Band-Aids and Beanie Babies (Tanzania February Newsletter Article)

By Rev. Bonnie Wilcox, Associate Pastor at SOTV from 1997 – 2005

“What would be a simple gift we could collect for our first visit to Tungamalenga Parish in Tanzania?” we wondered. How about Band-Aids? They are practical, inexpensive, colorful, and something we all have in our homes in Minnesota. What about Beanie Babies? They were the hottest thing for American children to collect in the late 90s, but by 2002, many children had outgrown them.

Yes, Band-Aids and Beanie Babies! Bring ‘em on! SOTV members did just that. We traveled with thousands of Band-Aids, and hundreds of Beanie Babies.

When we arrived in the village of Tungamalenga, my daughter was immediately drawn to Atu, the 3-year old daughter of the parish pastor. Atu didn’t speak English, and Elizabeth did not speak Swahili, but they bonded quickly. My daughter noticed that Atu had an injury to her knee. She’d been burned by a hot coal from a cooking fire. My daughter asked if she could put a Band-Aid on it, and Atu allowed her to put it on her knee.

Later that day, the Band-Aid had fallen off. My daughter dutifully added another. Atu loved the bright colors and was happy to have the attention. The next day, it happened again. Band-Aid gone, reapplied. Repeat.

My daughter asked one day, “Why doesn’t Atu leave the Band-Aid on her knee?” And then we learned that Band-Aids are not readily available in rural Tanzania. Cuts, scrapes and burns are left open to the air, and they heal over time. Without Band-Aids. Our gift was bright and colorful… and unfamiliar to our new brothers and sisters in Christ on the other side of the world.

Then there were the Beanie Babies! The children loved them! They were soft, and they were colorful. They brought delight. But as an adult starting to grasp the reality of life on the other side of the world, with no running water or electricity in homes, no sidewalks or paved roads, and everyone growing their own food in gardens near their homes – this was a world much dustier than we were used to. Were Beanie Babies a practical gift of fuzzy love in a dusty place? And for children who almost exclusively play group games like soccer, how do more than two children “share” such a toy?

They weren’t missing Band-Aids or Beanie Babies in their lives. They weren’t needed in their daily lives. Our assumptions were incorrect. They had joy in group games, and many of life’s scrapes heal all by themselves.

I never saw a Beanie Baby on subsequent trips. But the Band-Aids? They were VERY useful to our friends! As “tape” for wrapping a small gift in a newspaper. As “tape” to fasten a calendar page from one of our gifts to the wall as decoration.

And that was their choice, and their ingenuity. We learned that randomly showering gifts is often unhelpful. Our presence, prayer, and partnership were – and are – key ingredients in Bega Kwa Bega (Shoulder to Shoulder).