It's important to live life to its fullest. So I've created this blog to keep track of "my list" and blog about my personal adventures - as trivial or as extravagant as they may be! Inevitably, the list will continue to grow as I think of crazy things I'd like to do. I plan to document it along the way, camera by my side, and hope you'll join me in enjoying the (small and big) adventures in life!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Volunteering in Tanzania: A lifelong Impact

In early 2012, I earned the Projectline International Volunteer Travel Grant and began raising money by training for my first full marathon in order to volunteer in a small East African town in Tanzania for the Tamiha Foundation. Here is how it impacted my life:

With the kids outside their bedroom.
The journey to Tanzania was a long one and took a lot of preparation, but was one of the most incredible experiences I've had in my entire life - one of which I can only hope to begin to describe through blogs, photos, and video - but something you can only truly appreciate by seeing with your own eyes. The people I met and the experiences I had (good and overwhelming) while volunteering in Tanzania will stay with me forever, and I hope they will continue to change the way I view the world around me. Although I went there to volunteer and help those in need - which I did - the Tanzanians I met and formed friendships with will most definitely leave a larger, lifelong impact on me.

The single most important thing I learned during my time in Tanzania is that nothing comes easy. And that's the case for most places in the world! Electricity is sparse so things like computers, refrigerators, stoves, and lights are unreliable and essentially excluded from daily life. Most meals were made over an open fire and eaten in the dark or by candlelight (if volunteers had purchased candles).
Most people do not have access to cars so will walk incredibly long distances with goods or water stacked on their heads. I witnessed some children, no older than 3 or 4 years old, alone by themselves in the middle of nowhere. Not a building or person in sight.
Maasai roaming the vast open plains.

Running water is hard to come by, so trips to the creek or water pump with buckets (often in the grueling heat) are necessary in order to bathe, cook, or hydrate. And even that water is not safe to drink. Outside the towns, you will see people walk miles to reach water and carry it back in buckets on their heads or with donkeys if they are well-off. No doubt it will make you think twice about leaving the water on while you brush your teeth or before you take a long shower. Take a moment to think about what it took to get that water to your faucet. Or to get that banana in your grocery store in the middle of winter.
The sad reality is that almost all of the 30 orphans at Tamiha have lost their parents and family due to HIV. Some were dropped off at the orphanage after good Samaritans could no longer care for them, some were found wandering the streets or in dumpsters searching for food. Even at the orphanage, on a daily basis, kids would be walking around with soiled underpants, runny noses, coughs, sores on their heads... And to think these are the lucky ones. The ones who are surviving. And although it's not very much, they get meals. They have each other - a new formed family of brothers and sisters.

The most overwhelming part of visiting a place like Tanzania is the vast, widespread reach of poverty and hunger. Such a huge problem that it can't be fixed overnight or even in a year. I remember upon arrival, it took a couple days for things to sink in, to accept the reality of what life is there, and how drastically different it is from ours - dirt everywhere, sparse food  and water, people literally have nothing. Children as young as 3 and 4 years old forced to be so independent. And yet they find reasons to be grateful and happy.
Although the experience was eye-opening, to say the least, the children at the orphanage and the people we met in Tanzania taught me to appreciate everything I have. They helped me realize what an overabundance we have OF EVERYTHING in the United States, and realize how little we can get by on. My experience in Tanzania was one I will always cherish.

THANK YOU! What did your donations do?

I want to send a huge "THANK YOU!!!!" to those who supported this effort with your well wishes, support, and donations! That includes Projectline Services for the International Volunteer Travel Grant opportunity and all the individuals who donated to such a great cause. I hope each of you can begin to understand how important this kind of effort is and what an impact it has made. A total of nearly $2,000 was raised during this time which went directly to the Tamiha Foundation and the women and children supported by its efforts.
After spending some time at the orphanage, we were able to identify some of the biggest needs. Here is what this money supported:
  • Sponsored two orphans, Pius and Maxie, to attend school for one year each.
Maxie (left) and Pius (pronounced "p-use," right) on their first school bus ride to school.
  • Backpacks and school supplies for the orphans previously sponsored to attend school (11) and those who remain at the orphanage for instruction from a local teacher (19).
Teaching at the Tamiha Day Care.
  • 50 kilo of rice, 50 kilo of beans, and 50 kilo of corn which will feed all 100 children at the orphanage and day care for three months!
Local shops where we purchased the rice, beans, and corn.
  • Mosquito nets for the orphanage and to potentially hand out to the HIV Home Care women.
  • Rice and donations to aid the HIV infected women participating in the Home Care program.
Michael carrying supplies on the HIV Home Visits.
One of many women visited - who taught us about the many uses of Henna
  • Orphanage supplies: candles, cleaning supplies, utensils, etc.
Dinner by candle light. Menu = ugali (a traditional Swahili food).
  • Food and treats for the children at the orphanage.
The kids slowly savoring their chocolate protein bars with their porridge.
  • Clothing and additional support for the incredible women who take care of the 30 orphans on a daily basis with no time off.
Michael and I with B.B. Sara (B.B. = grandma. At age 42)
  • Refill propane tank used to cook food and heat water at the orphanage.
  • Also in the works… is the development of a new and optimized website, including interviews with the Founder/CEO and other Tamiha Staff members, as well as a Tamiha video.

