Serving Southern Africa trip defined by hard work, new friendships
Posted 04/26/2016 09:00AM

TASIS students in the Serving Southern Africa group challenge stereotypes about life in Africa and its people, spending the year learning about the challenges of development and economic growth in rural Africa. For two full weeks during the Spring Holiday, students assist in rural and urban areas in Zambia, transforming communities through their service. This year’s trip was led by Howard Stickley (IB Coordinator and UK College Counselor), Mara Bernasconi (High School Italian and History Teacher), Dr. Mark Abisi (High School Academic Dean), and Katlyn Abisi (College Counseling Department). TASIS junior Adam Novak, who was participating in his first Global Service Program trip, penned the following excellent recap of the journey.

By Adam Novak '17

Day 0

Most of us have never been to Africa. In fact, I have never been outside of Europe. The vast continent next door is as much of an unknown place to me as it is a fascinating one. Having all heard stories about the exotic landscapes, animals, cultures, and traditions of this incredible land, our group of 13 TASIS students will finally be able to experience them for themselves over the spring break of 2016.

We hope we can all take something back from this trip, whether it is a memory, a lesson, or even an inspiration. Over the next two weeks, we will be encountering and overcoming challenges that will distance us from comfort, all the while trying to help and serve the community that so nicely welcomed us. Our group has done numerous research and held several classes on responsible tourism, which will surely guarantee that we have a fun trip that will make a difference.

Our journey begins in Malpensa Airport, where we will start our 26-hour journey to Southern Africa, and where we will wait restlessly, wondering what awaits us in the Southern Hemisphere of the world.

Days 1–4

The ZigZag was great. Not only is it an excellent lodge, but it also volunteers to help the needy. A substantial percent of their profits go into financing their personal aid program and into supporting local programs too. We contributed to their project by staying at the hotel and by working with local companies. Oliver and Patrick provided us with bikes as well as tours, while Uncle Ben, somewhat an activist, taught us the art behind planting trees and caring for the environment.

Those kids were out of this world. They were fearless, open, and incredibly fun to be around.

What made our experience in Livingstone even better were mango smoothies and afternoon hours at the pool. However, our days were full of hard activities and events too. We entertained and conversed with many kids from three different schools, although most of our efforts were directed towards the Cowboy Pre-School. This was as much of a learning experience for them as it was for us, I believe. We grasped a little something about the culture of Africa by interacting with the children, while they were able to improve their English through simple conversations. Those kids were out of this world. They were fearless, open, and incredibly fun to be around. When we left for Mwandi, many of us looked back nostalgically at our days spent together with them, especially Nick and Can, who became quite attached to the school after spending a whole afternoon with the students down at the Croc Farm, where we ate BBQ and played soccer; in other words, it was a success of an event.

Our chaperones were also able to squeeze in a visit to the Victoria Falls, regardless of our tight schedule. The power and size of this natural phenomenon are really something to look forward to when travelling to Zambia or Zimbabwe. The Falls were an astounding spectacle, to such an extent that it’s rather hard to describe them using words. After that, we raced back to ZigZag in cabs before it became dark, listening to “Moneymaker” by Biblos. After our four day stay in Livingstone, our group was ready to take on Mwandi.

Days 5–8

Our three-hour trip to the rural village of Mwandi was brutal. The bus was barely able to hold all of us, yet we were somehow able to travel the run-down roads of the countryside. The heat was a problem, though, and it would continue to be a problem for the remainder of our time in Zambia, starting from our journey in that bus. Mr. Stickley, in fact, jeopardized his safety to jam open the door of our vehicle so that fresh air could come in.

In any case, our goal in Mwandi was to help Paula’s workers build a mud hut for a family of five. Our friends Gaby and Martin started construction months ago, but there was still a lot of work to do. As soon as we got to work early in the morning, we understood that we wouldn’t be returning to our comfort zone any time soon. We divided our jobs so that progress would move more quickly: some mixed the mud, some covered the walls with mud, and some passed the mud. Mud was basically king.

Our days were loaded with hours of hard work, but we knew they would serve a good cause. This episode of our trip required much more physical labor, but a substantial amount of mental power too. Working under the heat of the sun, we had to temper our concentration and muster enough determination to keep shovelling, throwing, and passing. It was difficult work, but Can and Grandma were usually able to cheer up the mood with their random conversations. The three days we spent at Paula’s were pretty much all the same, but such is the life in Mwandi. Luckily, we understood from the beginning of the trip that to make the trip an extraordinary experience, we would all have to enjoy it and be onboard with the plans.

