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Molly Sepsenwol is a 17 year old student at Miami Beach Senior High, working as a communications intern at Restless Development USA. Last summer, she went on a student community service trip to Tanzania for four weeks, one that inspired her to become involved in a youth-led social activist group and work on local service projects to improve her community.

The roads are really just paths paved in the dirt, weaving in and out of fields of dried grain or densely packed trees. As we walked along the path, local women would greet us with warm hugs and invite us into their homes. In our home towns, to accept such an invitation would be more than unwise—stranger danger is what our parents always warned. But in Maji Moto, a rural farming village just outside of Arusha, Tanzania, greetings such as these are nothing shy from ordinary. 

It was the summer of 2018, and I was on a trip with nine other high school students in Tanzania, living in that same village for three weeks and plunging into a life far from our own. In those three weeks, we had framed a house for teachers at the local school, repainted classrooms, and taught English in the mornings to primary school students. While that work did require interaction with community members, I wasn’t fully immersed in the everyday life of the village until my homestay with one of the students.

Volunteers getting stuck into community life

The walk from the school to Aadila’s house was long. The two other students in my group and I followed behind her aimlessly, unaware of how far away we were from the school until we realized we were still walking. On the walk, we were greeted by kids running around with warm Jambos and the ever persistent question—Jina lako ni nani? (What is your name?). 

We arrived at Aadila’s home, after a walk that was probably 45 minutes long, and were asked by her and her siblings to sit in the small hut outside the premises. It was there that we met Aadila’s mama, and it was there that we were each given an ear of Tanzanian corn. Communicating was difficult. I brought my English to Swahili phrasebook, but it didn’t exactly help. It didn’t matter though. The air was warm and sweet and we closed our eyes and listened to the sounds of a quiet life until it was time for the walk.

Aadila grabbed my hand and indicated for me and my peers to follow. Once I saw the buckets in her and her friend’s hands I realized we were being taken on the daily Water Journey. Everyone’s read the stories—the ones about the young school children in rural African communities that walk for miles every day just to find clean water. However, whether everyone has experienced one of these journeys firsthand is a different story. 

One might expect this walk to be exhausting, hot, covered in sweat and dirt and misery. It wasn’t though. We walked along a shaded path, as shadows from the foliage dripped patterns on our skin and a breeze skimmed over the fields, making them look like an ocean of yellow. 

We reached the brook—a cement ditch of water that flowed without much enthusiasm. There were other children there with buckets of their own, on the same mission. Aadila and her friend stood over the ditch with one foot on each side, leaned over, and used the lids of their buckets to scoop water. Aadila pointed to the bucket in my hand and raised her eyebrows and smiled, so I followed suit, kneeling over the brook, filling my tub with life’s most precious resource.

Adila and her friends

The walk back wasn’t peaceful. It was exhausting and jaw-dropping at the same time. Aadila and her friend balanced the buckets on their heads with ease, their necks completely straight, and walked as if the only thing on their heads was hair. I tried doing the same but stopped for fear of snapping my neck in two. My hands burned from the handle digging into my palms, my arms ached, and my back remained hunched over.

That was the moment I realized that while this was a service trip and while we were interacting with the village, we were really just there to understand. Here were these girls, no older than 13, balancing these massive buckets of water on their heads like it was nothing. Here they were raising their little siblings while their parents worked to keep them fed; walking for miles at a time to keep their families happy and hydrated, walking for miles at a time to get an education.

Me? I can hardly get to school on time and its 10 minutes away. I can hardly stand being around my sister for more than 5 minutes. I can hardly hold a bucket.

There’s a lot to learn from a day in the life of someone far from home.

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