A summer night in the small community of Mabilibili in Mozambique is forever emblazoned in my memory. Sitting around a campfire after a long week of constructing a church building, other volunteers and I were unwinding and enjoying a view of the night sky that, because of city lights, not many people in the United States will ever see. Each star was truly like a diamond in a very black sky. And then, off in the distance, we heard voices of the local schoolchildren coming nearer.
These children had spent the morning in a classroom with 100 students and a single teacher. After school, they had worked with us, carrying baskets of sand on their heads and hundreds of handmade concrete blocks to the job site. On previous nights, they had sat with us around kerosene lanterns playing games, proudly showing their schoolbooks, trying American snacks and practicing their English (their third language after their tribal language and their national language, Portuguese).
Now, here they came—in single file, stamping their feet rhythmically, their faces lost in the darkness, their voices swelling with praise. A translator told us the children made up the songs to thank us for coming and building a church to replace the one destroyed in their country’s civil war 20 years earlier. The congregation had been meeting under a tree ever since.
Joining the children in laughing, singing and shouting, we found the weariness of the day dropping off. These children, who had so little in material possessions, shared gifts from their hearts of such magnitude that we knew we were the recipients of something far greater than what we were doing for them.
The AARP Bulletin's "What I Really Know" column comes from our readers. Each month we solicit short personal essays on a selected topic and post some of our favorites in print and online. Carolyn Pollack is a reader from Hunt, New York.