|HOME||SERVICE PROJECTS||LEADERSHIP||FUN||STUDENT REFLECTIONS||JOIN US||ABOUT US||DONATE|
|Sports Education Leadership Foundation|
|Youth Sports Ambassador Program|
|"To do more for the world than the world does for you - that is success." - Henry Ford|
On July 11, 2012, I set out to Mwandi, Zambia with a sports leadership group called The S.E.L.F. Project. Before I went on this trip, my dad told me to do one thing for him in Africa, and it was to figure out why I was chosen to live so fortunately, and not be born into a situation like the Africans. When he told me this question I didn?t think much of it and I just hugged him, and went to my flight.
When I got to Africa, it was a big eye-opener. It felt like I traveled back to when cavemen inhabited the world. There were people using farming tools that I saw in a museum a few days ago for a history assignment. I was so intrigued by the way they lived and their unique culture. It made me feel as if nothing really mattered anymore: money, fast cars, and big houses were no more relevant to me.
While in Africa we went to help feed an orphanage run by the Mwandi village. When we got to the orphanage, there were kids jumping up and down right when they saw us. I was being pulled and tugged by forty kids asking to play with them, but out of the corner of my eye I saw this one kid standing there. His name was too complicated to say, so he was fine with Kyle. Kyle was not an ordinary kid. He had a face deformation called a cleft lip. He had trouble talking clearly and I could tell he was ashamed of his disease. So I went over to him and asked him to play soccer with me. For a good hour and a half, I played with him at the playground, and we instantly started to connect with each other, and I finally got a smile on his face.
Before I left the orphanage, he started to cry. I felt so guilty that I was going back to my comfortable life, while he was stuck here with no medical attention on his face deformation. So before I left, I made a deal with him. I told him I would put myself through medical school, and come back right when I graduate and cure his cleft lip before I do anything else, and there was that shining smile he had. And it suddenly struck me! This was the answer to my dad?s question. My purpose was to help people in third world countries by setting up non-profit clinics all around the world. This one is for Kyle.
Going into this trip I had no idea what to expect. The only ideas of Hong Kong and Bangladesh I could think of were given to me by my memories of the movies, "Need for Speed: Tokyo Drift" and "Slum-dog Millionaire". I knew that both movies took place in completely different parts of the world that I was not going to, but my excitement was making me desperate for some kind of image so that I could get mentally prepared. What I soon found out is that even if I had a virtual tour of everything I would see on the trip that still wouldn't have been enough to prepare me for the life-changing experiences that I had in Hong Kong and Bangladesh.
I knew that Asia was the most populated continent on the globe, and I always wondered how and where all those people lived. After a 14-hour flight from Los Angeles to Hong Kong, I found out just that. Practically right next to the airport, there were clusters of skyscraper buildings each of which had to house at least a couple thousand people in very compact and "slummish" looking apartments. We then went to see probably the most amazing thing I?ve ever seen in my entire life. We went to see the worlds largest Buddha. As we were driving up to it, it was so big that we could see it from miles away in the distance. We then had to walk up a huge flight of stairs in order to come within feet of the giant statue. It was an amazing experience that I will never ever forget. To finish our day in Hong Kong we went downtown to the shopping markets (Mongkok) to get souvenirs and see the city life in Hong Kong. It was lit up with neon lights that made the crowded streets glow. It was definitely a sight to see, but it was sad because if you looked above the lights you could see the beat up apartments that most of the people in the area lived in. That was just one of the things that made me appreciate the life I live back at home in America.
After sleeping in a nice comfortable bed for the night, we left the next day on our way to Dhaka, Bangladesh, thus began an experience of a lifetime. First, we landed in the Dhaka airport, and every pair of eyes was fixed on us all the way until we got in the car. In the car is where we experienced our first wave of new culture, where the driving lanes where a mere suggestion because everyone drove recklessly never following them. We dodged several surely fatal head-on collisions just on our way to our Dhaka hotel, where we only stayed for one night.