I’m so excited to see what great things are yet to come as Projectline Services continues to provide this grant opportunity to other employees. This offers up insight and visibility into issues worldwide and brings a level of world awareness to our local community that otherwise would be lacking. Kudos to Projectline!

Keep an eye out for these upcoming blog posts:
  • The Orphanage: A Tour of the Grounds and Meet the Children
  • The Day Care: Swarmed by Masses of Children
  • HIV Home Care Program: An Insider’s View into HIV in Tanzania
  • St. Vivian’s Private School: An Education Despite Poverty

Monday, August 6, 2012

Jambo from Africa!

Jambo! from a small Internet cafĂ© in Usa River, Tanzania in Africa. The trip here was a long one, stopping—count it—FIVE TIMES, and taking about 40 hours from door to door. Considering the hassle at the airport to get our tickets (much longer story than I have time for here!) and to check our bags for so many stops, I was not one bit surprised when our bags weren’t sitting in the luggage pile upon arrival at the Mt. Kilimanjaro Airport at 3:10am. At least Crispin, the CEO of the Tamiha Foundation, was there to pick us up. We did fortunately receive our bags three days later, smelling quite lovely….

We are staying at the Tamiha Orphanage Home with the 30 orphans currently living there, ranging in ages 3 to 9. Nine were dropped off from the government the night we arrived. Some are sponsored to attend private school during the day and some remain at Tamiha to receive some instruction from a local teacher, Lillian.

The children are so sweet and their stories so touching. We’ve spent most of our time at the Orphanage with the children teaching them colors, numbers, and English. We’ve also had a chance to visit St.Vivian’s Private School where the sponsored children attend school. And we’ve visited Arusha Town which is the larger city in Northern Tanzania—quite an experience! Up next are Home Visits to support HIV infected women and families in the local community.

African life is definietly a world away from life in the United States. No running water for toilets, a shower consists of a bucket of water from the small river, the electricity only sometimes works, and I’ve had both young and old shout Mzungu (Swahili for “white person”) at me in the streets. But it’s all so worth it to know that we can help, even just a little, leave an impact on these children’s lives. And to know that they’re making an even bigger impact on mine.

This is also posted on the Projectline Services Blog.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

The Countdown Continues: Running Towards Tanzania

Just a few short months ago, I received notice that my Projectline International Volunteer Travel Grant proposal had won me the opportunity to travel half way around the globe to a small village in northern Tanzania. Check out the article here. Needless to say, I was a little more than excited (flashback to me jumping up and down).

Since then, I’ve been busy with preparations. Preparing to travel half way around the world takes a bit of work. Gathering information for visas, lining up work permits, sorting out program fees and vaccinations, booking a five-stop-34-hour-one-way airline ticket, lining up a home for my obese feline-companion Rainbow (thanks, Dad!), and oh yeah… literally running like a crazy person to raise money and donations while training for my very first full marathon (yes, that’s 26.2 miles)! At over 400 miles of total training, you could say that these adorable kids at the Tamiha Orphanage  have definitely inspired me to keep pushing myself along this whole journey.

With the marathon  quickly approaching— June 23rd (reposting this blog a little late)—one journey will come to an end (hopefully with smiles across a finish line) just as another begins (with a trip to the other side of the globe) at the beginning of July!

