Changing Course

 

Almost 20 years ago my cousin Gavin (visual journalist at the Calgary Herald) had a brilliant idea, “Let’s climb Kilimanjaro,” he said.  “And while we’re there we can go on safari…”

Immediately I had visions of lions, giraffes and elephants (the climb appealed to me too, but in a different sort of way).  There was no arm-twisting needed to convince me to go.

But honestly, I had no idea that this one trip would change my life.

It never dawned on me.  I didn’t acknowledge the change until one night many years later.  While touring in Namibia, I saw a message chalked on a board outside some restrooms.  It said:

“We hope you have an experience that alters the course of your life, because after Africa nothing will ever be the same.”  (This quote is attributed to “Suzanne Evans” but I have no idea which Suzanne Evans.)

It was then that I knew I was smitten.

I love the animals of Africa.  I love the landscapes.  There is a taste, a scent to the air when I step out of the plane in Arusha, Windhoek, Antananarivo… that is undeniably Africa. And to me it tastes very good.

But what I love most about Africa is the people.  Especially the kids.

Back in Tanzania in 2016, I am introduced to 350 primary school children in the rural district of Karatu.  I capture a few portraits and am soon surrounded — more accurately engulfed — by a horde of smiling, laughing kids eager to see themselves.  

That day I learn a lot about life in Tanzania outside the normal view of tourists.

I learn that many kids walk 10 kilometres or more to get to school, often without benefit of breakfast.  They arrive at school by 8:00am then spend about an hour cleaning the school and preparing it for their classes.

I see that the school has no power and no running water (aside from a tap in the courtyard that produces water two months out of three).  There are virtually no teaching aids (including basics like books).  Many of the kids are wearing uniforms that have seen better days… years ago, when they were worn by an older sibling or neighbour.

I am invited inside a classroom.  It is dark, dingy and the desks are ancient.  Yet the kids are keen to attend this school, they are eager to learn. 

These children have so little.  And yet they have much that one wouldn’t expect: dazzling smiles, laughter, enthusiasm, and the sort of joyfulness that kids without a care in the world should have.

That night I talk to my guide.  “What can I do to help this school,” I ask.  I’m not sure where this question comes from… as I’d never before considered that I — just me — could actually help a child, a school of children.

“Reading is the key to education,” says my guide, “These kids need books.”

I love books.  I love these kids.  I can’t sit back and do nothing.

Fast-forward two more years and I experience the proudest moment of my professional career.  I am standing inside a brand new building at Changarawe Primary School.  Compared to the rest of the school, this building is a palace.  It has new tables, new chairs, and four bookshelves lined with books. 

More importantly, there are a dozen kids in here, pulling books off the shelves… and reading.  And smiling.  These books may well be the first books they ever handle.

It wasn’t hard to raise the money — I had a lot of help from friends, family and clients.  My Tanzanian guide managed the construction and the school headmaster obtained the necessary approvals.

Now Changarawe has a library, and I was a part of making that happen.

Africa has indeed altered the course of my life.  It has made me a better person.  I will return as often as I can, and try my best to return the favour.

Please visit my photo galleries, many of the images were captured in Tanzania.  All images are available at great prices with many options.