Our first day in Dhaka we went to ISD (International School of Dhaka) where we played with some of the students who were around our age. We then played competitive badminton and ultimate frisbee. We had a great time and made friends with the students whom we were playing with.
To our surprise, at the end of the day there was a bus waiting for us at our hotel in Dhaka to take us to our new home for the rest of the week, BKSP. Awaiting us at BKSP were very nice dorm rooms that were newly built which we were very happy to see because we were very tired.
The next morning, we met the basketball team for BKSP that we were going to be training two times a day for the rest of the week, once in the morning and once in the evening. The players were extremely nice people and they all had a great deal of potential. The average height of the players was over 6 feet tall, so all we had to do was help them with their fundamentals and they could be a very good team. It felt really good to teach them new drills that they could use even when we are not there, and to see them doing exactly what I was doing. They all looked up to me and that made me want to help them even more. By the end of the week, I had developed friendships with pretty much every player on the team. Whenever we were not practicing, they would want me to take pictures with them, and they would always be grabbing my arms and calling me "muscle man". A deep respect for them grew inside me when we went to their "Hostel" to see how they live. Their living conditions were terrible compared to the dorms we were staying in, but none of them cared because it was definitely better than anything they would have been living in at their own homes. They shared their culture with us by singing to us and even dancing with us. It made me feel really good when some of the players said that they will be praying that i can go back next year and that they will miss me "so much". I was moved when they told me that because I knew they said it with complete sincerity.
When we were not training the basketball team, we were visiting the towns and some villages in Bangladesh. First of all, the air in Bangladesh was so thick and polluted that one could practically chew it. In the towns, we would walk around and literally everyone would stare at us, and even follow us. The people are extremely poor, most of them without shoes, and many with terrible health and/or mutations. There was no fresh running water because the malaria risk was so high in Bangladesh. Seeing the town gave me an extremely strong appreciation for my living conditions in America. One day, we ventured to one of the ancient buildings in Bangladesh, and we were treated like celebrities. People were asking us to take pictures with their babies, and there wasn't a pair of eyes that was not fixed on us in the massive courtyard. I was amazed at how excited and happy the people were just to take a picture with us. We also visited two villages where we were welcomed inside some of the people's homes and even offered food. It was amazing to see how the people lived in their huts and little homes. They used cow poop as fuel for the fire that they cook the food with, I found that pretty interesting. We gave toys to the kids in the villages and even played with them. It was great feelings to see how happy the kids were and how much fun they wee having with the toys we gave them. On our last day, we visited an orphanage in a village and distributed cleats and soccer balls to the young children who did not have the proper accessories to play the games they wanted to play. It was crazy to see a field full of little kids having a blast with the soccer balls and cleats that we just gave them.
All in all, going to Bangladesh with the SELF Project was an experience that I will never forget. Its the greatest feeling in the world when I think about the new friends vie gained, and the number of smiles the seven of us put on the faces of numerous families, men, women, and children. The basketball coach wrote down all the drills we showed them, and just in the time that we were there, the team got dramatically better. We got to meet a military general at BKSP as well as the school principal who showed us one of the classes in session. We had a meeting with the leaders of BKSP where I gave them numerous ideas on how to balance both athletics and academics, because they told us that there is a lack of academic emphasis at BKSP. My ideas really sparked a greet conversation in the meeting, and other coaches started getting involved in the conversation. I feel like I grew a lot from that meeting as far as public speaking goes, and it was an experience I will never forget.
One of the players (his name was Asim) gave me a bracelet that his father gave him before he came to BKSP. This showed me how much I meant to him and how much he appreciated what we did for them. I look forward to doing the same for other people, like Asim, all over the world. Few people can legitimately say that they've made the world a better place, but thanks to the SELF Project, I can.
