Hospital porters walk up to 20 km per shift transporting patients and supplies from one area of a health-care facility to another, but Deanne Wilson and Janine Marek never thought of their jobs at Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre as physical training — until recently.
A few weeks ago, the pair visited Tanzania, Africa, on a group voluntourism trip and had the opportunity to climb to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro. Of the five women who attempted to summit the mountain, Wilson and Marek were the only two that made it.
“Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro had long been a dream for me, but I have to admit, it was the hardest physical challenge I have ever experienced,” said Deanne.
“I am certain the fact that Janine and I do a physically exerting job helped us on the mountain when things got difficult. It was worth the effort, though. Standing at the top was such an incredible experience.”
A few years ago, Deanne flew over Kilimanjaro while travelling to visit her daughter, who was working abroad at the time. She looked out the window of the plane and saw the huge mountain and decided then to add the climb to her bucket list. When she approached her good friend and co-worker about joining her, Janine wasn’t very interested as she didn’t view herself as a mountain climber. She changed her mind later when she came across a service trip opportunity that included an African safari and a chance to climb Kilimanjaro.
“I have always wanted to do some humanitarian work and this trip with One Voice One Vision was exactly what I was looking for,” said Marek. “We raised money to help build classrooms for children in Tanzania and then we went to Africa to visit the schools and see the work being done. We also raised money to pay for school uniforms. Sometimes the only thing standing between a child and an opportunity to go to school is the cost of the school uniform.”
It costs $20 to purchase a school uniform for one child and it is mandatory that all students wear uniforms to school. The group raised money for the uniforms and had the opportunity to see them delivered and handed to each child.
“Many people contributed money to buy a child a uniform and with the phenomenal support we received, we were able to purchase 552 uniforms,” said Marek. “It was wonderful to see the looks on the children’s faces as they were handed their new uniforms and to be present for the ground breaking ceremony for the school. We had the opportunity to visit with the children and the staff at the schools. Sometimes you donate money to a cause and you never really know if what you gave made a difference, but this was not one of those times.”
As part of the experience, the pair had the opportunity to stay with a Maasai family for a few days and experience everyday life in a village. Communicating was at times a challenge, but it was an opportunity to get a glimpse of what life is really like for families who live in Tanzania.
“That whole week was just an honour,” Marek said. “They have so little to give, but they gave all they had. The language barrier was frustrating at times, but it was still an amazing experience. We made chapatti over a fire, ate with our host family and did laundry in a bucket in the courtyard. When it was time for us to leave, our host mother invited us to try on her ceremonial dress, which was a tremendous honour.”
The tour also included the opportunity to experience an African safari in three different game parks. The group spent the first five days of their tour exploring Tarangire National Park, Serengeti National Park and the Ngorongoro Crater area.
“This was not a luxury safari by any means, but gazing up at the million stars that light up the African night sky was more luxury than a fancy hotel could offer,” said Wilson. “We slept in sleeping bags in tents and on our first night we could hear the sound of a lioness hunting a baby elephant. It was so close the ground shook and we were afraid to leave the tents.”
Over the course of five days, the group saw all of the animals of the Big Five and many others.
“The safari brought my inner child to life,” said Marek. “We just couldn’t believe we were seeing wild elephants and lions and other animals. It was like touring the world’s largest zoo.”
In the end, the African voluntourism trip proved to be the trip of a lifetime for both Wilson and Marek.
“Every day was an adventure and I love adventure,” said Marek.
“Combining a service opportunity with a recreational experience was the ideal way to see Africa. We felt good knowing that our efforts helped support children in Tanzania. Lives were changed — both theirs and ours.”
If you go:
• Deanne Wilson and Janine Marek travelled with a group of eight people that was led by Tyson Dory, a Calgary-based entrepreneur and humanitarian who runs a company called One Voice One Vision. Tyson provides adventure voluntourism experiences in developing nations with the perfect balance of adventure and culture while giving back to local communities supporting the education and empowerment of children through classroom development. Tyson with One Voice One Vision will be taking another group of interested participants to Thailand in March 2014. He can be contacted via email at email@example.com.
• The school classroom building and school uniform project was co-ordinated through a charitable organization called Achieve in Africa (www.achieveinafrica.org).
• Roy Safari (www.roysafaris.com) was hired for the safari and Kilimanjaro climb. The company is located in Arusha, Tanzania, has been in business for 20 years and is very professional. “I would highly recommend Roy Safari to anyone interested in going on a Tanzanian safari or Kili climb,” said Wilson. “The owner, the guides, the cooks and the porters did an exceptional job in looking after our every need. One of their mottos is: “Book as a client — leave as a friend.” That is how each one of us felt — there were actually a few tears when it came time to say goodbye to them.”
Debbie Olsen is a Lacombe-based freelance writer. If you have a travel story you would like to share or know someone with an interesting travel story that we might interview, please email: DOGO@telusplanet.net or write to: Debbie Olsen, c/o Red Deer Advocate, 2950 Bremner Ave., Red Deer, Alta., T4R 1M9.