What are your motivations to travel? It’s likely not the first time someone will have put that question to you, and I’m sure it won’t be the last. Everyone’s answer will doubtless be unique to them, but ultimately your reasons are going to be ones to do with yourself, because what you get out of it will primarily benefit you.
But while travel is, by its very nature, a selfish activity you can still opt to do something with it that will still fundamentally be of benefit to you and have the side effect of benefiting others as well. So while I’m not going to pretend that the Tanzanian library project is all about the kids, I am going to say that, ultimately, it shouldn’t be about me; as self-contradictory as that may sound after my introduction, not to mention the fact I’m blogging about it (which is about as ‘look at me’ as you can get!).
Which kids am I talking about? The kids of the KYGN school, for starters. But I’d like to think the very real and tangible difference the library we’re building them are obvious, and have been covered in previous posts in this series, such as this one. For this post, I want to put the 14 girls from Surbiton High School who we’re taking out there in the spotlight.
Just about everyone I’ve spoken to about this project has told me how lucky the 14 of them are to have this opportunity, and that they wished something like this was available to them when they were in school themselves. Well, yes, they are indeed lucky; but in some ways, they’re fortunate to be part of this in ways you might not have thought of. They also will tell you that it’s not all been fun and games…
I’ve said before that the expedition doesn’t begin when we land in Tanzania, and I’ve been working them hard in the lead up to it. For example, building a library doesn’t simply involve dumping lots of books on the shelves and leaving them; you have to painstakingly catalogue them first. You also have to ensure there is more to it than books – decorations, displays etc – otherwise no one would go in to it. The girls have had to sacrifice lots of lunchtimes and after school hours to get these things done.
But it’s important to give them this responsibility, as it creates a sense of ownership. Anna at KYGN has asked for us to lead a day of sport activities, and I’ve left this entirely up to them. If it goes belly up? Well, on their heads be it. But I have every faith that it won’t, because they’ve had plenty of time to think about it, and to their credit, they have done enough research to know what KYGN is all about.
So whilst I may be the one who established the project for us, it is they who make it work. And it doesn’t stop there – we see it as their expedition and, as such, they’re the ones who are going to lead proceedings not only at the KYGN School but when we subsequently explore Tanzania too.
Yes, you see the provisional itinerary for our three weeks in Tanzania hasn’t been mapped out by me, or anyone else for that matter – it’s been determined by the girls. Not only that, but they’re also responsible for getting us around the country, finding our accommodation, cooking our meals…in short, they’re in charge of the whole shebang.
Now I’m not saying we’re so feckless as to leave them to it. If they do something badly wrong we will step in, and we have a qualified expedition leader from Wilderness Expertise (the company we’re going with) as well as myself and the school nurse to offer support. But the expedition is all about personal growth and development for the girls, and a big part of that is making mistakes and learning from them. The girls taking the lead on things is the best – the only – way to ensure this happens.
The girls presenting what they’ve learnt so far on the expedition to their parents
The biggest thing, however, is that, when they first arrive at the KYGN School, they’re going to be humbled, moved and emotionally walloped in the gut in a way that I simply cannot prepare them for. It’ll be a game-changer that will alter their perspective on life, and unavoidably result in them maturing (it feels like they have to an extent already…more on that in later posts). Their stresses about, say, exams and boyfriends will be put in to their proper perspective when they meet children who have nothing yet come in to school with a smile on their face every day.
The greatest gift this project/expedition will give them is that they will, I am sure, come back as changed people – wise beyond their years, able to do things they hadn’t even contemplated trying, and actually, properly understanding of how fortunate they are in a way that simply being told that they are just wouldn’t be able to replicate. That, I think, is the best thing about this project as far as the Surbiton High school girls are concerned.