April 28 2015
Dear African Impact Camp,
When I turned fifteen I told my parents that I wanted to go to Africa. I wanted to help, meet the people, learn from the culture and see the animals. I don’t know why, but I did. At the time, I didn’t realize I was a walking cliché.
For four years I met my parents’ unwavering disapproval towards my African plans, with determination and an ever-deepening resolution. I was going. I didn’t care if I had to run away.
Soon enough I started reading about the Igbo in Nigeria, the Rwandan genocide, Charles Taylor’s Liberia, the Belgians in the Congo, South Sudan and its independence and so many other things. I even chose to study Africa in college – it was the only constant throughout my university years. All of the research was an alternative to the real thing. I hadn’t been able to go yet.
But after watching twenty documentaries and reading more than ten books, it dawned on me: I wanted to see Africa for all the wrong reasons.
I wanted to see Rwanda because of the genocide. I decided to study International Relations after I read about it; I couldn’t believe humanity was capable of such cruelty – the perpetrators and the international community who stood dormant on the sidelines. I was mainly curious about the remnants of conflict. But I was wrong. Rwanda’s true value, what makes it special, emanates from its resilience, its strong-willed people. The women, who took over many tasks after 1992, including Parliament (which remains the first in the world in terms of women representation); the seemingly infinite capacity for forgiveness between Hutu and Tutsi neighbors; the unprecedented economic development led by local leadership and entrepreneurship. Rwanda is an admirable country, not because of its past but despite of it.
The more I knew about the continent, the more I fell out of love with its past and more in love with its future.
Africa is the largest market for telecommunications, it’s got the vastest natural resources and soon, it will have the highest population growth rate (even higher than Asia). The potential is immense, and the key to unlocking it it’s within its borders.
The year that I changed my point of view, I got lucky. I was able to save enough money to buy a plane ticket, and with my parent’s economic and emotional support, I headed to African Impact’s camp in the tiny Zanzibar village of Jambiani. I cried for three days – cries of excitement.
The best part is that you exceeded my expectations. Your camp was above and beyond perfect. The friendships forged in three weeks are some of the strongest bonds I’ve built in my life.
And it doesn’t matter how much time passes, at least in my mind, that place will always be home.
Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for making those three weeks in July of 2012, the best years of my life. I sincerely hope many others will be able to share in the experience.
With the deepest regards,
Helena Carpio, volunteer (2012)