…my preconceptions paled in comparison to real life…
Last June, I went to Africa for the first time. It was a trip I had eagerly anticipated since coming to work for Africare in July 2012. The whirlwind of procuring visas, coordinating meetings, getting the necessary shots and sorting out all of the typical pre-travel “stuff” was a blessing in disguise, though at the time I can’t say I thought of it that way. While I have seen my fair share of the world, in the past ten years or so I have consciously chosen to stay close to home to parent my children. Now, all three of my daughters are at a point where my constant engagement is less desirable than it was a few years ago, and while bittersweet, their growing independence has given me a bit more freedom.
Although I was very enthusiastic about seeing Africa, I am not among the many Africare staff that travel frequently and think nothing of hopping on a plane with no notice, selflessly giving little or no thought to their personal safety or to the potential difficulties they might encounter. I was immersed in managing my travel plans and logistical details, and I didn’t contemplate what was actually taking place in my destinations, Nigeria and Liberia. Boko Haram was taunting authorities with videos meant to frighten and antagonize those dedicated to finding the 200+ school girls the militant group abducted in Northern Nigeria, and Ebola had just spread into Liberia. There were still only a few cases there, and they were all concentrated on the Guinean border. Little did I know at the time, my visit would coincide with the escalation of both Boko Haram’s mayhem and the rapid, dramatic spread of Ebola.
I based my expectations for the trip on everything I learned about Africa from my colleagues and through my interaction with Africans during my relatively short time at Africare. Listening to anecdotes and accounts of experiences was immensely different than experiencing the continent for myself. I spent about a week in Nigeria and another week in Liberia. The purpose of my trip was threefold – I wanted to get to know our Africare field staff, I wanted to visit several of our Maternal Waiting Homes (MWHs), and I wanted to establish new funding relationships and help our Nigerian and Liberian Country Directors cultivate current and potential donors. I only visited two countries, but the trip is indelibly imprinted in my mind. From the minute I stepped off the plane in Lagos, Nigeria to the point at which I climbed aboard a plane in Monrovia, Liberia headed for JFK, I found my preconceptions paled in comparison to real life – in very vibrant, positive, interesting and meaningful ways.
Africare Chief of Staff Kendra Davenport is particularly passionate about maternal and infant mortality, and while in Liberia she visited Africare’s innovative Maternal Waiting Homes. Read about Sub-Saharan Africa’s dire mortality in childbirth statistics, some of their fundamental causes, and how Africare is helping communities protect mothers and newborns in Part 2. To support Africare’s development programs, including our MWH network, click here to give now.