KIMBWE, TANZANIA – When Justin Demille joined the Peace Corps he prepared for the worst. Justin was ready to experience hopelessness and despair, but in his heart he knew that he would be lifting the burden of the downtrodden. But when Justin was confronted with the overwhelming optimism of the sad and desperate villagers here, he realized his job was pointless.
“I thought everyone here would be forlorn and just sitting there without a will to live,” Justin said. “Instead these villagers have hope for the future. What the heck?!”
“When these starving people muster up enough energy to move they don’t curse or cry, they smile at me. Everyone is always smiling and laughing,” Justin said, surrounded by a group of grinning children. “I don’t get it.”
Many who join the Peace Corps expect to see extreme poverty, disease, and people living on the edge of existence. What they don’t expect is the optimism that comes with such dire circumstances.
“We know we have our troubles,” Anna Tariro, a villager, said. “But we continue to pray our lives will get better. And we have each other and we have happiness in our hearts, which no drug lord or famine can take away from us.”
“I don’t even know what I’m doing here anymore,” Justin said. “I feel like if everything gets better they’ll lose that spark of hope for a better life. I don’t want to take it away from them.”
Justin came to his realization as he was building a well to access clean water for the village. Usually, locals have to travel four hours by bus and purchase large vats of clean water to last a week, or else drink the polluted water from the nearby river.
“There were kids playing soccer with a ball made of rolled up rags. They were having a blast,” Justin said. “They didn’t need my help.”
After much deliberation with the rest of the group, Justin finally decided to head back home. In fact, his arguments were so forceful that he convinced the rest of the mission to leave as well.
“We’re packing up and should be out of here within the week,” Justin admitted. “We don’t want to spoil things any more. We should have let these good people be in the first place.”
“I will be very sad if Justin and his friends go some day,” Anna said. “Their love and care give us hope for tomorrow.”