Days 9–11

On the Saturday of the first week, we temporarily stopped the hut building to go on a safari trip. We crossed the Zambezi River into Botswana, where we met the guides of Naga Safaris: Matambo and Newman. We loaded the trucks and settled in our seats, ready to take a few needed days off from the hard work. Once we reached the camp, our tents looked simple and bland, but upon further inspection, they were actually equipped with portable toilets, beds, tables, and even a shower.

Apart from being able to cook amazing food from the most basic ingredients, the crew of Naga Safaris was extremely kind and dealt with all of our demands. Our stay, hence, was very comfortable but also very entertaining. We would wake up before sunrise and return after sunset in hopes of catching a glimpse of an interesting animal, which I have to say we were very lucky in doing. We stumbled upon an African Wild Dog within the first hours of our “hunt,” one of the most rare animals at Chobe National Park. By the end of the trip, our goal was to be able to find a lion or another member of the Big 5. Just before leaving we found a pack of lions preying on a giraffe, which basically topped it all off.

Our days were loaded with hours of hard work, but we knew they would serve a good cause.

The safari was a great way to relax and to spend some quality time with the group. We spent the days tracking buffaloes, elephants, giraffes, and whatnot; we spent the evenings around the fire, trying—and succeeding—to take pictures of the stars after an awesome meal cooked by Josephine. The time went by so quickly that we didn’t notice our little vacation was over and it was time to get back to work.

Days 12–14

We were back at it. After a short return journey, our group was quick in restarting the work. The outside walls had been completely covered, but the interior still needed a little bit of work. Nevertheless, Gaby told us to start smoothing the exterior walls because they were dry enough. This work was much easier, but the days unfortunately got hotter as time went on, slowing our work down considerably. Staying inside the house was nearly unbearable, seeing that it practically became an oven, so we had a few cases of dehydration. Construction went on though, and Grandma was happy to see that her outside walls were finished.

There’s not much to say except that we concentrated on trying to do as much work as possible. We spent nearly a week in Mwandi, and we hated to see any of the time go to waste, so we gave it our best shot. We would wake up in the morning, eat breakfast, build the hut till lunch, eat lunch, nap, build some more, and then chill till dinner. Repeat.

Progress was going well though and the hut looked nothing like it did at the beginning.

Day 15

We visited Sooka. Our group decided to hike there despite the torrid weather conditions. Upon arrival, we were greeted by the school kids, who were playing soccer. Sooka was a small community: it consisted of a church, a school, and a few families, but they all had a strong sense of unity. They were very welcoming, and several of the mothers prepared a traditional Zambian dish for us. After that, we all gathered around the fire to share each other’s songs. Our group was not as prepared to sing altogether, but we definitely put on a show for everyone.

The point of our little visit was to experience the true culture of Zambia. It was an interesting moment of cultural inter-mixing; a way to see how unique yet surprisingly similar our cultures are. We donated a football and a couple bags of clothes to their school. In return, they gave us a moment to cherish for as long as we can remember it.

Day 16

We camped in a field in Sooka and came back with Paula’s vehicles. We had the morning off, so our chaperones gave us money to do the Kwacha Challenge. The objective was to buy what we thought the family we were building the hut for would need most in their new, humble abode. Four groups received 100 kwacha each and went on a shopping spree. We were able to buy many helpful little gifts for Grandma and her grandchildren. After having spent our last working hours on the hut, we said our goodbyes, looked back at our work, and were proud of being able to participate in building the 147th house since 2008.

We held our last meeting that night and celebrated Dave’s birthday with s’mores. All of us packed our bag and went to sleep. The next day we would board our flight, having spent two whole, service-oriented weeks in Africa. Time went by so quickly we had trouble differentiating between memories and the present.

Last destination: Malpensa.


TASIS Global Service Program

The Global Service Program was envisioned by Jan Opsahl ’68, who became the first international student at TASIS when he came from Norway in 1965. The pioneering program was launched in 2013 with major support from a most generous donation from Mr. Opsahl and his family to set up the Global Service Trust. This Trust, along with support from the TASIS Foundation, make this incredible, life-changing experience for our students possible.

The Global Service Program transforms lives by providing every High School student a unique opportunity to connect across borders through comprehensive experiences that build empathy and encourage personal responsibility. Participation in the program—which is designed to awaken students to humanitarian needs, inspire them to build enduring, mutually beneficial relationships, and lead them toward a life of active citizenship and committed service—is a graduation requirement.

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