When I traveled to Ecuador in 2010, I asked my friend Brad Krugh if he had any ideas as to how I could volunteer while I was there. At the time, Brad worked for SeeYourImpact and connected me to CENIT. CENIT is located near the Camal Market, which is one of the most impoverished regions of Quito. The organization supports local working children and families by offering educational, medical programs, and job trainings.
In 2012, I traveled to Nicaragua during my sabbatical from Journeys School. After taking two weeks of Spanish classes to improve my own language skills, I volunteered once again through SeeYourImpact. I went to Bluefields, a part of Nicaragua that is not a tourist destination. There I volunteered with blueEnergy. I learned that 96% of Nicaraguans do not have access to clean drinking water. As stated on their website, blueEnergy delivers energy, water, and sanitation to some of the world’s most isolated, marginalized communities, providing a foundation for health, education, and economic opportunity within the context of a changing climate.
As I prepare to travel to Africa, I contacted Brad again for his guidance and insight. Once again, he gave me fantastic advice and challenge my previous ideas. He questioned how long I plan to volunteer. I said 2-4 weeks. Brad pushed back, “Why? What are you coming back for?” I thought for a moment. I resigned from my teaching job, I am giving up my amazing apartment, and my dog will be in good hands with my family. That conversation changed everything. I will be volunteering for Project Wezesha for six months.
*The photo above is of a family who participates in CENIT.
I chose to volunteer in Tanzania because it is out of my comfort zone. I chose Tanzania because I am a lifelong learner. My degree is in Spanish and Latin American History from Emory University. I have traveled, volunteered, and lived throughout Central and South America. I know the language, I know the culture. That’s not enough. I want to learn more. I am learning Swahili and in that process, I’ve reconnected the empathy of the difficulty of learning another language–that my students face–and that the teachers and students in Tanzania face on a daily basis. Have you tried learning a language recently? I’ve been using Duolingo to get started. For some reason, the only thing that has stuck is the following phrase: Wewe ni american? (Are you American?). I have so much to learn.
I sent this e-mail to about a dozen people in early March. I am thrilled to announce that Wayne Turner has connected me with Rai Farrelly, co-founder of Project Wezesha. I am in conversations with Rai about how much time I will spend in the village and what I will be doing. I’m amazed that with one degree of separation and I’m connected to someone who runs an organization that completely aligns with my values and beliefs. It’s a small world after all.
As a little girl, I grew up with role models who traveled. My grandparents, my parents, my aunts and uncles, my sisters, and cousins. I come from a long line of explorers, who seek to open their minds by observing the flora and fauna of foreign landscapes and participating in the customs of other cultures. Pictures of Africa: African wildlife, landscapes, and people filled Munga’s (my maternal apartment) apartment. My favorite pictures are of Munga and Poohbah (my maternal grandfather) holding a chimpanzee. For decades, I have had the desire to retrace their steps. To see what they saw. To experience Africa in my own way. If only Munga and Poohbah could see me now.
I got my first passport when I was 5 years old and have been traveling internationally without my parents since I was 16. I value global cultures and all they entail–from religious practices to different needs of personal space, different pace of time, different use of formal and informal language, music, dancing of other cultures. I value food. As a Spanish teacher, my love of other cultures is entwined in my professional life. It is in my blood. I have not traveled abroad for many years now. I am thrilled to have a trip to plan and daydream about.
The history of how this dream came to be
It took awhile for the vision to come to me. Actually, a more accurate statement would be that it took awhile for me to allow myself to see the vision. I need a change. I need to travel. I need to go to Africa.