The Beginning of my African Adventure, part one

An opportunity of a lifetime: a chance to help start a nonprofit organization in Africa. Learn about Abbie’s “adventure before the adventure”: finding money to fund the trip and discovering the courage to travel on her own.

Abbie Morneault is a senior integrated mathematics major at Kent State University in Ohio. Abbie wrote this article for ISV and  is part one of her adventure to Malawi, Africa to help start a nonprofit organization.

What Lead to the Adventure

In the summer of 2010 I was given an opportunity to travel to Malawi, Africa; it was an opportunity that I’ll never forget. In this article I talk about the events leading up to my African adventure.

I had my first taste of international travel in 2004 when I traveled as a freshman in high school to Australia with a student ambassador program. I’ve been bit with the travel bug ever since and over the next few years I traveled to Honduras with Rotary International and various parts of Europe performing with a student wind ensemble.

Abbie volunteering in Honduras (first row, second from right)

In the fall of 2008 I started college at Kent State University majoring in Secondary Education. I assumed I probably wouldn’t be traveling again for a long time. My schedule got busy and it was hard to save money living on a college campus. I continuously saw flyers around the university telling me about different study abroad programs but every time I would investigate they never seemed to match up with my program or didn’t seem like something I was really interested in. It was in my sophomore year of college it all turned around and I got an offer I couldn’t refuse.

It was towards the end of November 2009 when I was asked to travel to Malawi with a small group of people to assist in the start-up of a newly founded nonprofit organization known as Determined to Develop and its partner company, Maji Zuwa. Both were founded by someone I had worked with a few years back at a leadership seminar. After working together we stayed in contact through email updates and Facebook posts. This is a perfect example as to why networking is an important part of building personal and professional relationships.

Finally I had found an opportunity to travel that really connected with me personally. Traveling to Africa seemed like a great opportunity to learn about a culture that was so vastly different than my own. I was really looking forward to stepping out of my comfort zone and learning how others lived. This wasn’t a cookie-cutter style trip where everything was planned out by someone else and it wasn’t a trip taken year after year. This was a unique opportunity that no one else would ever experience and it made me more than excited. It was more of an adventure than anything I had ever experienced or ever thought I would experience in this lifetime.

Abbie visiting Lake Malawi

My trip to Malawi would only be about two weeks. The two weeks were not nearly enough time to see and do all that we wanted. During our stay, our goal was to work with the local village headmen to talk about the social problems affecting their villagers so that we could then brainstorm ways to counteract those problems. The nonprofit we were helping start-up would be a place that tourists, school groups, church groups, backpackers, .etc could stay to enjoy the beautiful country of Malawi while also working on service projects to benefit the local villages and schools.

How I Raised $4,000

By the beginning of December 2009 I had jumped head first into fundraising. Although my parents were able to help fund my pricey adventure, I felt it was my responsibility to come up with the money, and a lot of money is what I needed. The total cost came to roughly $4,000 including round-trip airfare and in country lodging and dining. My parents were happy to help buy items for traveling and helped pay for a few things, but I was very proud to say that I raised a lot of the money on my own. I decided that writing letters to my family and friends would be the most fruitful course of action. I drafted a letter explaining my trip to Malawi, the things we were doing and how their donations would help. Along with the letter, I included a self addressed envelope and a stamp. I sent the letters to those who had helped me fundraise for trips in the past like my family, friends, church members, and teachers and professors. Two weeks later I received my first check in the mail and from then on it was really happening, I was really going to Africa.

Read an example of Abbie’s letter: Abbie_Morneault_Fundraising_Letter

On top of everything else I had going on during my spring semester of my sophomore year of college, I started an on campus job that took a lot of my time, but it was a good experience and helped me save some money to put towards my trip. I continued to collect donations and eventually opened a second checking account. I highly recommend keeping fundraised money separate from personal finances because for me it helped me keep track of what I had and what I still needed.  I used my Africa account to renew my passport, purchase essentials for my trip, pay for the vaccinations I needed, and to buy the most important item: a round trip plane ticket for one.

When Did I Become the Adult?

Abbie's Hotel Room While Stuck in Washington DC

I never expected to ever be buying a plane ticket by myself. Up until now I had traveled with my parents or some other responsible adult. Although I would be traveling with one other person, I was expected to be the adult. When and how did I become the adult? Where were the real adults to make everything go smooth? As I went through this experience I kept wanting to turn around to see other people pulling the strings and keeping things together, but it wasn’t until that July morning when I arrived at my terminal in Dulles International Airport to find that my plane had left without me, did I realize I was the only one able to make this happen.

So there I was, with my traveling partner Samantha, standing in the empty terminal trying not to have a panic attack. Our connecting flight from Cincinnati arrived late and we missed the once a day Ethiopian Airlines flight to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia where we were to get on another flight to our destination: Lilongwe, Malawi. I broke down and called my dad. Could I do this on my own? As I cried to him on the phone, people stared at me on the tram back to the ticket counters. What was he going to be able to do? He was in Cincinnati and I was trapped in DC; I was the only person that could get me out of this mess. Samantha and I worked diligently at the ticket counter trying to explain our situation, hoping the airline would take mercy on us. In the end, they agreed with us that it was their fault that we missed our connection and we were booked on the next day’s flight.I would end up spending the night in Washington DC and caught the next day’s flight to Ethiopia where I once again missed my connecting flight.

Finally able to get on the plane!

That’s right; I once again missed my connecting flight and was stuck in Ethiopia, this time because of a computer error. My name wasn’t listed as having a ticket for the once a day flight to Malawi and it left without me. My traveling partner and I spent the next three hours figuring out how to get to Malawi. The Ethiopian people that we worked with were difficult to understand, but I know that we both had the same goal. I don’t believe they wanted two stranded American girls stuck in their airport as much as we didn’t want to be there. It was finally decided that the airline would put us up in a hotel in the city and we would be on the next day’s flight to Malawi. Here’s a tip: always carry a printed out receipt and itinerary for your plane just in case something crazy like what happened to me occurs. I had an itinerary, but it was for the flight I was supposed to be on the day before. Also, an extra set of clothes wouldn’t hurt either.

Abbie’s Quick Lessons Learned
1. When you’re fundraising open another bank account so you can keep your personal money separate.
2. When traveling be sure to have a printed receipt and itinerary with you at all times.
3. Pack an extra set of clothes in your carry on bag.

Did I Make the Right Choice?

I spent the night at the hotel in the middle of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia wondering if I had made the right decision. Was the universe trying to tell me something? Should I just turn around and go home? When I finally landed the next day in the beautiful country of Malawi, it was confirmed that this was where I needed to be. The six months of fundraising, the sleepless nights worrying if I could do this, the two extra days of travel I never wanted melted away as I realized Malawi was the place for me. I didn’t even care that I had a seven hour drive to our lodge or that my bags wouldn’t arrive for five more days, I had finally arrived and at that point that’s all I needed to start a fabulous adventure. From that point on I knew I was the only person able to get me where I needed to be whether it be in travel or in life.

In the March issue of International Student Voice, Abbie will share details about her volunteer experience in Malawi and future plans with Determined to Develop and Maji Zuwa. Look for photographs leading up to her next article by following ISV on Facebook and Twitter.

[ilink url=”http://www.determinedtodevelop.org/”]Learn more about Determine to Develop[/ilink] [ilink url=”http://www.majizuwa.com/”]Learn more about Maji Zuwa[/ilink]
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