Post written by by Jordan Belmonte
Every day I wake up inspired by the fact that I have two valuable things: choice and opportunity. Like most Americans, I decide what to eat, where to work and the shape of my future.
In December 2010, I traveled to Africa with six other Jolkona volunteers to visit our partners and see the impact of their work. As part of this trip, we visited Dago, a rural village in Kenya, where the opportunities most Americans take for granted are harder to come by.
In Kenya, approximately 1.5 million people are living with HIV/AIDS and 1.2 million children are orphans due to AIDS. Dago has an especially high rate of HIV/AIDS, and many of the affected families struggle to meet basic needs for water, sufficient protein and access to medical care.
When I talked to my friends and family about what I saw in Dago, they looked at me with sympathy and said, â€œThat must have been awful to seeâ€ or â€œWhat a tragedy.â€ But after leaving Dago, it was not the tragedy of poverty that stuck with me â€” it was the perseverance of the human spirit and the communityâ€™s efforts to help young people envision a future full of opportunity.
In Dago, we visited two current Jolkona projects that help young people create a brighter future. We got to cheer on the home team during the Kick it With Kenya youth soccer tournament, which also provides HIV-screening and much-needed medical care. And we saw how the Environmental Youth Action Corps is teaching young people to be environmental advocates in their communities.
One of my favorite initiatives in Kenya was the Dago Dala Hera orphanage, soon to become a Jolkona partner. At Dago Dala Hera, 36 at-risk and orphaned girls have found asylum from childhood marriages, abusive households and family deaths. The orphanageâ€™s meal program also allows 95 local primary school children to concentrate on their education rather than on their empty stomachs. While the community’s attention to meeting basic needs for food, education and health care was impressive, Dago’s true triumph was its initiative to feed the soul and reinforce the idea that â€œif you can think it, you can get it.â€
Near the end of our time in Dago, while we were visiting the orphanage, I sat on the edge of one of the cheerful bunk beds and thought of the girl who slept there every night. I hoped that the girl would rest well, excited for a new day, believing as much as I do in the phrase painted on the dormitory wall: â€œlife is like an ocean, an endless sea of opportunities.â€
Jordan Belmonte is a product marketing manager at Microsoft during the day and the Director of Events here at Jolkona. This story is part of a series of blog posts from the Jolkona teamâ€™s trip to East Africa in late-December 2010.