Apr. 07, 2011
By: Jenni Underwood, Opportunity Education Sister School Program trip participant - Summer 2009
To some, beauty may be seen in a rosy sunset or a bride's glittering gown. Others may see it in the autumn leaves or a peacefully sleeping baby. After traveling to Tanzania my ideas and perceptions of beauty have transcended into something profound, inspiring, and life changing.
After making the decision to join Opportunity Education on a Sister School visit to Tanzania, Africa I anxiously prepared for my trip. I made sure I had all the proper medications and vaccinations needed for travel, purchased the perfect safari attire, and readied my luggage. Little did I know, nothing, absolutely nothing, could prepare me for what I was about to experience.
During the first few days in Dar es Salaam, I was overwhelmed with the natural beauty of the landscape. The rich, green foliage surrounding us made me feel as if I woke every morning in my own personal Secret Garden. The aroma on the streets was one of fresh markets, spiced food, and burning wood; something I quickly missed upon returning home. As beautiful as the landscape of Africa was, it paled in comparison as to what I experienced in the schools. In every village, in every school, in every classroom we were greeted with the most humbling welcome one could imagine.
Visiting one particular Sister School, Sotwa Wilson, in Arusha, Tanzania was something that has changed my life forever. I was blessed to not only have the founder/manager of the school, Shange Wilson as a magnificent guide on the Serengeti; he was also my guide into the heart of an African culture of strength, respect, love, and hope. His life story is one of dreams, hard work, and perseverance; inspirational to say the least.
On our last day in Tanzania, Shange took us to visit Sotwa Wilson, meet his family, and converse with the teachers. It was Shange's last day with us as a host and guide in Africa. For him, most likely an easy day, he wasn't keenly trying to spot leopards and lions for his eager companions or explaining Tanzanian customs, but simply letting us explore his school. I'm sure Shange was unaware, but this was the day that his guidance was the most powerful.
As we climbed the crude stairs of mounded soil behind his home he beamed with pride as the small school came in to view. With a bashful grin and open arms he exclaimed, "Karibu, teachers." Shange's warm welcome did not stop there. After a brief tour we were settled into a classroom where all of the students were gathered to welcome us. Every grade performed a song or dance expressing their joy and appreciation of our arrival. One performance in particular performed by standard 6 moved me to tears. Their angelic voices rang throughout the classroom but more so, resonated in my heart as they sang Michael Jackson's We Are the World. The lyrics,
"We are the world
We are the children
We are the ones who make a brighter day
So let's start giving
There's a choice we're making
We're saving our own lives
It's true we'll make a better day
Just you and me."
struck a chord that sent tears streaming down my cheeks and an ache in my heart. At that moment I think I realized that these beautiful words spoke of the life that Shange, his family, the teachers, and students were all trying to live. It was with great sacrifice and pride that Shange built this school and even greater sacrifice and pride that the people of the village managed to pay for their children to go to school. For the first time in my life I wasn't simply seeing something beautiful, or feeling beautiful, I was experiencing something profoundly beautiful. The hope, happiness, and desire to overcome that was seen in those children's eyes was beautiful . My trip to Africa was amazing and inspiring, but this moment in particular was life-changing. Seeing the beauty that that school and those people embodied led me to see the world in a different light, strive to give my students a global perspective, and most importantly to be enormously thankful for what I have and generously share my blessings.