Off To Africa!
I joined fellow University of Cincinnati students as part of Village Life Outreach Project’s June Brigade in Tanzania.
Engineering, medical and nursing and pharmacy students and faculty from UC worked alongside a small team of architecture students and faculty from the University of Texas to help provide accessible and sustainable solutions for water, medical treatment and education to villagers, and I was there to document the trip!
The brigade began with 24-hours of air travel from Cincinnati to Nairobi Kenya, where we met the van drivers who would accompany and transport us from one destination to the next for the duration of the trip. Once we loaded up, we embarked on a 12-hour van ride to finish out the last stretch of our pre-Tanzanian adventure. Occasionally, we made stops at scenic points like Great Rift Valley, as well as local storefronts selling beautiful handmade items, but much of our time was spent traveling the dirt roads of Nairobi. Along the way, we saw villagers of all ages walking along the breathtaking landscape of Kenya's capital city.
The trek by van was divided over two days; the second of which being significantly shorter than the first. We left our hotel early the second day and made it to our final compound by midmorning. There, we set our things in our assigned buildings and prepared for the work ahead. After introductions to the team, doctors and medical students worked with nursing students and the only pharmacy student to check inventory and sort the supplies as they would be needed in the days to come.
Once all preliminary measures had taken place, we joined groups based on skillset and loaded up the vans with supply bags. For the first work day, I joined UC's engineering team as they acquired and repaired pipeline and visited the areas where water tanks were previously installed by earlier brigades with the nonprofit organization Engineers Without Borders. These tanks filled with water from solar powered wells in the area, which was mad possible by attached pipeline running in the ground. Some of the pipeline had been broken and disconnected from the track set in place, making it difficult for water to travel to the tanks.
One tank was located in a school in the Tanzanian village Nyambogo, and we were met with friendly and excited faces of school children once we stepped out of our van. We met with the children as much as we could, in the lulls between the work that needed to be done. Transporting massive amounts of pipeline was no joke, and it required most of the team members efforts just to get it out of the trucks that transported them. From there, the task was to move it along the path and make repairs as needed.
By the time lunch rolled around, everyone earned their appetite. We ate our packed sandwiches and admired the landscape, before moving onto the next task. By late afternoon, we all filed in and headed back to the compound, where we had a little downtime before dinner. This was a good time for everyone to come together and talk about their day, unpack, wash up, nap - or in the case of the creative/design team, offload images onto hard drives. This task ultimately proved harder than anticipated, as the connection was difficult to find and keep, and the offloading of hundreds of images became a much longer process than before.
Dinners allowed everyone to regroup and share the progress and events of the day with the whole team. After dinner, many would stay and continue the conversation, but often times that was the last of the day's scheduled events. Whenever bedtime came, we would go back to our designated sleeping areas and climb into our mosquito-netted beds.
The mornings had an early start, as it was imperative to make the most of the brief time we had. We'd meet under the picnic tables in the central pavilion for breakfast before a being given a quick overview of the day's assignments and heading out to the worksites. The second day I departed from the engineering team and joined the medical, pharmacy and nursing students and doctors to spend the day in a Burere village clinic hosted in local school rooms.
Many villagers traveled far and wide for treatment of conditions like malaria and various infections, and the medical team worked through their system of assessments - starting with the nurses and ending in the pharmacy - to treat hundreds of people. Many patients came with their families, making the waiting areas full of villagers standing by to be treated by the medical team. At the end of the second day (which took longer to close up than with the engineers on the first, seeing as it was not over until all of the patients had been evaluated and treated,) the team rejoined the vans and set back out for our home base.
We had a brief allotment of downtime before setting back out for a hike to a local mountain region. The entire group reunited again to take in the scenes of the countryside, and we began to undergo our pre-dinner trek. The trip spanned over a couple miles in total, and the view was well worth the moments of rocky uphill terrain (an especially tricky venture for someone bearing a camera around their neck.) We stayed there for a good while, taking in the sights and sounds of this new environment we had made our momentary home. When it was time to head back, our biggest motivation to leave was the promise of the dinner that awaited us upon our return. We talked about the days happenings as well as that of our lives, and divulged in present and lively conversation of all things in between.
That bond only strengthened throughout the trip, and we quickly fell into a rhythm for our remaining workdays. The schedule was set from wake-up to dinnertime, and then free for whatever was preferred beyond that - making late game nights and starlit conversations a favorite for some. But everyone was bound by this unified task and the desire to help others through their talents and acquired skills. I don't think I will ever forget that.
Later in the week, the team visited the Roche Medical Center to witness and work in the village's permanent clinic space, where many mothers brought their young children for check ups. On the same day, we traveled to another facility for medical care, and an outside village to witness how some of the water tanks were serving the local communities.
Before I new it, our time in Tanzania was coming to a close. We would soon be packing up from the base for the last time, and entering the vans to head back to Kenya. The route home was an adventure in itself. We were privileged with the opportunity to witness The Great Migration while on safari! To this day it is probably the coolest thing I have ever done.
Our van drivers were gifted safari guides, and told us all about the incredible wildlife we saw. Giraffes, zebras, elephants, wildebeests, lions, meerkats, monkeys, cheetahs, rhinos, leopards, oh my! I saw 4 of 'The Big 5', named for the most difficult animals to hunt on foot when it was legal (so much so that anyone who successfully did was deemed a warrior.) The Elephant, Buffalo, Rhino all make the cut, along with jungle cats Lion and Leopard (arguably the most difficult to 'spot', if you will.) My van witnessed all but the Rhino out in the Masai Mara, and I am forever grateful for all that I've been able to see and experience in my time our on safari.
We did have two other mini destinations before we headed back to the states; an elephant orphanage and giraffe sanctuary - where we witnessed the animals up close (and even got to feed them!) The elephant orphanage serves as an animal shelter for elephants who have been attacked and hunted for ivory - an illegal offense - and provides a safe space for them to recover out of reach from poachers.
That made for the end of the trip that I will keep with me forever. I hope to someday visit Africa again, and continue to do work that serves as much good to others as this.
Photos were taken for the University of Cincinnati’s Magazine article "Lessons In Love" written by John Bach and UC database as well as The Village Life Outreach Project publications and database.
"Lessons In Love" won a 2020 National Gold CASE Award.