My pre-conceived ideas of Bangladesh did not come close to the actual experience of being part of the Bangladeshi culture. Arriving in Bangladesh was an overwhelming feeling; thick smoky air, Muslim men and women shocked by our skin color, and the long, intense glares of disapproval. Entering Dhaka by microbus and swerving through rickshaws and CNG?s (small motorized vehicles) was the first taste of chaotic traffic in Bangladesh where three lanes of traffic were suddenly transformed into six and red lights stopped no local. Traffic was not the most memorable aspect of this trip through. It was the joy in kids? faces in the villages after we gave them gifts, the importance of being ambassadors to help better the country and experience the warming feeling that you?re slowly helping to make the world a better place.
We arrived at BKSP, Bangladesh?s only national sports institute, which withholds some of the nations? best athletes. At BSKP, we fit multiple activities into a day, making the most of a day by meeting with the Director General, the principal, and other officials of the school, coaching the basketball team, playing pick-up soccer games, learning the national game of cricket, and my personal favorite; visiting villages distributing gifts and sports equipment.
A main reason Ms. Omori asked Hannah Wasserman and I to join her on this trip to Bangladesh was to give hope and inspiration to the girls of BKSP. Over the duration of two hours we exchanged gifts, ideas, and encouraged the girls to accomplish their goals and dreams despite the limitations of their culture. Being with the girls and seeing how fascinated they were by us American girls made me sense how diverse cultures really are and how such small tokens of respect and time can pay off in one?s personality.
My experience in Bangladesh taught me more than I expected and gave me a will and a drive to do more in my life to help the less fortunate people that I encounter. My journey allowed me to return home with much more appreciation, cultural respect, realization of opportunities, and the gratitude to my country knowing I have the freedom to be who I am without any limitations.
Noting the timeline of events stringing Dhaka together in some form of a jumbled, convoluted memorabilia would be little more than a superficial entry into the experience of deep, Southern Asia. The essence of such an adventure is not one of narrow linguistic understanding; not one of a color-wheeled canvas splattered throughout markets, and neither that of three-made-seven lane roads.
But to acknowledge the underlying cross-culture relationships would in turn incorporate such hectic and humbling scenes into the grand theme of universal understanding of respect and friendship.
My experience in Bangladesh is one of speaking without talking, virtually listening without understanding. The friendships made on this adventure are more than first impressions. They stem from sheer, raw respect, passion of personality, and eventually intangible attachment making the vast expanse of oceans and land, of Pacific or Atlantic, seem a little bit closer.
It is indeed inevitable that I feel a sense of relief as the airline wheels burn rubber at LAX after a 14-hour flight and a 10-day trip, that no matter where I travel my final destination is always home. However, this time I return home with a new sense of culture, and the empowerment of others and myself.
Our time at Mwandi is one I will never forget. From the crowded truck rides to serving orphans at the OVC, the experience I had, made me realize how lucky I am at home. Teaching sports to the students everyday was extremely rewarding, especially when I saw them laugh and get excited. I met so many amazing faces-Lumeh, Sitali, Pascal, Owen-who each taught me something valuable I took home with me. I felt at home in Mwandi and everywhere I went the people were welcoming. We made a promise to return last summer and I am so glad that we kept it because I felt like our mission was not finished yet. Compared to last year, we got a lot more done. We had firsthand interactions with the students and were able to make more friendships as well as accomplish what we set out for-empowering students through sports. On top of that, I was proud of our group for helping pay for Martin?s university tuition so that he can be on the path to becoming an educator. His dream inspired me and I was so honored to be part of helping someone help others. The experience at church was like no other service I had ever sat in before. It was a gorgeous day as the Reverend spoke of the announcements and introduced our group to the congregation. We listened to beautiful traditional music from the choir and even took part in some dancing. Another amazing adventure we had in Africa was going river rafting. I have never experienced such a thrill and I had the time of my life jumping out of the raft and getting stuck in whirlpools. I made lasting friendships not only with the people of Mwandi, but the amazing people I got to share this trip with. Churl and I bonded over food, Sage and I fell ill towards the end of the trip and had a two hour long bonding conversation, Lizzie, Hannah and I had a blast dancing with the girls, Tucker, Tiffany and I played endless games of Egyptian Rat Slap. This trip was the most glorious thing I have ever done and I am so grateful for Ms. Omori, the group, and especially the incredible people I met on our journey.
