Last month my family and I took a trek to Kenya. We were visiting the Mulli Children’s Family, a home for over 1000 orphaned and abandoned children. My husband was part of a medical team, while my daughters and I played with kids, aided some women with microbusiness skill training, and mended an awful lot of clothes!

It’s hard to sum up such an experience in a few words, so let me instead give little snippets. Beauty is magnified in Africa. The people are beautiful. The singing is beautiful. The land, even with its cactus and thorns, is beautiful. The animals are beautiful. And perhaps because you live more outdoors and you’re not connected to a computer, you experience and appreciate that beauty in a way that we can’t in our busy lives.

Things are much slower there. I went with the expectation that I would get X, Y, and Z done. But things don’t move according to my agenda. They value people much more than accomplishments, and they’d rather sit and talk to you than do something that you think is important. Rather than get frustrated, I learned how to enjoy people with no agenda. It was actually quite freeing.

But mixed with this celebration of life was also the heartbreak of so much tragedy. Contrary to popular opinion, though, the real problem in Africa is not AIDS. It’s poverty and family breakdown. It’s not that AIDS doesn’t exist; it’s just that it’s further down the list. In the children’s home where we worked, the percentage of kids who were HIV positive was actually very low. But all came from horrific backgrounds. Some had been sold into sex work at the age of 8 or 9 by desperate relatives (including mothers). We got to know one family of three biological sisters whose sole-supporting mother died when they were 9, 5 and 3. After the funeral, aunts and uncles stripped their house bare. The 9-year-old somehow scavenged food for the other two for a year before the three were rescued. No one had AIDS, but everybody suffered.

Similarly, our medical team saw 1,200 patients from the community, some of whom had walked upwards of fifty kilometres to get there. And the primary complaint? Waterborne illnesses. Almost everyone suffered from headaches, fevers, and aches and pains all the time. It was relentless. Whether it was parasites or typhoid, everybody had something. Clean water would improve quality of life overnight.

Nevertheless, Africa is far from hopeless. We were surrounded by children who had been snatched out of the worst situations we could imagine, and yet everybody seemed remarkably well-adjusted. We met many adults who had grown up at the home and were now established and doing well—they were married, they had jobs, they were happy.

Perhaps we in the West don’t recover from traumas because we’re too focused on them. These kids don’t focus on the past—they focus on opportunities. They work hard at education, they make new friends, they learn about God, and somehow the hurts fade. It’s a good lesson.

I’m left with the thought that this is not real life—this thing that I do. This playing on the computer and figuring out what to wear each day and taking the car in for an oil change and planning vacations. The world is so much bigger. Perhaps if we could keep perspective we would appreciate things more. We would be grateful for friends, for parents, and for relatives who are there for us rather than just take from us. We would be grateful for education and good government and business opportunities. And most of all, every time we turned on the tap, we would say a little prayer of thanks for the miracle of clean water.