Tag Archives: African Impact

The Long Journey Home

My flip-flops and my backpack… 22 months later.

As I sit here on the floor of Abu Dhabi International Airport already a bit jet-lagged but with 18 of my 35-hour total flight time to go, I can’t help but reflect on the last two years I’ve spent living outside of the United States of America.

The first of dozens of international flights since 2010.

I would be lying if I said that I had planned this all from the beginning.  When I left the U.S. in 2010, I assumed I had sold my traithlon bike and my surfboard to buy a ticket to visit my South African boyfriend, not travel around the globe.  But life has a funny way of showing you that not everything can be planned.

Exhibit A: Our puppy, Major. Totally unplanned.

And then I extended my 90-day visa for an additional 90 days purely to stay a little longer in South Africa, not to move to Thailand.  But again, life has a funny way of working.

Motorbiking it around Phuket, Thailand.

Thailand had begun as an idea, a solution for Morgan and I to be able to work/live in the same country while still seeing a bit of the world outside of the United States or South Africa.  What it became was an experience neither of us would trade for the world.  We were English teachers, backpackers, muay thai fighters, hot yoga groupies, scooter-riders, chili-eaters, mountain climbers and the list goes on.

Did I mention how much I loved the little monkeys that were my K1 Watermelon kindergarten class?

And then a decision had to be made: stay in Thailand for at least another year… or go?

Morgan and I both loved our year in Thailand for any number of reasons: friendly people, good jobs, great friends, AMAZING food, awesome hobbies and ridiculously cool experiences.  But for some reason, we both came to the conclusion that we weren’t ready for our lives to be that simple yet, that sorted.  (Idiotic logic, right?)

But I still believe that we made the right decision and away we went, back to Africa.  By this time, however, I had already been hired to start work for African Impact in Mozambique.

Escolinha de Boa Esperanca: the African Impact preschool in Vilanculos, Mozambique.

I had always dreamed of doing community development work in Africa and after three months of online job hunting while still living in Phuket, there it was: my dream job in the small beach town of Vilanculos, Mozambique.  On several occasions, I remember thinking that I was seeing ‘Africa’ for the first time.

Children’s Day at Bernard’s Orphanage in Vilanculos.

And then every community development workers’ nightmare came true: the Office of Immigration in Vilanculos decided to continuously reinterpret their understanding of what volunteer tourism is and what African Impact does as a company, hence my transfer to African Impact projects in St. Lucia, South Africa.

Building a tire course playground at a creche in Khula Township, just outside of St. Lucia.

I missed the project in Mozambique terribly, but I think I even surprised myself by landing on my own two feet in a new country and in a new position, especially when considering this had all come about with 12-hours notice.  I think this was my turning point – when I realized that maybe everything does happen for a reason.  Life is often sink or swim and I was determined to swim no matter what.  And I swam like hell.

How many people can you fit in a 16-passenger van? As a passenger who has counted, I can confidently say 29 people.

As I’ve sat here in my final moments abroad, I’ve struggled to find the right words to sum it all up – to possibly explain to someone how the past two years have not only changed my life, but changed the kind of person I was then to the person I am now.  And what I think of to say is this:

It doesn’t matter where you go or how much money you have or where you’re from – it matters how open you are to embracing the full experience.  The smells, the sounds, the people, the culture, the philosophy, the heart of what it means to be a global citizen.

And as I’ve stated in the ‘About Me’ section of my blog since my very first days blogging about this 22-month long adventure:  I’m far from being the most experienced traveler, but I’ve found that flip-flops and a backpack can take you just about anywhere.


Thank you to anyone reading this who I’ve met over the last two years, whether in Thailand, Bali, Mozambique or South Africa.  You’ve taught me what it means to be family even when you’re far from the family you’ve always known.  And a very special thanks to Lulu and Tex, my South African parents.

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August: The Last Month Abroad

An afternoon of collecting rubbish in Khula township with African Impact volunteers and local Zulu ladies.

