Through Their Eyes
A journey in Tanzania with OAT’s Next Generation Leaders
by Harriet Lewis
Since Alan and I acquired OAT in 1993, we’ve felt so indebted to the people of the countries to which we’ve traveled—people who have shared both their beautiful homelands and their life stories with so many thousands of our travelers. We feel a special responsibility to share our success by giving back to the world—beginning with education, which I believe is our greatest opportunity to truly change people’s lives.
Much closer to home, I also feel a responsibility toward my own community here in Boston—particularly toward young people who often don’t have the means to explore their full educational potential. These are our future community leaders, business leaders, world leaders—and so many of them don’t realize just how wonderful they are.
In 2007, I had the unique pleasure of working with ten such students through our Next Generation Leaders program, a special project sponsored by Overseas Adventure Foundation. It was a demanding program, but ultimately tremendously rewarding for the students. We put them through “Outward Bound”-style teamwork training and rigorous internships at OAT, and, upon completion of the program, we awarded them college scholarships.
Along with this program, though, I wanted to give these students a special experience that they’d never had the opportunity to enjoy: the chance to see another world beyond Boston. I wanted to give them a life-changing, mind-broadening experience … so I decided to bring them to a place that has always given that to me: Tanzania.
OAT ran its very first safari in Tanzania long before we purchased the company—so Alan and I feel especially indebted to share our success here. The people here are inspirational: great storytellers who love to dance and sing and laugh … yet they also have a heartbreaking sense of wanting more for themselves, but not having the means to go after it. They face so many obstacles—just as our Next Generation Leaders had already faced enormous obstacles in their own young lives.
The students and I traveled a bumpy red dirt road to reach the Bashay Primary School in the Tanzanian village of Karatu—the same road that the students of Bashay must travel on foot to get to school each day. The school is a longtime friend of OAT: Overseas Adventure Foundation has donated more than $48,000 to Bashay since 2004, helping to build and repair classrooms, purchase chairs and desks, and replace two roofs. Our travelers, too, have donated nearly $5000 on their own. Today, we gave the Bashay School a different sort of gift—and they returned the gift to us, tenfold.
When we arrived, the schoolchildren were lined up outside, singing. We split them into small groups, and I watched as our Next Generation Leaders led the Tanzanian children in various activities—some played soccer, others did art projects. Then, the parents of the Bashay students arrived to help us all prepare lunch together, a simple meal cooked outdoors over a fire, with only the most basic of utensils.
We served lunch outside under the trees. And as we enjoyed it, one of the Next Generation Leaders came up to me. She had been homeless for much of her life, I knew, and had pulled herself up when the odds were against her.
“Harriet,” she said, “I have to tell you something.”
“What,” I asked her, watching the tears well up in her eyes.
“I take so much for granted,” she said.
Our Next Generation Leaders went off to college after that summer, and someday I hope to hear about all of the great things they accomplish in their lives. But wherever life takes them, I hope they’ll never forget their journey to Tanzania—the nights they spent camped at the rim of Ngorongoro Crater in tents they pitched themselves, half a world away from the sounds of the city … the fireside dances with a group of Maasai tribesmen, who, after demonstrating their traditional jumping dance, learned (with some amusement) how young people dance in America … and of course, the day spent at the Bashay Primary School, where my one young friend learned to take nothing for granted.
I know I’ll never forget seeing it through their eyes.