This summer, I joined 17 other Upper School students and faculty members Joe Sandoe, Amy Secor and Joanne Brown on a life-changing trip to Madagascar, “The Red Island” off Africa’s southeastern coast. This was a science- and service-based trip, and it included adventures that required us to break out of our comfort zones.
For 16 days, our group was surrounded by a culture unlike any other, one that holds community and relationships above everything else. Every stranger we saw wanted to form some kind of relationship—through a smile or a wave, bargaining in the market or just saying, “Salama,” or hello. Going from Atlanta to a third-world country was an eye-opening experience, to say the least.
We were fortunate in that we encountered Madagascar with individuals who know it better than most. Mr. Sandoe’s wife, Corby, grew up in Madagascar with her older sister and their parents, who are missionaries. We spent six days on the family’s compound in the city of Tulear, using outdoor pit latrines and taking bucket baths. Every night, we sat in a circle and had miaraka, or together time. This time became an essential part of the trip because some of the things we experienced were almost overwhelming—each member of our group was exposed to poverty that deeply touched us.
From Tulear, we bused out to villages in the region of Andranovory, where we helped the community build cement bases for the village water cisterns. These made it possible for the villagers to store water near their homes, whether they carried it from a well or collected rainwater.
While in Andranovory, we also met and played with local children. Although none of us spoke the same language, we communicated by holding hands, laughing and playing monkey-in-the-middle. Forming bonds with these kids was both enlightening and heartbreaking because we knew that their only water source was a dirty blue cistern filled with unclean water. We also noticed that a lot of the children’s hair was lightening at its ends, a sign of malnutrition.
Driving away from the construction sites, the children sprinted after our bus, smiling and yelling, “Veloma,” which means goodbye. I said, “Veloma,” to one of the children, and he shook his head and said, “Next time.”
Each experience from Madagascar will rest in my memory my whole life. I truly believe this trip touched and shaped every participant in some significant way. Someday, I hope to return and meet again with those who changed my life for the better.
-Alexis Wilkins, Class of 2017
From the Fall 2016 issue of the KnightTimes