It’s not too late to make an impact yourself! Here are three quick things you can do to impact the lives of these children and women in need:
  1. Share my story with friends!
  2. Donations on the Hitting the Pavement for Tanzania  fundraising website have closed - with nearly $2,000 raised! But you can still donate directly on the Tamiha website. What exactly will these donations do? $20 pays for an overnight stay at the local clinic, $150 provides 18 women who have HIV and their children enough food and cooking oil for one month, $470 will sponsor a child for one year to attend school (tuition, food, medicine, clothes, etc). I am personally delivering donations to the Tamiha Orphanage on my trip. This includes:
    • Food (power bars, protein powder, non-perishables, etc)
    • Vitamins and basic medication
    • School supplies
If you need a little extra inspiration, here’s a video from a past volunteer to give you an idea of what I’m in for! Nothing like some smiling faces to brighten your day.

Whether you want to donate to the orphanage or just want to connect about your own experiences with volunteering, I’d love to hear from you. Drop me a note here or find me on Twitter @thejessiemorris.

To read the original blog post on the Projectline Services Inc. blog, click here.

Announcing the first International Volunteer Travel Grant Winner!

In hopes to catch up on my adventures, I'm reposting a blog from the Projectline Services Inc. blog with an exciting announcement! Check it out!

In late January, Projectline announced its first International Employee Volunteer Travel Grant as an extension of its local volunteer program. Each year, the grant will give two Projectline employees the opportunity to travel abroad to help with a cause near and dear to their hearts.

Projectline’s first grant winner is Jessie Morris, a marketing consultant who has been with the company for nearly five years. “As soon as I heard of the opportunity, I knew it was something I had to do. I’m so excited and grateful for the opportunity Projectline has given not only to me, but to the people who will benefit from this volunteerism and the Projectliners who will receive this grant in the years to come. This is truly a unique opportunity and shows Projectline’s dedication to changing the world,” she says.

Jessie will be flying to northern Tanzania in July 2012 to volunteer with the Tamiha Foundation a local nonprofit organization dedicated to addressing the HIV/AIDS epidemic andrelated issues. Tamiha serves its community with an orphanage, a vocational school for women, and HIV/AIDS awareness and support programs. Watch the video that Jessie put together to understand the importance of the work Tamiha is dedicated to.

In addition to volunteering in Tanzania, Jessie will be running her first full marathon to raise some much-needed money for the foundation. “It’s crazy to think about how such a small amount of money can go such a long way,” she says. “When you consider that it costs only US$150 to feed all 100 children at the orphanage for one month, it’s hard not to want to make a positive change and support the programs that are dedicated to changing so many people’s lives. Any amount—small or large—helps.”

To make your positive impact, please learn more about Jessie’s efforts and donate by visiting Hitting the Pavement for Tanzania at: /hitting-the-pavement-for-tanzania.

To read the original post on the Projectline website, click here.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

The Peruvian High Desert: Lake Titicaca (Part 3 of 3)

After a long journey from the Peruvian Amazon, Cusco, The Sacred Valley, and the Lost City of the Incans (aka Machu Picchu), we loaded up on a bus to drive approximately 14 hours from Cusco to southern Peru, to a city called Puno which sits right on Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable lake in the world! At a staggering 118 miles long by 50 miles wide and sitting at almost 13,000 feet elevation, it's no wonder it's a record breaker!

The bus ride from Cusco took us through lots of country side, farms, and small towns. It was so great to catch a glimpse into the lives of Peruvians and compare with what we had seen in different areas of Peru.

We eventually stopped at Raqchi. The reason this place is so interesting? It's one of the very first Incan structures standing today. It dates back further than the structures at Machu Picchu and throughout the Sacred Valley. The Incans utilized the same stone work at the bottom of the walls, but then used a mud and clay mixture for the rest. You can see the difference in the picture below. What's so incredible about this is that the clay mixture is still around after all these centuries - and that is because the Incans used the nectar from a local cactus plant to help bind it together, and it has ultimately prevented these walls from completely deteriorating.

After leaving Raqchi, we continued on the highway at VERY high elevations. Altitude sickness definitely began to kick in for some. Fortunately enough, I wasn't really affected. It must have been all the Coca tea I talked about in Peru: Part 2 of 3. :)

Here are some images along the high desert highway.

After many many hours on a bus, we approached Juliaca. In my opinion, formed through a brief drive through the city, it was a very sad a desolate place. Nearly every building in the city remained unfinished with rebar shooting out the tops to the sky. Our guide told us this is very common as locals will save up until they can afford to complete another floor of their home. For many, this occasion comes once every 20-30 years! The streets were mostly dirt and the side streets looked as if a bomb had destructed. With the very haunting visual of a dog lying dead in the street, I was pretty much ready to get out of here and get to Puno on Lake Titicaca!

