Students and staff members from Windermere Preparatory School are reflecting back on a life-changing experience.
Twenty-seven students traveled to Tanzania in east Africa during Spring Break for eight days — not including two for travel — filled with education, exploration and community service.
The adventure was led by Nancy Gerena, director of college counseling and residential life dorm parent, and Bill Miller, high school visual arts teacher/IB arts and residential life dorm parent, as well as two other chaperones.
Since 2014, students from the Nord Anglia Education family have worked on a series of service projects in and around Maji ya Chai. These have contributed to the long-term support and sustainable development in the local communities of Kitefu, Imbaseni and Nazareti. As of now, almost 4,000 students have worked on these projects.
Although the trip has been facilitated annually by the school since 2015, this year was the first opportunity the students had to participate since the COVID-19 pandemic began. In fact, WPS students and staff were in Tanzania when the pandemic first broke out and had to return home immediately.
“It was important for me to get this back to our school and get our kids involved in this kind of social impact; it was something that I really wanted to do,” Gerena said. “As a college counselor, it’s the trip — when I interview students — that I hear about over and over again and how it impacted them in their life.”
Students traveled throughout the region to participate in community-service projects, learn about sustainable development and explore the Tarangire National Park, where they learned about a diverse range of flora and fauna.
The program is designed to help students grow personally and emotionally. The activities support key skills, including confidence, resilience, independence and leadership.
For the majority of the trip, the students stayed at a private camp, only available to Nord Anglia students, called Shamba Kipara.
At Shamba Kipara, attendees slept in a large, single-gender tent filled with comfortable beds and storage space. The camp includes a traditionally built African dining hall, where students met in the evening for a fusion of traditional Tanzanian and Western food cooked in the on-site kitchen by local catering staff. The camp also has a pool, fire pit and green spaces.
The camp is fitted with security cameras, surrounded by an electric fence and around-the-clock security.
Although interested students do not have to pay a fee for the trip, they are required to fundraise $400 in donations to support service projects in Tanzania. In addition, they are responsible for other expenses, such as travel, vaccines, medication, money for souvenirs and additional snacks.
Miller said when discussing themes for IB art, students talk often about different parts of the world and different problems that people have.
“I thought it would be interesting to take this group of kids, whether IB or not, to a place where they can experience an entirely new culture,” he said. “You learn that when you are in these situations, that everybody’s problems are really the same, and everybody’s goals are really the same.”
Junior boarding students Yijia Hao, a Chinese native, and Taeyoung Kang, of South Korea, chose to go on the trip because they wanted to explore a new country and see the way that different people live their lives.
Students arrived at the Kilimanjaro airport and traveled about 40 minutes to the camp for an introduction, talk and tour. They spent the rest of the day relaxing and enjoying the environment. The camp offered the opportunity for WPS students to meet other Nord Anglia students from across the world.
The second day of the trip included exploration of the local villages, as well as learning about coffee plantations. The students followed the process from growing the beans to harvesting, sorting and roasting in the community co-operative of farmers working to produce fair-trade products.
The next day, students traveled to local communities to visit families in their homes and participate in community-service work, such as building goat sheds and smokeless stoves and installing solar systems.
Although seemingly small projects, each individual piece contributes to a family’s long-term sustainability. The goat can be used to generate income or food, while the light can be used by children to read and study.
“It seems like it was only a day of our effort, but it left this huge impact in the community for these families,” Gerena said.
Days four and five of the trip were all about The Seeway Project. Students contributed to the building of the new classrooms, science labs, kitchens and bathrooms at Kiwawa Secondary School.
The students dug foundations, laid floors, built brick walls and plastered. This is a continuation of Nord Anglia Education’s projects in the area over the last few years, such as building a new nursery and primary school with a special-needs unit.
Gerena said she was proud to see the kids rise to the challenge.
“They were definitely put in situations that were maybe outside of their comfort skill levels,” she said. “They were learning how to build things, they were working really long, hard hours in the heat. I mean, no air conditioning for 10 days. Indoor plumbing. These are things that I know we all really appreciated coming home to. They were amazing.”
Kang said his main attraction to going on the trip was the fact that they would be working on building a school.
“The kids in Africa don’t receive the same education that we do in America, or even where I’m from in South Korea, so I wanted to contribute to the society there,” he said.
Hao agreed, saying he was attracted to making a lasting impact for the children at the school.
“I’ve been hearing about kids in Africa all the time and the struggles that they go through like walking a long distance to school every morning and the different dangerous incidents that can occur on the trip,” he said. “When I heard what we were doing for their education, I was shocked and motivated to really make a difference. I think I put my max effort into building the school.”
Miller said one of his favorite parts of the trip was seeing the students interact with the local children. The students played football with the children, had lunch with them and pushed them around in wheelbarrows.
Hao even developed a special relationship with one of the young boys, Joven.
“From the bottom of my heart, I really would love to see him grow bigger, healthier, with love, get a good education and with confidence,” he said. “When I was leaving, I kept telling him to believe in himself and that he is the best. That is the positive energy I grew up with, and I wanted to pass that along to him and other children.”
Hao decided he will be sending the young boy $20 every month to pay for his school, which is only $20 from now until September. The extra money will provide Joven with food, snacks, stationery and anything else he may need.
Students spent the final days of the trip exploring Tarangire National Park.
Since returning home, Miller said, the change is already evident to see in the students.
“We now know so many people from across the world,” he said. “It’s going to sound cliche, but the more we have these experiences and the more people we get to know, the world is going to be a better place. The more you understand everyone else, the better you get along.”
The students keep in touch with their new Nord Anglia friends, continue to nourish the relationships they built with their fellow WPS peers, and express their emotions and experiences through their art or college essays.
Kang said the trip taught him to try and make the best of himself.
“I complained a lot about grades, stress or assignments, but they have a different kind of stress there,” he said. “People make the best of themselves there. They were so happy with so little, but they didn’t think it was little.”
The students who went on the trip now will get ready to present to the school’s different divisions and talk about the trip as well as the importance of making a critical impact.
“None of us wanted to waste a single minute when we were there,” Hao said of his day working at the school. “I wanted to give my best effort. I was so tired, and I remember standing on the floor we had made, taking my gloves off and seeing the kids going in and out of class with big smiles on their faces as the sun peeked out from behind the clouds. It was just a moment I will never forget. Everything we did was so worth it.”
Maria Luiza Carvalho Beccari, a sophomore and native of Brazil, said the trip certainly changed her perspective in a profound way.
“We all know about the struggles people go through, but it’s different when you actually get in contact with these people and build relationships,” she said. “You learn their stories. Even participating in something like this has brought all of us who went so much closer, when maybe before we did not talk at all. It was life-changing.”