For a second time, the SELF Project traveled to the AIDS village of Mwandi, Zambia. This trip was just as amazing as the last and we definitely left with a feeling of accomplishment. It all began with the incredibly long plane ride that was worth every hour, minute and second. The moment we landed on the runway in the tourist city of Livingstone, Zambia, I knew we would once again have the experience of a lifetime. The trip began with a truck ride with twenty-five bags, eleven kids, and one friend in the back of the truck for a two-hour ride. This seemingly harmless and simple task of getting to camp turned out to be quite the adventure. It began with Churl?s hat flying off on the first turn onto the freeway, continued with Naomi?s sleeping bag flying off the back, paused when the engine overheated, resumed with rancid coolant spraying everyone, and ended with the serenity of Mwandi. Without Paula, the owner of the camp, everything went smooth and setback free. We accomplished the structure of a hut and did some internal improvements of the camp. That was just the side goal; the real goal lied within teaching PE and constructing volleyball courts. Once we got into the flow of everything, everyday was better than the last. My job was teaching volleyball, a sport I rarely play, to kids who had never played. This challenge was made easier by the free lessons provided by Randy Stoklos and Sinjin Smith before we left. The satisfaction of a successful bump or set really showed in the kids? faces and made my trip. Another great experience was helping in the Orphanage for Vulnerable Children where we played with all the children affected by HIV or AIDS and served them food. The work we did on this trip truly inspired my future goals and aspirations. I look to continue helping others around the world who are less fortunate and change their lives in any way possible.
The SELF Project trip and goal for the summer of 2012 was to return to the village of Mwandi, Africa, build volleyball courts, donate sports equipment, as well as teach physical education classes to the students. This being my second time on the same trip I thought I was prepared, but Africa never seems to disappoint. The second we got off a plane after traveling for over 24 hours, all 10 of us along with our 20 duffle bags were stuffed into the back of a pick up truck. I expected it to be a two-hour ride like last time, but with the fact that the truck was broken down, it turned out to be more like four hours with our occasional stops on the side of the deserted road to cool down the engine. At this moment I wanted to give up and catch a plane back to Los Angeles. I then reminded myself that the purpose of this trip was not about me but about the impoverished children of Mwandi. It didn?t matter if I was a little hungry, tired, or had some dirt on me because I knew damn well that the African children?s problems were a lot more severe. Traveling the world, learning new culture, and helping others is not an everyday opportunity so I was definitely not going to let my healthy and able self go to waste during my time abroad. It was almost as time had been paused over the year we had not been in Mwandi. They were still in very harsh conditions but never failed to have a smile on their faces. The lives we live are very different. Over a year a lot can happen in America. A new iPhone or two may come out, a celebrity might die, or a Emmy award winning movie may come out. In Africa they pray for a new water well to be built, or that their family all stays healthy with enough food to eat and a roof to live under.
