In January 2009 I won a grant from the CEO of my company, Glen Tullman, to travel anywhere in the world and do anything I wanted. The only requirements: the trip must be innovative, foster growth and be FUN!
I work for Allscripts, an electronic health record software company. Because we are in the healthcare industry, I wanted my entry to focus on helping people. I decided my contest submission would be to travel to Tanzania, Africa and work with HIV orphans. I couldn’t believe it when I got the call that Glen had selected me. My first thoughts were, “I won, now what!?!”
Shortly after winning, I was contacted by a coworker who had just returned from a two week volunteer trip to Tanzania at an HIV orphanage. He put me in touch with Connie Naber, who founded Karama Connection to help raise funds for St. Lucia Hospice and Orphanage near Arusha, Tanzania.
St. Lucia was originally founded to provide hospice care to those dying of AIDS. Patients came to St. Lucia for care during their final days. Many of them brought their children – also infected with HIV. Once the parents were gone, the children were left with no one to care for them. The director of St. Lucia, Winfrida, soon realized the need for an orphanage. With the help of funding from Karama Connection and others, the orphanage has expanded now to include a daycare center. Winfrida tries to help as many afflicted with HIV as she can. The orphanage houses about 26 children; the daycare takes in another 30 for part time care during the day. This was exactly the type volunteering I was interested in.
After the planning was done, vaccinations obtained, flights booked and bags packed, I departed, along with a coworker and client selected to join me for this adventure. I landed in Tanzania on a hot and humid night in April. Upon arrival in Tanzania, it was sensory overload! The sights and sounds are just what you would imagine – the people are poor. The homes and shops are what we would call shacks in the US. Goats, dogs and cows roam around free.
Despite the poverty, Tanzania is incredibly beautiful. We stayed near Mt. Meru, a very popular hiking/climbing mountain – 2nd to Mt. Kilimanjaro. We were told tourism is how people make money in Tanzania. In order to get a job in tourism, Tanzanians must speak English. That’s why education is so important there.
We saw an example of this during our first days in Tanzania when we visited, School of St. Jude, a premier boarding school in the area. In Tanzania, government (public) schools cost money…St. Jude is free, but it only takes the top students. They teach in English only. It’s very important to them to teach the children English, so they can get jobs after school.