Apr 15, 2015
By: Mandy Groff, Director, External Relations
Across borders, cultures, ethnicities, and religions – there is a strong through line: hope. Hope for a brighter future ahead, for a more prosperous generation, for a healthier and more educated youth.
As a mother of a four-year old son in New York City, I live and experience this hope every day. I have great hopes for my son, Jonah. That he will be resilient, smart, kind, and above all – healthy. In my recent, and first-ever trip to Africa, I saw that mothers everywhere have the same hope for their children. The unfortunate reality is that access to education and health care is lacking in many countries in Africa, particularly on the remote island of Idjwi.
Idjwi is an island of incredible contrasts. It is one of the most beautiful and picturesque locations that I have ever seen. It rivals Lake Como and the Amalfi coast for its views, greenery, and stunning coastlines. However, Idjwi remains one of the most neglected places on earth.
Our host was Dr. Jacques Sebisaho who was born on Idjwi, one of 16 children, and he embodies the hope we dream of for our children. The goal for the five-day visit was to explore the opportunity of partnering with Jacques and his nonprofit, Amani Global Works, to implement a community based program to help control and eliminate NTDs on Idjwi where 90% of the people have one of more of the five NTDs the END Fund works on.
Just one of the unforgettable experiences I had was meeting Toyota. A lovely, determined and resilient 40 year-old woman – Toyota has advanced stage elephantiasis. We had traveled to her home to hear more of her story, struggles, and joys. Despite her lack of resources and poor health, Toyota was a gracious host who welcomed us to her humble home with joy and proudly sent us off with fruits of her labor in the form of a bag of fresh oranges. It was evident that Toyota lives with a hope for a brighter future for her and her family.
During my time in Idjwi, in spite of the circumstances, I was continually struck by the through line of hope – the hope that Jacques, Toyota and so many of the others that I encountered embodied. Having recently joined the END Fund after nine years at Boys & Girls Clubs of America (BGCA) – whose mission is to enable all young people, especially those most in need to reach their full potential – I couldn’t help be reminded of the common thread between the two missions. Although BGCA’s mission is primarily focused on youth in America, the hope is the same – to provide brighter, more prosperous futures for those most in need.
While this was my first trip to Africa, I know it is only the beginning of a lifelong journey. I was inspired by the joy and pure beauty of the people of Idjwi. Against all odds, as you walk down the muddy paths of Idjwi, everyone greats you with bright, hopeful eyes and a heartfelt “Jambo Sana.” The pride and dignity they have in themselves and for their community is inspiring. In this island of contrasts, and around the world, there is a clear path forward – hope for a better future.