I can’t believe it… after 22 months living outside of the U.S., this will be my last month abroad.

My original plan was to return to the U.S. in December, but issues with the Department of Immigration in Mozambique weren’t able to be resolved and the African Impact project in Vilanculos has yet to be reopened.  As my time working in St. Lucia, South Africa draws to a close, a decision had to be made: potentially transfer projects again or head home four months early.

And then I remembered that everything happens for a reason.

Beach day with Eswenelisha Afterschool Club kids. The little ones were waiting for the waves to touch their toes.

So for the first time in 22 months, I’m going home.  But not before I savor the last 12 days of my last month abroad.

Elephant Interaction with Carla at Thanda Private Game Reserve, South Africa

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One Month in St. Lucia, SA

Opening ceremony of Inkanyezi Creche

If I think back over the past 21 months I’ve been living outside the U.S., I can think of many curveballs life has thrown my way.  These include (but are not limited to): being homeless, being jobless, working illegally in three countries, bribing border officials to get out of one of those countries and most recently, being transferred from Mozambique to St. Lucia, South Africa for work.    With the following photos as evidence, the latter has been one of the most rewarding curveballs to be struck by.

See the large WILD elephant to the far left? Yup, I stuck my hand inside his mouth.

I must admit first and foremost that I miss my African Impact project in Mozambique.  I miss the preschool, the orphanage, the adult English classes and the beach.  Most of all though, I miss the people I worked with and the friends I made while living in Vilanculos.  It’s a small town with a big heart.

But in its own special, very different way, so is St. Lucia.

Face painting at holiday club in Khula township.

Like starting any new job (again), it’s a process.  It takes time to learn the ropes, the roads and the protocol.  My first two weeks here were spent on the highways between St. Lucia, Richards Bay and Durban trying to sort out a South African visa. [T.I.A.]

African Impact-St. Lucia staff and volunteers playing Bingo with kids at holiday club in Eswenelisha township.

Week #3 was my first week on projects here and with the help of the St. Lucia African Impact team (Carla, Alanna, Sofie and honorary team member, Michelle), we’ve guided 25 volunteers around two townships and ten project activities.  These activities include: holiday clubs, clinic visits, home-based medical care, adult English classes, creche-building, gardening, HIV/AIDS classes, support groups and teaching at both preschools and primary schools.  Pretty amazing stuff, no?

Look at who came to visit me!

Last weekend, Morgan drove the three hours from Durban to come visit.  We sampled the St. Lucia cuisine, drove through a game park (and in doing so, ran into friends from Thailand!) and helped paint the inside of Inkanyezi creche.  My partner in globetrotting couldn’t resist seeing another part of KwaZulu Natal, South Africa.

Mama Gumede unlocking the door to the newly-built Inkanyezi creche.  Over 200 people were in attendance at the opening ceremony.

It’s hard to believe that I’ve been in St. Lucia for a month already, but like any other day working with African Impact, I am constantly amazed by the potential for positive change in Africa.

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Celebrating Dia de Criança

One of the toddlers at Bernard’s Orphanage who got caught in the crossfire of a sticker war on Children’s Day.

In many countries around the world (including Mozambique), June 1st is known as Children’s Day – a day to celebrate the youth of a country, the future of a people.

In Vilanculos was no different.  African Impact (kudos to my boss and friend, Sonja!) along with local Mozambican teachers and mothers made sure that the day was full of food, stickers and laughter for each and every child.

Source: Sonja

Source: Sonja

Making paper chains for decoration at the orphanage. They had so much fun!

Making paper fish out to decorate.

Singing songs as we play ‘Pass the Parcel.’

Orphanage kids eagerly awaiting sweets from Sonja.

And honestly, what kind of celebration would it be without some cake?

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One Month in Mozambique

Morgan’s last day at Escolinha de Boa Esperanca preschool.

It’s official: I have been living and working in Mozambique for one month already.

