Africa: A Trip of a Lifetime

Travel, nonprofits, experience. Three words that so accurately describe my 2018 and a very special trip, privilege and change of perspective I gained in October of last year. As many of you may know, I recently graduated from the University of Central Florida with a degree in Advertising and Public Relations but what of you might not know is I took on every opportunity to gain experience that came my way, including working for a little over a year at a local Orlando nonprofit. That experience is what motivated me to take on a project with my best friend and her mom. This project led to the most exciting and beneficial trip I’ve ever been on, Africa.

Water4Mercy is a nonprofit aiming to permanently end the vicious cycle of poverty in Africa with life-giving water and drip irrigation farming. Their motto is “One and Done.” The founder, Nermine Rubin, is the mother of my best friend Sam (read Sam’s story here) and was inspired by her daughter’s passion to take a stand and make a difference. Nermine reached out to me to help with communications, marketing, and social media and with this new found love for nonprofits, I couldn’t say no.

The next couple of months I balanced my day job, school work and Water4Mercy projects not realizing that these tasks would offer me the opportunity to go and experience everything I was sharing and writing about. Around August, Water4Mercy’s first village Mwinyi had a launch date and the idea of Sam and I going to Tanzania for the taps to be turned on started floating around. The overly realistic planner I am I shoved this idea to the back of my head because who can pick up in the middle of their last semester to fly to Africa. Fast forward a few weeks and I start getting texts and calls from Sam begging me to figure out how to make it work, so I start entertaining the idea (let's acknowledge I have NEVER been out of the country). Well, believe it or not, I got my midterm moved, group project worked out and managed to have things scheduled at work to allow my short leave. I am going to Africa!

Exhausted but myself, Sam and Caroline made it to Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania in the wee hours before flying to Dodoma.

Exhausted but myself, Sam and Caroline made it to Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania in the wee hours before flying to Dodoma.

We now have two weeks to get everything set for our seven-day trip. Shots, packing, work, oh my. I couldn’t have been more excited about my first international travel experience. Sam has traveled internationally countless times for months on months so I knew with her I’d be fine. From meals on the plane, airport exploring, linking up with Caroline in Istanbul and almost two full days of travel we finally made it to Dodoma, Tanzania.

Day One, exhausted. As you can imagine it’s quite a trek to get to the villages. First up, we’re tagging along on another donor trip to Gongoro for their taps to be turned on. A seemingly painless four-hour drive and I say painless because the three of us slept the entire way. All of a sudden we hear songs, chants and are jolted awake by the villagers parading us to the water tower. First of all, I don’t know about you but when three foreign girls of completely different culture than me show up my first instinct isn’t to sing and dance and welcome them in, but theirs was and I love that. They instantly want to celebrate and cheer and their spirits are contagious, you can’t help but join in full speed ahead. There was a ceremony to reign in the new water tower and taps where they were able to thank the donors who made it possible. There were native dances performed, words of inspiration shared and best of all memories made.

Caroline on her way to the ceremony site with the parade of song and dance.

Caroline on her way to the ceremony site with the parade of song and dance.

During the ceremony at Gongora before turning the taps on.

During the ceremony at Gongora before turning the taps on.

There’s nothing like watching the pure joy that comes over someone when watching them take the first sip of clean water. Throughout the trip we were able to witness two villages turn on the taps for the first time, one village go under the prospective village process, and a village get a check in visit to see how they’re doing since receiving the technology. From the stories of need, anticipation and then success, your heart couldn’t help but be filled. While checking in on one of the villages health centers we were told that because of clean water there has been a decrease in the medical need the village has. Can you believe that? Kids are starting to be able to go to school because they aren’t spending all day with their mothers at the water holes fetching water. To top it all off these people are now receiving access to something that we have never given a second thought about, water.

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These people, these kind, selfless and loving people showered us with praise and gifts. Did you hear me? They showered us… We came to help them, they needed clean water, we wanted to make this all about them and all they did was offer us their food and items as gifts to welcome us. These communities don’t have much but when you meet them, they don’t care about their stuff, they care about each other. The biggest thing I took away from this trip and what I can’t share more is that these people give everything when they have nothing and there is nothing more worth admiring than that.

Everywhere we went in these villages my trusty camera was hanging right around my neck, kind of giving away my purpose of being there. What I didn’t realize was this was going to create the sweetest memories for me, not because of what I was capturing but because of what I could share with the children of each village. We often take for granted how often we see ourselves. Have you ever thought about that in some countries and communities people have never seen what they look like, and if they have its few and far between? What started out as one child wanting a photo led to me being surrounded by 15 kids all wanting their picture taken so they could see. The smiles and giggles they shared simply by looking into the camera instantly became the sweetest memory of the entire trip.

Sharing a photo of him to him on day one of the trip.

Sharing a photo of him to him on day one of the trip.

At the water tap where I was surrounded by little ones for photo ops. This little girl had the most gorgeous eyes.

At the water tap where I was surrounded by little ones for photo ops. This little girl had the most gorgeous eyes.

The last day was the day we went to check out a prospective village. Some of the team members went to talk to one of the leaders of the village to find out key information about its community to see if it qualified for the program, while Sam and I went and captured photos of the existing water supply and what the water retrieving process entailed for this village. Let’s just say, I couldn’t do it if I were them. There was a boy around 12 years old who was down in a hole the entire hour to two hours we were there filling a bucket and sending it up. Is this a job you would want?

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The trip ended a little sourer than it had begun, but what I’m realizing now is it was a tad of a reality check. To top it off the water they are getting is brown, not clear and drinkable, but they have to drink it anyway. As we went back into town to grab our luggage and get to the airport, I started feeling sick, like really sick. I was the only one out of our group who had never been to Africa before so inevitably I was the only one who got sick. Looking back now getting sick sucked but I couldn’t have been more grateful that it happened on the last day and after we got back from the last village because it meant I got to be a part of it all.

I got to experience Africa. with my best friend.