TW V. Cast Episode #4 – Africa Service Trip
GP’s TRANSFORMATIONAL JOURNEY IN WEST AFRICA
SENEGAL :: FEBRUARY 16-23
Africa. Aa-free-ka. A name, a place, a word that inspires Nabokovian description. Three beats of the heart commencing with awe followed by a burst of freedom, punctuated with a reverberating exclamation point.
It has lived in my imagination since the day I ran my little hand over the imposing, jagged funnel-shaped continent on a colorful relief map that hung behind my Kindergarten teacher’s desk.
My journey to Africa began many months ago when my son and I signed up with BuildOn, an agnostic non-profit that organizes hands-on treks to build schools in some of the poorest villages in 7 countries around the world. I heard about BuildOn from Margaret—a great friend and creative collaborator who also happens to be a mother at my son’s school. She learned about it from her dear friend Camilla, an organizing force with a heart of gold, whose family has been involved with BuildOn for years. Together they rounded up other great friends to assemble Team Ndojbote (which means “family” in Wolof, the official native language of Senegal). Our team was a group of 8 hard working, open-hearted superwomen and their equally awesome 7th-grade sons to break ground on a school for a tiny village in Senegal called Niaha Fall, which generates zero results on Google maps. Its 200 or so Muslim inhabitants are divided into two communities separated by the school’s construction site.
What attracted me to the program was their ‘walk a mile in their shoes’ philosophy. We wouldn’t just raise money and visit the worksite as munificent tourists. We would actually live in the village with host families and work side-by-side with the local people to build the school. Our sons raised well over $30,000 from family and friends to pay for the construction materials to build the school while we readied the paperwork and travel immunizations. I have to admit I was nervous, literally scared $h!tless, about the outhouse situation but the chance to help build a school in a village where most of its inhabitants were uneducated combined with the privilege to live in the daily routine of people off the grid was greater than my fear of cockroaches, malaria, and squatting in a shack above a hole in the ground.
The experience I had with my son; my SF Bay Area dynamo mother-son posse; the buildOn team; and the people of Niaha Fall is a treasure, an ember, I will keep in my heart and in my mind forever. Since I’ve returned every person I’ve talked to has asked how my trip was. And there is simply no word to accurately describe it except maybe: