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NEW FRIENDS Isabella O’Reilly (pictured, surrounded by students), a junior at St. John’s, traveled to a town in Tanzania this summer.
Throughout my freshman and sophomore years of high school, I constantly heard about service trips changing people and giving them a new outlook on life, but I always thought these stories were exaggerated. But when I got the chance to experience one, I jumped at the chance.
This past summer, I traveled to a small town in Tanzania called Haidash. In Haidash, we were greeted by 80 small, smiling children and eight head teachers from the local school. The laughter and smiles of the children were extremely contagious, and I could not help but giggle as each individual child shook my hand and greeted me in Swahili. Although this was my first experience communicating in Swahili, I immediately felt comfortable and welcomed by every person in the village.
Three schoolgirls in particular made sure my arrival was extremely special. When we all finished shaking hands, the girls pulled me off to play a common game that they played called kuruka kamba, which means jumping string in English. Tied together on both ends to make a loop, two girls stood on either side holding the ends of the loop, while one girl stood in the middle. As they all sang, the girl jumped over different sides of the string, coordinating with the rhythm of the song. The height of the string got taller and taller but the girl continued to succeed until it reached the tip of her shoulders. The girls soon pulled me into the middle, where, of course, I failed miserably when the string touched mid-thigh. They did not laugh but instead taught me how to jump higher. This one experience, out of all the building, teaching and fun, resonated with me the most.
These girls, who were younger than me by at least five years, had already learned an important lesson that I try to keep in mind. Instead of laughing at me, they taught me how to play the game. Despite their situation, they still wanted to see me succeed. By the first day, I already understood the life-changing aspect of these trips and found somewhere where I felt truly accepted.
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