Welcome to the season of Thanksgiving. It wouldn’t be Thanksgiving the past few years without #EpicThanks, a project of Epic Change by my good friends Stacey and Sanjay and their countless amazing friends, volunteers and supporters. Epic Change amplifies the voices and impact of grassroots changemakers and social entrepreneurs. I’ve written about their fundraising projects here, here and here. I thought it was time for another voice to be heard!
This is a guest post written by Adriana Mistick, a junior at Wheaton College. She also happens to be my sister! This past summer she had the incredible opportunity to go volunteer with Mama Lucy at Sheperds Junior School in Arusha, Tanzania. This is her story.
Addy and the students from Sheperds Junior School, Summer 2011
I’ve sat down to write about my summer in Tanzania so many times without ever being able to find the words orthe descriptions that are just right. I’ve decided now that it was one of those experiences I will never fully be able t explain or attempt to show with photos because what I really want is for everyone to be able to go and experience it for themselves.
It was early this year when I decided I wanted to do something different for the summer. I was about halfway through college at that point and had been lucky enough to take some time off early in college to help me get my head on straight. Now I guess you could say I’m focused. On what, you ask? Water and teaching kids, or teaching anyone I can, about water and our environment. I’m a self-proclaimed “water junkie”. Thinking about my summer and not knowing where to start, my sister Sloane (maybe you guys know her??) was eager to help me find a good match in terms of location and program. The moment I told her what I was thinking she had something perfect in mind but still worked wonders by facebooking, tweeting and emailing a personal ad for her baby sis.
EPIC CHANGE. That’s where Sloane’s mind was from the start and from the moment she first told me about meeting Stacey Monk at a conference and following their progress, that’s where my mind was too.
Epic Change has worked to raise money for a school in Arusha, Tanzania called the Shepherds Junior School. They have done this through various campaigns like TweetsGiving, To Mama With Love and even more recently were able to bring two of the star students, Gideon and Leah, from the first graduating class of 7th graders allthe way to America to tell their story across the country.
The school itself, Shepherds Junior School, was started by a woman named Mama Lucy, the most inspiring woman I have ever had the pleasure to meet. Sloane connected me to Stacey, Stacey to Mama Lucy, and then Mama and I had a brief email exchange before deciding that I was coming to live in Arusha for two months to work at the school. Even luckier than just being connected to this incredible woman was that my college thought it was a great idea too and awarded me the Davis International Fellowship, which came with a hefty grant, that made it possible for me to go. My favorite perk of the fellowship has been telling my story at different events and presentations on campus this year.
Each interview goes a little bit differently because there is so much that I want to say. My favorite questions are along the lines of, “What surprised you most about being there?” or “What is the most important thing you left with?”, “Did the experience change your thinking about the future?”
And my responses go like this:
They have some of the best smiles I have ever seen, you know those smiles you can see in their eyes. They truly hung on my every word and would spend break times coming up to me and asking more and more questions about anything. “What is the deepest lake in America?” or “Is there HIV/AIDS in America?” and “What is your favorite food in Tanzania/America and why?” to “How does the rain fall?” and “How does water become a cloud?” – without me even prompting them. I’ll be honest, the questions about the deepest lake in America or how many national parks we have I actually had to look up and come back with the answers another day. Thehave an undying thirst for knowledge, unlike I’ve ever seen it before.
In terms of changing my thinking about my future and the world’s future it comes down to one word, HOPE. It can be easy to feel defeated by many news stories and through studying climate change and listening to seemingly endless debates in politics that leave us with no real answers or solutions but seeing and working with the people at the school and the children there inspired me and gave me hope. It reminded me that people are stronger than we think and often times deserve more credit. The teachers at that school give up almost all of their time, even weekends, to teach and help those kids. Many of them go home in the afternoon when school gets out and will go to visit children in their village that don’t get to go to school and will tutor them, for free, from home. Knowing that there are people that committed to the future help me to believe that the future is going to be a good place. Those children at Shepherds Junior School, dreaming of becoming astronauts, doctors or teachers, I believe that they can do it. I know that if those children succeed, they will honestly make our world a far better place than we ever could have expected.
For my future, I now feel that I, myself, can make a difference. One person alone can be powerful, and change making. One person can start a school from nothing. One person can inspire hundreds or thousands of more people.
I am now one of the many inspired by Mama Lucy, Stacey Monk and Sloane Berrent.
And that’s why this year I am thankful for the places I have been, the things that I have seen and most importantly the PEOPLE that I have met.