Where your passion and the needs of the world intersect, lies the path of inner growth. An inspiring spell that drives a young Chaldean woman from Mechelen to help improve the world. The 29 year old Sonja Kareman travels around the world to fight against poverty, a task that suits her perfectly. She derives her energy from her faith and from the gratitude she receives. Below her experiences that she has written down, a story of fraternal sharing.
Every little being has dreams, big or small, sometimes realistic and sometimes unrealistic, but still growing. In my big dream as a young girl, there was in the distance a mountain top that shone in the sun, a society that had room for everyone, no matter who you are and what you have. In that big dream I cycled in the direction of my future, with a backpack at hand I set off in this life. The road was long, and not self-evident. Often I had to stop, time and space needed to give all innovations and changes a place. It was a way that I merged with my family and God, who taught me to discover the “true Sonja”. I have built trust in myself through life experiences; friendship with people in need who have come into my life and have gone away but left a deep trail of wisdom and warmth.
I studied sociology in function of this dream, which was given groundbreaking form. During this study I followed an intensive animation course and as a 20-year-old girl went abroad for 3 months to volunteer in projects for people in need: Hungary, Spain and France. I resolutely returned home to make that great dream come true. The dedication for children, young people, the elderly, intrigued me and this became the guideline in my life. Gradually I also realized that this is a calling from the Lord that you feel inside to always walk a new path of life. In prayer and solidarity with the Lord, I feel the calling concretely and I know where the Lord wants to lead me. With passion, trust and enthusiasm I always give color to this calling and I go for it. Even if you are young, unmarried and a girl, the fire in you is so agonizing and burning. This calling also came in 2018; a calling that I could not resist … because He led me from Europe to even Africa. In the summer and in the autumn of 2018, I have had the honor to be able to help for several months as a volunteer in Croatia and Africa. Two different projects, two different countries and two different target groups. A grace, an inner growth process and gratitude are just a few fruits that I have been allowed to reap.
In Croatia I have been allowed to work for children with a disability. They were intensive weeks of organizing, examining and growing spiritually. All children, small and large, wheelchair-bound or already fluttering, from no sense of insight. It went spontaneously and the children and young people enjoyed it to the fullest. I vividly remember our great activity where the children could perform different activities, they got a sticker on each island that was stuck on their card. In the end they received a medal. It was emotional when one of the children took the ticket with the 5 stickers and the medal to his bedroom; placed the card under his pillow and pulled the duvet cover over it so that nobody would take it. This was the difference for them, this was the feeling that we as volunteers may be there. These children do not ask for the greatest things. The friendship and being physically present is more than enough for them. If they can then keep a memory, it is as if the Santa Claus has visited them.
After Croatia this mountain peak sparkled towards Africa. Packed and loaded, I left with a big sponsorship budget, enthusiasm and, above all, a lot of motivation towards Tanzania. I have had the opportunity to dedicate myself to the Beyond Child Smile project. The weeks have flown by and it has been a learning experience, both the renovation and the teaching. Upon arrival in Tanzania, I did not know what to expect.
The project Beyond Child Smile is committed to improving education in Ilboru, both in terms of quality / content and infrastructure. Since we had taken a large sponsorship budget from Belgium, we were able to achieve a lot in a government school where only the poorest people go. Both the façade and all classrooms were taken care of. It was sanded, plastered, masticated and given a thorough coat of paint. A complete modern and safe kitchen was built and installed. Where previously the kitchen was an old shed and the smoke penetrated into the classrooms, it has now been adapted and built safely so that the smoke goes up a pipe. We also opened the water pipe so that school-age children can drink clean drinking water at school. Electricity was installed. All windows also received solid glassware so that the children are protected against the cold in the winter and against the sand in the summer. The renovation works have paid off. The so many school-age children now have a pleasant environment to learn the wisdom of life.
In the afternoon we were called in to teach, in the secondary school, to the children from the neighborhood. Mainly mathematics and English. The classes are divided into 7 classes. There are about 100 children, in poverty. The aim of this additional school is to keep the children out of the street and at the same time support them in their school lessons. Often they come along with homework that they understand well or not, or for extra exercises so that it runs smoothly at school. For this part-time school we also built the sanitary facilities so that the children can go to the toilet in a proper way, as well as buying a projector and loudspeakers to give the lessons more interactive. At the end of the lessons you could organize a lot of play and tinkering with the children, such as ring games, basketball, football, dancing, jumping, etc. This was enriching and groundbreaking. With little or no play material, these children have managed to give me wisdom. The great seeing in the little and the small seeing in the wealth. We made a ball with material that was gathered together. A jump rope was pieced together from a garden hose that we found somewhere on the street.
There was dancing and singing, with the necessary African bells and whistles. I was allowed to hand out the sponsored school material on the last day per class, per child. The smiles of the children were enough to realize that this has made them so happy. In both projects the children have taught me the value of unconditional friendship. They taught me to dry the tears of shame (for the sake of our good life) by their smiles, their gratitude. They are a rainbow in which every color of their smile has increasingly heated us every day. They have taught us to let go of things and accept things without too many questions and to believe in every day that comes. They did not look in the future or in the past, they looked at the present, at our presence, and reaped the fruits of every day that we were there.
The needs were noticeable in the small things, in small questions and small needs, but which are so important to them. They are so happy with small things and learn to appreciate you. From the little attention, they make a wealth of it. Their humility, their gratitude and their vulnerable face take you back to your inner foundation. They are so valuable. Your commitment to the other is a beautiful initiative where you also commit to your own growth process. They are grateful to you for what you do, but I too am grateful to them for this grace and wisdom of life. This friendship with young and old increases my solidarity and that is what inspires me today and increases my passion. I am joyful when I see the young and the elderly beaming after each project. They are more aware of life but also bring emotional feelings. They soften the roughness of the life with which we are sometimes confronted. So intense, so enriching and so gracious.
Of other people I often hear that I am social, a fluent talker, a go-getter and want to help people who are struggling. This is just me through my volunteer work, studies, family and God! I have built a network of friends, thanks to God I have challenged myself and dared to go for my dreams. I am who I am: faithful, chatting and a heart for those in need. I seek happiness in the small things, which will bring me great happiness: coming home to God. One thing I know: thanks to my family, my choice for God and commitment to people in need, I get something I do not deserve: the GRACE of the Lord!
In essence we are connected and each deserves a life full of warmth, joy and happiness. I am someone who likes to develop new ideas, to realize this and to encourage people to come to the core of the heart: “to put a smile on a face of someone who is in a” dark tunnel of life “whether through illness or poverty or loneliness “. I enjoy new challenges and flexible projects. Going out together and by burning that light point in the dark. Do you also participate?