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Wednesday, 16 February 2011

California Teen Building Brighter Future for Tanzanian Villagers

At just 16, Lily Gordon has already undertaken several projects to improve lives in a village in Africa.

It's hard to believe she's only 16. While most 16-year-olds are focused on getting their driver's licenses, Lily Gordon is focused on beating hunger in Tanzania. When I visited her family home in Berkeley, Calif., I immediately knew she was no ordinary teenager. As her father answered the door, Lily was in the kitchen cooking a delicious chicken dinner for her parents and the Go Inspire Go volunteer crew.

Lily's compassion developed at an early age. She showed signs of social awareness even at 10 years old. After learning about Africa and hearing about the starving children in Tanzania from a classmate, she wanted to help. For her 11th birthday, instead of presents, she asked her friends to donate money to help build a water pipe for a Tanzanian school.

"The idea of getting 25 more puzzles didn't seem as enchanting as the idea of being able to give kids water," Lily explained. She and her friends raised nearly $2,000 — more than Lily had ever imagined. When she was 12, another milestone, Lily took her first visit to Tanzania. She was struck by the beauty of the country, but even more affected by the inner beauty of the people.

"Being really immersed in the culture and seeing the people, I guess it made me want to help even more, just because I felt really connected to them and I felt they gave so much to me and were so welcoming to me even though they had so much less than me," Lily said.

What they lacked the most was food — a devastating part of their existence Lily witnessed first hand at the hospital. "Malnutrition is just part of the existence there almost. The bloated bellies, they're all very small for their age."

Lily learned that bread is imported to villages from big cities several hours away, but it's often rotten by the time it arrives. She came up with an idea that would save lives. When she returned home to California, she poured her heart into fundraising and learning how to build a brick oven to empower the villagers to make their own bread. The next year, she returned to Tanzania with this mission to build a new future with the villagers. The brick oven now feeds 200 orphans.

Last summer, during Lily's third trip, Lily, her family and her friends also built a rainwater harvest system to make clean water for the orphans. This summer, she plans to teach the villagers how to make their own smaller adobe ovens and a community garden to become self-sustaining.

"I feel like everyone needs to find something that really provides them with fulfillment and for me, this was it," Lily said. "I'm so lucky I found it when I was young, but I feel like if anyone got the joy that I received from just being with these people, working together to do what we could, then there's no way they would've turned down the opportunity."

She's half my age, but she's already embarked on a life lesson that I only realized a couple of years ago. I was privileged enough to volunteer in Jakarta, Indonesia, working with orphans and impoverished children on a digital photo project. Through the camera lens, they revealed a side of Jakarta — and of themselves — that broke through the language barrier. They showed me the slums in which they grew up, filled with tin-roofed shacks and mountains of trash. They showed me photos of their families, friends and the important people in their lives. They showed me their aspirations and hopes for a better future.

Like Lily, my life has been transformed because of this volunteer experience and the people I met. And you, too, can give while taking your own journey to other parts of the world. Leaving your comfort zone and putting your own needs on the back burner to build a brick oven for a village in Tanzania, or teach English to children in Thailand or clean up the earthquake-ravaged neighborhoods of Haiti, can open your eyes and your heart to a wealth of appreciation of your own life and your loved ones.


Yasinta Ngonyani said...

Hakika kuna watu wameumbwa na nyoyo za huruma na wema. Je sisi tunaweza kufanya hivi???