It’s hard to believe that only a few weeks ago, I was stepping off the 20-seat plane onto the tarmac of the tiny Vilanculos International Airport.  I had left Thailand only two weeks before, spent a brief but lovely two weeks in South Africa with Morgan’s family and friends and after a 36-hour delay in Johannesburg, I had landed in the small Mozambican town I will be living in for the rest of year.

A small group of talented preschoolers learning about shapes and colors.

I’ve learned a lot throughout the past month.  I’ve learned how to cook rice in a hut over a fire for 80 preschool kids (thanks, Morgan!).  I’ve learned that there are various degrees of ‘Africa time’ (Durban ‘Africa time’ and Vilanculos ‘Africa time’ are not the same).  I’ve also learned how important African Impact (the organization I work for) is to the community of Vilanculos.

Tatiana, her little cousin Mariela and feisty little Sophia eating their beans and rice before going home for the day.

The preschool that our volunteers come to teach at is completely funded (teacher/night guard/farmer salaries, food for students’ breakfast/lunch and school supplies) by African Impact.  The ultimate goal is for the preschool to become self-sustainable, but at the moment, it’s not possible.

Source: Christine (former African Impact volunteer)

Our newest project is working at an orphanage in Vilanculos, but it’s not an ‘orphanage’ in the big building – lots of beds – and – a – cafeteria sense.  It’s a Mozambican woman with little means, but a big heart who decided to open up her small straw hut compound to children who don’t have anywhere else to go.  Our volunteers teach simple English lessons to the orphanage children on Tuesdays and arrange a fun play day for the kids on Thursdays.

Source: Christine (former African Impact volunteer)

Our third main project is Edson’s Adult English Class.  On Monday and Wednesday afternoons, volunteers teach a two-hour English lesson they’ve prepared earlier in the week to one of four English classes.  The 80 Edson’s students registered are eager to learn English, as it helps get the a better-paying job in the Vilanculos tourism industry.  Classes are taught outdoors on straw mats under a few tall trees.

Over 50 preschool moms have been coming every Saturday morning to help clear more land at school in hopes of expanding the preschool farm.

Throughout the past month both on and off projects, the concept of ‘community’ has been constantly evolving in my mind.  My few weeks in Vilanculos have reinforced the idea that “it takes a community to raise a child” as neighbors and friends here don’t think of themselves as such, but instead, ‘sister’ and ‘brother.’  These brothers and sisters help care for each other’s children, farm each other’s land and often help build one another’s first home.

This isn’t to say that Vilanculos, Mozambique is a perfect place.  Poverty is everywhere.  A small percentage of the population has electricity and running water and like everywhere else in the world (particularly Africa), crime does occur.  Nonetheless, as much as we westerners feel like Africa has to learn from us, we definitely have a thing or two to learn from Africa.

Just because I like this picture… and because I already miss my boy (Morgan flew back to South Africa on Wednesday).

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My First Week in Mozambique

My first day of preschool in Africa.

I can hardly believe that I arrived in Vilanculos, Mozambique only seven days ago.  Here’s a recap of my first week working for African Impact.

 Tuesday, April 24th:

Flew in from Johannesburg (after a 25-hour delay) and moved into what will be my house for the next eight months!

Wednesday, April 25th:

Little Wilma taught me how to get water cans ready for hand-washing at the preschool.

Thursday, April 26th:

Went for the first of many visits to Bernard's Orphange. The kids there are incredible!

Friday, April 27th:

After a very intense beach clean-up, the preschool kids went for a swim!

Saturday, April 28th:

Day off: Taking some time to sit on the beach and do something very difficult...find internet!

Sunday, April 29th:

Horse safari on the beach? Yes, please!

Monday, April 30th:

Went for an run before work and watched the sun come up over the Indian Ocean.

Tuesday, May 1st:

Public Holiday! Rode in a microglider airplane over the Bazaruto Archipelago. It was abstolutely breathtaking!

Not a bad first week of work.

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