror and rarely knowing how I looked. But I gave up worrying about a lot of things and I adapted to a simpler life. I now know that even my small mirror is more than what most have here. Oh the things we take for granted...
I told this story and my recent realization to a generous man who stopped by my NGO today. He has agreed to donate mirrors (among other things) to hang at the center so the children can see themselves and begin to recognize who they are. I'll be honest, I can't wait to watch them the first time they witness their own movements. It's going to be a big biiiiiiig day!