The first day we arrived we helped build a hut for a family in the village. The appreciation they showed was a gift in itself. Building a hut is not easy labor but that one sweat bead you might drop is nothing compared to not having a home to sleep in at night. Just like years before kids rome the village so freely. It is interesting to see how well the community works together. If you threw a group of 2 years olds from Pacific Palisades into a room there would be a lot of selfishness and fighting. Although the kids in Africa do fight, they have learned to work as a team in surviving and greatly value friendships form a young age. Running into kids and rekindling lifetime friendships that we had made the year before was a pleasure. It was so amazing to see all the familiar faces. Pointing out kids we recognized, it was almost like reliving memories but the past trip. The surprised look on their face when they saw us walking down the street was so rewarding. They were so excited to have us back. Not only were they excited, but we were also excited to see everyone. One of my favorite experiences of this trip was visiting the Orphanage for Vulnerable Children. At the OVC we were able to participate in the feeding and playing with children who either have HIV/AIDS or has a family member who has or has died from this awful cause. Although we interact with the children a good amount, sports are the main focus of our organization. The building of volleyball courts worked out perfect. It was not that time consuming but can be so useful. We also taught volleyball, basketball, soccer, and yoga to the high school, middle, and elementary school students. Not every kid was athletic but both girls and boys all worked as hard as they could with the dress shoes and slacks or dresses they were in. Overall the 2010 SELF project trip to Mwandi, Africa was a joy.
Reflecting back on my trip to Zambia this summer, I have one memory in particular that I often find myself thinking about. On the day that we visited the Orphans and Vulnerable Children?s Center, I remember feeling apprehensive about visiting because I thought it would be overwhelmingly sad. Little did I know, I would have an amazing time playing with all the children. Besides dancing around with the much loved little boy named Lumeh, I met one other girl that really stood out.
I was playing on the jungle gym with Lumeh, when I said, ?Hi? to a girl that was all alone, but looked to be having so much fun. She was standing by herself, smiling. She didn?t respond to my greeting, however, by the way she acknowledged me and acted, I knew she had some form of autism. Nearby kids told me that she didn?t talk, but I knew it was more than that. I asked them for her name, and went inside to look at a list of all the kids that were in the OVC. On the list of the children with ?Special Needs?, I saw her name.
Although this young girl looked like she was extremely happy, I knew she was lonely. No one would play with her. The other children didn?t like her because her social skills were not like theirs. Lumeh and I then started playing with her. I wish I could have spent more time there to show the kids that she was capable of having just as much fun as any of them. Later, while we were walking back to our campsite, I held her hand in my right hand and Lumeh?s with my left, as they walked with us part of the way. I was glad that she could finally connect with someone; finally call someone her friend, even if she couldn?t say it.
Leaving was hard. I knew that my new friend was going to go right back to the way things were before I came. I could only hope that Lumeh and she would stay friends. I wish I could raise awareness of her disability, so that not only would she get treated with care, but also so that the kids would accept her for who she was. Then she too would have someone to play with.
From the second I got off the plane in Zambia, I knew that this would be a life changing and heart warming journey. From the long truck rides and the bon fires, to the smiles on the natives faces when we gave out equipment, each moment proved more memorable than the last. Before leaving to Africa, of course I was aware of their lack of food, wealth, and other resources. What I was not expecting however was the incredible amount of joy, love and appreciation for what they did have. Their lives are made of mud and sticks, and their clothes are passed on from donations and siblings, yet their smiles stretch from ear to ear and their creativity is out this world. All the children want to do is learn, play, run, smile and be your best friend. We were only there for what seemed to be two short weeks, but by the time we were packing up our suitcases to leave, I had a great deal of satisfaction that I had affected and impacted the lives of many kids, and learned a great amount about myself from the experience.
|On my trip to Africa with the SELF Project, I was able to help local children by teaching sports and volunteering. We provided the kids with a unique experience from their everyday classes and taught them how to organize sports in a different fashion which they can carry on after we leave. ÿÿWhat is special about sports is that they require little to no verbal communication, allowing us to really connect with kids of a very different culture. It felt like the kids and us all went to the same school! Sports also allow the children to bond with each other while exercising and having fun. This whole experience was very heartwarming and meaningful for me. It was hard to witness the amount of poverty in the villages, but I was glad we were able to help them as much as we could. It really changed my perspective on material value when I returned to America because those children in Africa had so little, but they were happier and friendlier than most people in America who have so many more possessions.|