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Shedding Sadness for Safari Dreams: Oakville Helping the World

Isaac -- Rafiki
Isaac -- Rafiki's Safari Guide, Global Friends Foundation, Catherine Mulvale, Oakville News | Global Friends Foundation

I look down at the tattered shoes that are obviously too big, the pants that are torn as well as too short, the man’s shirt resting on a boy’s shoulders and see nothing but potential. Although his circumstances are dire and he is sad – very sad -- I don’t pity him. That sentiment will do him no good.

The dust swirls around us in the burning heat. The 14 year old boy, sitting on a stack of warped and weathered 2 x 4s shares his dream with me, “I want to be a safari guide.” For most in his situation, this would be highly unlikely. He is an orphan living in a remote town in Tanzania, East Africa.

Isaac - First Rafiki orphan to become a safari tour guide with the support of the Global Friends Foundation Isaac - First Rafiki orphan to become a safari tour guide with the support of the Global Friends Foundation

Isaac - First Rafiki orphan to become a safari tour guide with the support of the Global Friends Foundation

He lives in extreme poverty in a country that offers too many challenges and too few opportunities. This boy, however, is a survivor. He has the benefit of a strong intellect and a determination that is steely. Unfortunate circumstances will not dictate his future.

It was seven year ago that Isaac Peter Asseno shared his dream with me. At the time, he had recently arrived at the Rafiki Orphan Care Home, the centre funded by Oakville, Ontario-based Global Friends Foundation (GFF). Now, at 21, his statement has changed slightly but the determination behind it is stronger than ever. Last week, as we walked under the hot African sun, he looked into my eyes and said in his thickly-accented, deep-timbered voice, “I will be the best safari guide in Tanzania. My company will be Rafiki Tours and Safari. You will be very proud.” The resolve behind his own prophecy is as intense as my feelings for him.

He is my African son. I am already proud of him – so very proud. When Isaac calls me Mum, I feel a mother’s pride. When he introduces me to his friends, he is very clear with them. I am not his sponsor -- I am, most definitely, his Mum. We are virtual strangers and yet we are intimately connected. We have been from the moment we met. This boy is quickly becoming a leader and I am unspeakably proud to be a tiny part of what will be a large life.

With funding from GFF, Isaac has been enrolled in an 18 month program at Tanzania’s Professional Tour Guide School (PROTS). He is the first Rafiki orphan to be registered in a licenced training program and he will be the first Rafiki orphan empowered to become self-sustaining. This is beyond exciting.

After just 5 months at PROTS, Isaac is already a walking encyclopedia. As we bump over safari roads that lead to the treasures which are animals, flowers and landforms, Issac’s desire to share the vast amount of knowledge he has amassed in a short period of time is beautifully uninhibited. But, like a true professional, he controls his enthusiasm and gains our attention time and again with gentle but powerful invitations that all begin with an irresistible smile, direct eye contact, and a friendly, “Hallo….did you know….?”

Isaac has everything he needs to succeed but a country that offers opportunity. His life is going to be tough. It already has been. He has endured more sadness, prejudice and hardship than we will ever know but he will survive and thrive. He is already doing so.

The days spent with us last week were full of firsts for Isaac. The first time staying in a hotel (with a buffet!), first ride in a Range Rover, first time on safari, and the first time being surrounded by Canadians who unconditionally love him and want nothing but the best for him. When I ask Isaac if he enjoyed his time with us, his answer is simple and fiercely sincere, “Yes, I like it so, so much. I am very happy.”

To see more photos and to follow Isaac’s story, please visit