«What you own deep down in your heart, death cannot take away.»
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Motivation for the project
by Milena Schaller, foundress of the Foundation NURU
During my two-month internship in Dar es Salaam, I worked at a maternity ward of one of the hospitals. It was there that I first experienced the boundlessness of the land’s poverty, and the overwhelming number of lives of children it took before even being given the chance to live with it. Countless children die during pregnancy or shortly after birth due to poor hygiene, a lack of medical facilities, diseases, effects of malnutrition during pregnancy etc. Many mothers die too, just prior to, during or after giving birth. Very often this distresses women, who cannot afford hospitalisation and are therefore forced to give birth at home in their village.
These mothers giving birth in such poor hygienic conditions, have absolutely no access to medical care and all too often die from excessive blood loss. The children, left behind are then left in a hopeless situation.
It was during my first internship at a children’s home housing 81 children, in a confined space, under appalling conditions, that I met three-month-old Nuru. Nuru’s mother had passed away while giving birth to her, and her father was nowhere to be found. The neighbours then took Nuru to the children’s home, where she would spend her childhood. Shortly after her arrival in the home, she fell ill with inflammation of the middle ear. Pus oozed from her ears and her breathing grew very shallow. It was obvious to me that this child urgently needed medical attention. The director of the children’s home would not allow me to take Nuru to a hospital, as an official authorisation to take a child out of the home was required. However, by whom and when this permission would be issued remained unclear. Nuru’s critical state of health was completely disregarded and overlooked. I therefore took it upon myself to save her life, by kidnapping her. At a nearby hospital, Nuru received the necessary medical care, and each day I administered the prescribed medications, constantly enquiring about her condition. Nuru eventually recovered from the illness and was once again the girl with the big, sparkling eyes and infinitely strong will to live. She was among the children who were ready for life, however still yet to face some of the harshest realities life could deal.
A profound relationship developed between Nuru and I, and a deep sense of responsibility for her and her life made me willing to do everything to guarantee it. Nuru would not become a victim of death, who came so often and took children away that were simply not his to take!
As my journey was to continue onwards to Indonesia, I had to leave Tanzania. Saying goodbye to Nuru, but not knowing what would happen to her or how she would grow up, was a difficult thought for me to bear. I asked the director of the children’s home for immediate notification, should Nuru’s state of health begin to deteriorate. I promised to send money to pay for the medical treatment if necessary. Less than a month later at Christmas time, I received the message that Nuru had died. My world was shattered.
Experiencing this terrible injustice caused something within me to snap. I wanted children and mothers to be given a fair chance at life, irrespective of which skies they were born under. I wanted mothers to bear their children with dignity and to receive the necessary medical care during pregnancy and birth.
The voice inside of me had spoken: My path is to ignite a light in this dark reality. I want to spread my knowledge in order to bring help where it is needed so desperately. I want peace to win somewhere on this earth and for people to experience happiness where they have been consistently exposed to the brutality of life, and helplessly endured it.
I fell in love with Tanzania’s streets and places, with the blaze of colours, the simplicity and the culture. On my journeys through Tanzania, I experienced so much happiness and was deeply captivated by the culture and uniqueness of the people. Through the foundation of this project, I want to give back to the people of Tanzania, what they keep teaching me: to live!
The foundation and safe haven will be called NURU, meaning light in Swahili. As the death of Nuru led to the founding of this project, I have chosen to name it after her, so that she will continue spreading the light of her beautiful child-eyes. Nuru and all that she stands for should live on. I want to fight for her and spread the peace, which I experienced over and over again in our times together.
Commemorating the first anniversary of Nuru’s death, my father wrote a passage about her life. This passage summarises all what Nuru was, what she meant to me and why I created this project:
Little Nuru or: let there be light!
Can it be called Life
if it lasted not even one year
if you have got legs
without ever using them to walk
if you have got hands
without ever using them to work
or using them to embrace someone
if you have got eyes
without ever being able to count the stars
high up in the African sky?
if you have got a voice
without ever being able to create words
words of love , words of grief
words of complains and words of amazement
words of anger and words of reconciliation?
Can you call life by it’s name
if you have been cheated out of your future
If you were unlucky being brought up at the wrong time in the wrong place?
When you were abandoned by your father and mother, as well as by God and the universe
before you ever got the chance to get to know them?
Can you call Nuru by the name of the light
if this light was switched off before it even had the chance
to unfold its full brightness?
How shall we celebrate Christmas, now and in future time
the day a child was born,
in order to cast light onto the world,
when at this very day another light vanished forever from our world?
And after all I am searching in the innocent eyes of your child:
your accusation about a commited injustice
your anger about being robbed of the future
your despair about your missed life.
If I look into your bright eyes, little Nuru,
it feels as if they are showing me your entire missed life
as if your entire future lying in your little hands
as if your little feet have already gone the path from here to nowhere
as if God had special plans for you
as if you were not born for this star but for all stars
Could it be that you intend lending us your legs
so that we can go your path?
Could it be that you intend lending us your arms
so that we can work in your name for a brighter world?
Could it be that you intend lending us your eyes
so that we can count the stars which you call your home?
Could it be that you intend lending us your voice
so that we raise our voices
against injustice and supporting love
against neglect and supporting hope
against darkness and supporting light?
Supposing it were like this, little Nuru,
then your short life shall have a long history,
then we shall enkindle our light in your flame
then we shall advocate, in your name, in the name of the light,
that all children in the future shall have the right to live
under the heavens wherever they are born
Supposing it were like this
then your short being
will not have entirely been in vain.
On Chistma’s Eve
on the day of the Light
on the day of Nuru 2013