Crash course in Africa for two Island students

Good friends Olivia Green-Lingren and Samantha Hargy while in Tanzania. — Photo courtesy of Samantha Hargy

This summer, two 15-year-old Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS) students about to enter their sophomore year, Samantha “Sam” Hargy and Olivia Green-Lingren, spent three weeks in a small east African village in northern Tanzania near the Kenya border. With 33 other high school students, they taught English and learned about a culture quite different from their own.

In Tanzania they learned a little Swahili, taught English in an elementary school, worked on community service projects by digging ditches and planting trees, and made of a lot of new friends. “It was so cool, a once in a lifetime opportunity,” Sam said. “It was, like, such an amazing experience.”

Both girls said their favorite part of the trip was a weekend spent in a Maasai tribal village. The tribe gave them gifts. “We danced with them, ” Sam said. “They sacrificed a goat for us that we ate for dinner. We watched it being slaughtered. It was weird.” They slept out under the stars and tribesmen lead them on a hike.

Olivia and Sam have known each other since kindergarten and have been really good friends since playing lacrosse together in the fourth grade at the Edgartown School. Both girls have plans to help others when they grow up. Sam wants to be a teacher and Olivia, inspired by the TV show Grey’s Anatomy, wants to become a surgeon.

Sam is a fifteenth generation Vineyarder. She was freshmen class president and has been elected sophomore class president for the coming year. “No one would run against me,” she said.

Both girls play lacrosse. Sam, who also plays basketball, was starting goalie on the varsity lacrosse team last year as a freshman.

Weeks after returning, their excitement seems to reach ever higher levels when talking about their adventure. Neither teen refrains from using the hyperbole common to their age group. There were a lot of “best” and “really cool” parts to their trip.

“When my friends here on the Vineyard ask me how my summer was, I don’t even know where to begin,” Olivia said. “It was so cool.”

Sam’s father, Christopher, left her money after he died of throat cancer a year ago at the age of 43. She decided to use the money for a trip to Africa. Her interest in Africa came after hearing about two MVRHS students who had traveled to Ghana several years ago.

Her mother, Molly Hargy, researched study-abroad programs on the Internet and discovered Global Leadership Adventures (GLA) which along with its selection of trips throughout the world, sponsors three African trips. Sam chose the Tanzania trip because it included a teaching component and more safaris than the GLA Ghana trip. Sam said, “I have always wanted to help people, especially little kids.”

“I talked to my friends about it,” she said, “and they were like why would you want to do that and like waste your whole summer and not see your friends and everything.” But when she and her mom talked to Olivia and her mother, Olivia was interested.

The trip was not cheap, almost $4,500, plus airfare of around $2,000 and $800 for inoculations and medicines.

Olivia’s parents, Kate Lingren, Helen Green, and Robert Cropper, said they would pay the airfare if she raised the money to cover the cost of the program. She sent out a couple of hundred letters to Island friends, and by April when the tuition was due she had raised $5,000, mostly in small donations. Olivia attributed her success to one of “the perks of living on a tight-knit island.”

Mud huts and new friends

The Edgartown residents left Martha’s Vineyard and traveled almost 24 hours and more than 7,500 miles to reach their destination. They were the youngest of the group of high school aged travelers, most of whom were from different parts of the United States, one from China and several from Europe.

The trip began with a flight from Boston to Amsterdam with five other kids, or volunteers as they are called by GLA, from New England. There they rendezvoused with volunteers from “California and other random states,” according to Sam, including one from Seattle. They could identify each other by the tee-shirts they were wearing. From there they flew to the Kilimanjaro International Airport in Tanzania. The last leg of the trip was a 45-minute bus ride to the small village of Rau Karikacha in the town of Moshi, not far from the northern border with Kenya.

They stayed in a three-building complex, “the only house-house with windows and stuff in a village of mud huts and houses,” Sam said. The girls stayed, four to a room, in one, boys in another and the group leaders in the third.

The group took a walking tour of the village soon after they arrived where they got to try out some of the new words they learned in an introductory class in the native language, Swahili.

Weekday mornings were spent teaching English to local children at the Himo and Korona primary school. The students’ families were mostly farmers, growing a lot of corn. Some made clothes and other items for export.

Sam taught a class of 82 fifth graders with two other GLA kids. Olivia taught sixth graders. The students were between eight and fifteen years old. Sam said the age disparity was the result of the parents not being able to afford to send their kids to school every year. She said that the students spoke widely varying levels of English — from a little to none.

Recess was spent with the students after which the volunteers worked on community service projects around the school for a couple of hours. One project was digging trenches for a fence or hedge made of thorny plants. They also planted 90 trees on the grounds of the school, which Sam said was flat and barren.

They had to carry the water they needed from the river down below the school. They learned to carry it on their heads like the locals. “Five-year-old girls could carry the bottles better than we could,” Sam said.

Afternoons were spent visiting with host families, learning about the lifestyles of the locals, touring the area, and with group team-building activities where they got to know the other volunteers.

Olivia said her host family lived in one of the nicer houses in the area. “They had a TV,” she said. “They gave me a really cool pair of pants that the sister of my host’s mother made.” Sam’s host family of three lived in a one-room mud hut with no modern conveniences. Instead of giving her a gift they asked Sam if she had any money she could give them. A boy in another host family asked their guest if she would marry him. “She was like ‘what?'” Sam said. She declined the offer.

The GLA group went on two safaris where they saw elephants, giraffe,, lions, cheetahs, birds, antelopes, wildebeest, zebras, impalas, and monkeys. “A baboon stole one kid’s lunch,” Sam said.

One of the safaris was a tour of the Ngorongoro Crater, an ancient 100-square-mile volcanic crater (about the same area as the Vineyard) where Sam said older elephants go because of the cooler weather there.

Their last day in Africa was a rainy day spent touring the area around the base of Mount Kilimanjaro.

Both Olivia and Sam said that among their most cherished moments are the times they spent with their new friends. In a thank you letter to the donors who helped make Olivia’s trip possible she wrote, “The fact hit us that we would never all be together again in Tanzania ever again; but none of us accepted the fact that we would never see each other again. These three weeks are three weeks that I will never forget. They really were the best three weeks of my entire life.”