How a passionate group of OAT travelers used a Seattle restaurant to help build a kitchen in Africa
Like so many travelers who visit Tanzania for the first time, Anne Guiltinan came for the wildlife … but fell in love with the people. "I'd dreamed of traveling to the Serengeti ever since I was a young girl watching 'Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom,'" Anne says. Little did she know as she prepared for her "dreamiest of dream vacations" that she was about to help make many dreams come true—not only for herself, but for an entire Tanzanian community.
Anne visited Tanzania with OAT in July of 2010—and brought a group of 15 friends and family members along for the ride. "We were a fun, compatible, and cohesive group who shared an amazing and consciousness-changing experience together," Anne says. One element of their trip that would prove to have a lasting effect on their consciousness was their visit to the Bashay School in the village of Karatu. Supported by Grand Circle Foundation since 2001, the school has undergone several crucial renovations, including classroom construction, roofing, and water tanks. But as Anne's group would discover, there's always more to be done in the Tanzanian wilderness.
The students of Bashay gave the group a hearty welcome. "They were warm and joyful and sang for us," Anne remembers. "We sang for them, too, and the more athletic members of our group joined our guides in playing soccer with them." It was later, as the group talked with the principal, Justine Basso, about his priorities for his 760 pupils, that the school's needs became apparent. "We all expected to hear that the school needed more computers, books, or things of that nature," says Anne. "To our surprise, he told us that the one thing that would help the children most would be to simply complete the school kitchen."
As Mr. Basso explained, the school currently had no refrigeration or sanitation facilities with which to properly store food—either meals to be prepared on site or bagged lunches brought by the students. As a result, the children were required to walk home for lunch and then walk back—a journey of up to 10 miles roundtrip for some. Those students who did walk long distances midday were unlikely to return to school for their afternoon studies. The alternative was to skip lunch and endure an afternoon of hunger. Grand Circle Foundation had begun constructing the kitchen earlier in the year—but at the time of Anne's visit (see photo below), the project was on hold due to unexpectedly high construction and labor costs.
After the visit was over, the group had plenty of food for thought. "We returned to our beautiful and comparatively very luxurious lodge and sat eating our delicious hot lunch with organic vegetables," Anne remembers, "and the stark differences between our lives and those of the Bashay students were on all of our minds." It was group member Christine Keff, owner of the renowned Flying Fish restaurant in Seattle, who came up with the idea for a fundraiser: "How about when we get back, we do a benefit dinner at the restaurant to raise money for the kitchen at Bashay?"
The group greeted the suggestion with enthusiasm, and their plans began to take flight. In February, the group members living in Seattle held the benefit as promised, cooking up an African dinner for 40 (under Christine's expert guidance) and entertaining the diners with a slideshow and video featuring their adventures in the Serengeti. Several travelers spoke about the needs of the Bashay School, and the difference the kitchen and dining hall would make in the lives of the children. "When the dust settled, we had raised $10,000 from 54 donors," says Anne. This was more than enough to complete the kitchen, which had since been funded with additional donations from the Foundation—so the gift will go a long way toward completing the neighboring dining hall.
Anne is quick to credit their Trip Leader, Godliving, and driver-guides, Nixon and Herbie, with much of the inspiration for the Bashay benefit. "Their warmth and wonderful humor, their generosity with their time and energy, and their ability to push us gently outside of our comfort level to interact with the local communities helped provide us with the dreamiest dream trip imaginable," says Anne.
A dream vacation that fulfills the dreams of those in need? It's a dream come true for us.
Featured in our March 2011 E-Newsletter. Read the full issue here.