As we rounded a hill, Lake Titicaca came into view.

We settled into our hotel in Puno and ventured out for a quick dinner.

The next morning, we loaded up in a very VERY stinky, exhaust filled boat. I quickly discovered that the roof top deck was the place to be if you enjoyed breathing air.

As we approached the Floating Islands of Lake Titicaca, also known as the Uros Islands, it became clear why there was so much interest around this place. The grouping of around 40 floating islands are all made from surrounding reeds. The Uros people collect these and build layer upon layer of cut reeds on top of the reed roots which float on the water. It's incredible!

We received a warm, song-filled welcome as we approached. As you step onto the island, you can feel the buoyancy of it on the water. It's almost like walking on a firm waterbed.

Here's a shot of one of the houses made from reeds - all water tight, of course. This family was lucky enough to receive a solar panel from a group who came to visit. This is enough to power a very small bunny-eared television they have propped up inside.

They then gave us a detailed tutorial about how the islands are built and maintained. If someone was to be married, the two families could merge their floating islands together. And of course, they joked that if it didn't work out the two families can just saw the island in half and float away from each other!

One family was kind enough to let us inside their home. You can see in this single-room home, there is one bed in which the entire family sleeps on together. Their clothing is hung up on the wall to the left. Talk about being a close-knit family! :)

Our stinky boat...

The "Mercedes Benz" of boats... of course, as it is the theme here, completely made of reeds.

Once bidding farewell to our Uros friends, we continued on to Amantani Island where we were to stay for two nights with a local family. Upon arrival, Sylvia guided us from the water, up the hill to their home, where her and her mother had prepared some pretty incredible quinoa soup and Mente Tea.

After a delicious lunch, we settled into our new temporary home to relax for a bit.

Later that evening, we met up with some of our tour group friends to hike one of the two hills on Amantani Island, Pachamama (meaning Mother Earth). The other hill is name Pachatata (meaning Father Earth). At the tops of each are a temple which the Amantani people include in an annual celebration/festival.

These mountains sit in Bolivia. Bolivia shares part of Lake Titicaca with Peru and there is an ongoing debate as to which country owns the majority of the lake... touchy subject here. :)

We hiked back down from Pachamama to find that our host family had an incredible dinner ready for us, cooked in the very small one-room kitchen. The stove/over is a hole cut into the side of one of the walls with a hand-built fire burning. Let me just say, I think it's incredible what this woman can do with such little! Lessons, please!

After dinner, the other girls were feeling a little tired and sick from the altitude sickness, so I ventured out on my own with Sylvia, a girl in our host family. Of course, none can speak any English, so my broken Spanish did seem to help some! Although, Spanish is their second language to their local regional language.

Sylvia dressed me up in her traditional Peruvian clothing and took me out on the town! Well, ok... up the path to a larger single-room where the local fiesta was taking place. There was a live band playing traditional music and I got a crash course in the local dance techniques!

The next morning before our departure, the lovely ladies made us some pancakes with jam and some Mente tea. This is a plant that grows wild in the area and is also very good for altitude sickness (just like Coca!)

After departing Amantani Island, we made a stop at Taquile Island on our way back to Puno. While there, we hiked around on the paths up to the main square. Along the way, we met some very lovely children on their way to school, a woman preparing her yarn for her beautiful creations, and saw more of the beautiful and very relaxed Peruvian lifestyle.

We stopped for lunch overlooking Lake Titicaca, and enjoyed some fish, rice, and soup, before hopping back on our boat for Puno.

On our last night in this region, we met up with some of our new friends in a very lovely restaurant in Puno. You gotta love meeting new people from all over the world (and sometimes from your hometown!).

Here are my tired feet and poor socks just prior to meeting the bizbag. Bye bye socks!

On our way to the Juliaca airport to fly back to Lima for a night before returning home to the United States!

Once in Lima, we experienced a completely drastic type of Peruvian lifestyle...

And finally, one last long flight back to the Pacific Northwest! Nothing like the Cascade Mountain range to offer a nice, warm welcome home!

Thank you Peru and all the wonderful Peruvian people we met for a trip of a lifetime and memories I will never forget!!!