For three years I had watched my father leave our family for ten days to go visit some strange land that I knew nothing about. All I knew was that my dad was traveling to a destitute country called Sierra Leone in West Africa. As a freshman in high school I decided that I had to go with him and see what could have impacted him in such a way that made him fly back every year.
The preparation for the trip included shots, malaria pills and some necessities. We packed light to leave room for the building materials for the new school roof. When I got there, I was overwhelmed by how loud every one was and how much the local people liked to talk. Our group stayed in a decent hotel in Freetown after an uncomfortable first night at a dumpy hotel. Every night the group ate dinner somewhere down the street. Every meal was rice, palm oil sauce and some sort of meat; or it was just rice and sauce, but it tasted amazing.
The first day in Sierra Leone we visited a school in Waterloo and spent the day talking with the students and the teachers. I was amazed at how little they had and that opened my eyes to how truly blessed those of us who live in America really are.
The next day we started construction on the school. A doctor accompanied us on this trip and opened a clinic of sorts where mothers and their small children could be treated for worms and such. I was allowed to help the doctor. It was absolutely heartbreaking to have to turn someone away because we could not treat them with the limited supplies she had brought.
The morning after was rainy and hot as we piled into a van and took off. The local drivers are quite frightening, but after a while you get used to it. As we pulled up, all the neighborhood children ran up and started calling out some of our names. The girls on our trip decided that we would teach the kids some games and songs. They love to sing and dance and we had so much fun; they even taught us some of the games they play. After that our doctor thought she should teach the moms to boil the water before drinking it and the children to wash their hands with soap and water in order to stay healthy. She brought a black light and some special gel that only showed up under it so the kids could see how they should be washing their hands. A drop was squeezed onto each child’s hand and they ran out of the building, washed their hands as fast as they could and then ran right back to put their hands under the light. They thought it was the coolest thing they had ever seen and were so thrilled.
The last few days I helped with the construction and taking walks with the kids. My short time in Sierra Leone seemed like a blur but I can remember every conversation I had and all I had done. Now I realize that my life had entirely changed as soon as I had stepped out of the plane. This one trip has changed how I view the world and myself. I no longer think of Sierra Leone as the place of blood diamonds and death; I see a country of beauty and happiness. I also have reassurance of the contributions I could make to the world or even to just a few lives.
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