Community service has always played an important role in my life. From an early age, I have been dedicated to helping those in need. I volunteered at a preschool, a warehouse where food was being packaged for children worldwide, and many other places. I was raised with an understanding that it is important to give back and that is just what I have done. The most significant volunteer experience I’ve taken part in has been my involvement and dedication to a school in Moshi, Tanzania. When I went on a safari to Africa six years ago, I had no idea how much my life would change. I fell in love with the culture and the hardworking, prideful people of Tanzania. Since that trip, I’ve gone back three times, but for an entirely different purpose.
On our first trip, our Tanzanian safari guide told us about a man named George, who he guided up Mt. Kilimanjaro. Upon his return, George started a non-profit organization called Kids of Kilimanjaro, or KOK, which provides hot lunches to school children in the Moshi and Monduli districts of Tanzania. Two years later, my mom and I went to Tanzania to see exactly how the organization benefits school children. I was especially moved by how motivated the kids were to learn. Although they don’t have textbooks, they learn the exact material we do in America in exactly the same grade. Back home, I decided to immediately get involved.
At first, I went door-to-door with my friends collecting empty cans and bottles that we exchanged for money, which went towards lunches. I wanted to get others involved, so I started a KOK club at Archer in 9th grade. We had weekly meetings, started a pen pal program, gave a PowerPoint presentation to the whole school, had an ice cream fundraiser, and invited George to talk to our club. Additionally, at my Sweet 16, I asked for donations to KOK instead of gifts.
In October 2010, my mom and I were invited to be guest speakers in front of 250 people at the KOK annual gala. I’ve always been deathly afraid of public speaking, but I wanted others to know how much Tanzania has impacted my life. Being the only teenager speaking, I was nervous because I thought my speech, which I wrote myself, wouldn’t be as good as the adults. However, I was touched when a woman started crying at the sincerity of my speech.
My mom and I wanted to have a more personal connection with Tanzania. We decided to support our very own school: the Mwereni School, which we then visited. The kids welcomed us by singing and ran after our car when we left. With our help, the school has also created a borehole, which provides water directly to Mwereni. They are working towards being self-sustaining by growing fruits and vegetables. This helps the community by selling the extra food at the local market, thus bringing in extra money for the school.
This summer, the headmaster organized a dedication of the borehole in which my mom and I attended. We officially opened the faucet for running water and planted trees and vegetables. This was our fourth time visiting Tanzania, and the Mwereni School is now considered family. The kids look up to me like I’m a guardian angel, but in reality I’m doing what I love—helping others. KOK has given me the opportunity to become a leader, overcome my fear of public speaking, and give back to the community.
Watch my video to see how much Tanzania really means to me! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_UZ2M3BwS6E
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