From Fiji to Cambodia to Uganda, Key Club members take the spirit of service worldwide.
Past Key Club president saves lives with UNICEF and The Eliminate Project.
Story by Maria Palazzolo
I went to Cambodia in February. I went expecting to learn more about our work as a Kiwanis family with The Eliminate Project, Kiwanis International and UNICEF’s joint campaign to eliminate maternal and neonatal tetanus. But I came back with a new perspective on life and our impact.
Before we began The Eliminate Project, one baby died every nine minutes from maternal and neonatal tetanus (MNT). Now, that rate has improved to 11 minutes. Still, more than 130 babies die each day from this disease. Before my trip, this fact made me sad but didn’t really affect me as much as it should have. I never truly understood the impact MNT has on families until I met the mothers and babies who, without The Eliminate Project, could have been among the thousands affected. These babies were able to receive their vaccinations because of the fundraising work we did at home. Our work provided opportunity, health and education to those who needed it most.
During my time in Cambodia, I also learned about many of the other difficulties facing the country. Our UNICEF hosts taught us about malnutrition, extreme poverty, lack of education and, most prominently, government corruption. Through our meeting with the Cambodian UNICEF team members and my firsthand experience in the rural villages of the Mondulkiri province, I gained an education that no textbook or classroom PowerPoint could provide.
I believe all high school students should be given the chance both to travel and serve others. We learn so much by helping others and immersing ourselves in other cultures; so, combining the two can have an amazing effect on our minds and our perspectives on life. I now have a completely new outlook on the world and the role I play in it.
Now, I remember to be thankful for the little things I used to take for granted. When I enjoy air conditioning during blistering Illinois summers, I remember the people who have no shelter from the scorching Cambodian sun. When I am sick and take a trip to the doctor, I remember the people who don’t have access to medical attention and lose their lives due to lack of health education.
Despite the sadness and heartbreak that some underprivileged areas suffer, there is hope. We are eliminating MNT! Together, the Kiwanis family will raise US$110 million, and we will save countless mothers and babies who deserve health, happiness and a future.
A date with destiny
A Montana Key Clubber returns to orphanage to bring much-needed medical supplies to more than 1,000 children.
Story by Kasey Jackson
Matt Roberts looks left, then right. He leans forward. He’s smiling, but not too much. His eyes bounce from object to object as he rides up the dusty road toward Destiny Orphanage and School in Katende, Uganda. All the while, he and his mother, Susan, exchange memories and observations from the back seat of the van as it bumps its way toward Destiny’s entrance.
“I remember this,” Roberts says softly.
Roberts visited Destiny with his family seven years earlier. But things have changed. The campus has grown. There are more buildings and a lot more children—now about 1,300, in fact. It’s the same … yet different.
“My family first traveled to Uganda in 2007 to stock Destiny’s library with children’s books,” Roberts recalls. “There’s one particular image from that trip I love above all else: the hundreds of bright smiles I saw when I opened the door of the Jeep. It flooded my body with emotion. It makes me so happy that these children’s lives can be changed so drastically from a little time and effort from somebody else.”
Roberts knows a thing or two about time and effort.
While in Uganda that first time in 2007, Roberts connected with the children—many of them his own age—by reading to them. Playing with them. Laughing with them. This time, he’s taken on a bigger role.
Roberts decided to make Destiny Orphanage and School his senior project, and in several months of fundraising collected about US$5,000, all to purchase supplies and wiring for Destiny’s new medical clinic. The clinic was built from a Kiwanis International Foundation grant. Upon return to Uganda, Roberts, his Kiwanian mom and other members of the Sentinel Kiwanis Club from Missoula spent six hours at a medical supply store, accompanied by a nurse and lab technician from Destiny, to purchase prescriptions and supplies for the medical clinic. They even had enough fundraising monies left over to purchase a piece of equipment that can detect several types of diseases.
All of this happened thanks to Roberts’ dedication back home in Montana.
“It’s more heartwarming this time,” he says. “I’m so glad I came back here. I was young last time. I knew we were doing good, but this time, I understand more what it means—what we are doing and how important it is.”
This time, when Roberts enters the room, he’s several heads and shoulders taller than the little ones spinning around his heels. The children adore him. It certainly doesn’t hurt that he’s handing out stuffed animals to each and every one.
“These are the smiles I remember from last time,” Roberts says, lifting a young girl into the air, her squeals of joy filling the room. “It’s awesome. It’s all paying off right now.”
More than a vacation
Cecilia Li travels with Rustic Pathways to help others and returns home with a changed life.
Interview by Ariana Gainer
Fiji is a gorgeous island in the South Pacific. It’s a popular location for destination weddings, honeymoons and beach vacations. But that’s not why Cecilia Li went. She went because there was work to be done. Li traveled with Rustic Pathways, a Key Club partner that offers high school students travel and service opportunities. Li spent her time in Fiji doing construction, teaching English and farming. Key Club magazine asked Li a few questions about her experience and discovered her most significant takeaway from the trip: the friendships she made there will last a lifetime.
KCM: What impacted you most during your trip?
CL: I think the fact that I spent two weeks with no running water or electricity really helped me realize how luxurious my life at home is. And I realized that you don’t need much to be happy. The Fijians seem a lot happier than people I’m around back home. Simple living is happy living.
What did you have the most fun doing, and what were your most and least favorite parts about the trip?
I think my favorite part of the trip would be being with the children. They’re just so full of life and have so little, yet seem so much happier. It really gave me perspective. My least favorite part of the trip would be the bugs. They drove me insane. They were huge, and I couldn’t escape them.
What most surprised you—about yourself and also about Fiji?
That there were luxury tourist spots on islands right next to villages living in poverty really surprised me the most. The difference in quality of living was shocking.
Do you think it’s important for other Key Clubbers to take advantage of experiences like this? Why?
I think these experiences are truly life-changing for all who participate. And since Key Club is all about creating character and serving the community, I think it is important for them to experience something like this.
What is the biggest reward you noticed from the service you performed?
I think the biggest reward was the smiles from the locals. (Local resident) Rex worked with us on the farm, and every night he would make us laugh. And in return we helped out with (harvesting) the taro (plants whose stems and leaves are used as vegetables). And just knowing he was happy was all that I needed.
Do you think it’s important for volunteers to step outside of their local mindset to help people in other cities, states and even countries? What’s the benefit of doing that?
I do think this is important because helping communities that aren’t your own really lets you experience a lot of different things, be it different kinds of service or culture.
For information about how you can participate in a trip like Li’s, visit rusticpathways.com/keyclub.