‘Without leaps of imagination, or dreaming, we lose the excitement of possibilities. Dreaming, after all, is a form of planning’
Gloria Steinem. Presidential Medal of Freedom 2013.
As I mentioned in the previous post, throughout all these years, countries and travels I’ve developed a compulsive obsession about travelling the world while at the same time my interest and concerns about environmental and global issues such as climate change, poverty and social injustice have increased proportionally. Due to these two main reasons, at the end of 2015 I quitted my job, left my house, sold my car, my guitars and even some of my clothes to go on the most exciting adventure of my entire life; travel the world indefinitely and volunteer with NGO’s in sustainable development projects along my way.
This journey commenced in January 2016 in the place I always dreamed about, Africa. I spent almost four months in Tanzania volunteering for a British NGO, Raleigh International. My work consisted on leading a project in the WASH area (Water Hygiene and sanitation) based in the village of Ng’wandakw, Manyara region, managing a team of ten volunteers, half from the UK and half from Tanzania. We carried out researches about WASH and climate change. Built two toilets blocks for the kids at the school, girls & boys, and hand washing facilities in many houses around the village. We worked with the local schools (nurseries, primary and secondary) and with different focus groups (women, youth and environmental group) on environmental issues such as health & hygiene, waste management, sustainable agriculture, reforestation, climate change and the UN Global Goals for Sustainble Development. We carried out an awareness raising campaign based on all these matters celebrating a variety of events around the area. We also collaborated with an albino children charity. As transversal issues, always, climate change and gender equality.
The Swahili, the massive cultural difference, the lack of technical resources, being responsible 24/7 of ten people, living with local families in very basic conditions and facing for the very first time in my life the lack of electricity, sometimes water and even a proper diet, to mention but a few. The challenges were many. Nonetheless, no matter how complicated the day turned into, at the end of it there was absolutely nothing that could remove the smile from my face while I was being delighted by the colours of the sunset on my way back home, finally, I was living my african dream. I worked with the strongest dedication I have ever worked in my entire life and enjoyed every single second as if it was the last one. The African landscapes, the people, the children, the tribes, the music, the dances, the history, everything surrounded by an overwhelming poverty that, one way or another, end up captivating your soul.
And the project came to an end. At this point in my life I should be used to leave places behind, notwithstanding, saying goodbye to the village of Ng’wandakw was not just another goodbye. At the farewell event celebrated at the primary school, after the students sang some typical Tanzanian songs with their powerful and angelical voices, it was time to give my speech, I couldn’t finish even the fourth word and, under the astonished gazes of my team and the teachers, I bursted into tears in front of 1200 kids telling me ‘Carolina don’t cry, Carolina don’t cry’. They and the people of the village had been my motivation and inspiration every day. Africa touched me in a way that my words cannot manage to describe rightly, I only know that I want to go back, I know one day I will be back. The experience was so extraordinary that before leaving Tanzania I let them know my willingness to volunteer for the NGO again in the near future.
After this magnificent and intense experience it was time for a well-deserved holidays. Back to Heathrow I already had another flight with destination Bangkok waiting for me to take off. For about four months I travelled around the south east of Asia. I met a lot of wonderful people and live many adventures that I’ll never forget. From Bangkok to the north of the country, with special mention to a place called Pai, whoever is reading this post right now and has been there will understand. Pai is a little bohemian town in the mountains of Thailand that has a particular charm which simply gets you and traps you. When I finally moved on, after two amazing weeks, I carried on with my travels towards the north until I arrived at the bank of the Mekong River, one of the largest rivers in Asia. I travelled on a boat full of backpackers, and some locals, for two days up to Luang Prabang. After a couple of weeks discovering Laos I took a plane destination Hanoi, finally it was time for Vietnam. I lived an unforgettable month exploring the country by road, from the stunning rice terraces of Sapa, accompanied by the Hmong women in traditional clothes and customs, going through the famous Hải Vân Pass on a bike, to the cosmopolitan city of Saigon, renamed Ho Chi Min city in 1975 in honour to the leader of the guerrilla Viet Minh that won the Vietnam War and who subsequently became president of the republic. From there I continued my journey to Cambodia by bus, where I spent few days between hippie islands and ancient temples, and afterwards I went back to the south of Thailand, this time to relax on its stunning beaches of turquoise water. After a week between boats and islands I flew from Krabi to Kuala Lumpur, the famous capital of Malaysia, the city of the thousand cultures where sometimes you wonder if you are in India, China or Australia. I travelled the country by road from Penang, with mandatory stop at George Town, until crossing the border to Singapore. I spent a couple of days in the most expensive city in the world and then back to the air, this time, destination Jakarta. Indonesia is a paradise full of paradise, except from Jakarta of course, I made my journey across the country by train, road and boat, from the capital to the Gili Islands in Lombok, going through the spectacular Mount Bromo and loosing myself in the idyllic beaches and places in Bali.
My plan b was to continue my route to the Philippines. However, one day, just arrived to my hostel in Yogyakarta, I received the news I was so looking forward to, an offer from the same NGO I worked for in Africa to lead a similar project in Nicaragua. Two weeks later I was on a plane taking off from Bali International Airport with my thoughts already in the center of the american continent, although this time first, quick stops in Almeria, Madrid, London and Norwich to receive overdoses of love from family & friends and recharge energy for my next adventure.
At the end of August I arrived to León, a beautiful colonial city full of history where the Sandinista Revolution that defeated the Somoza dictatorship in 1979 was initiated. Nicaragua and its people are exactly as I expected: colourful landscapes full of palm trees and latin passion with ‘reguetón’ sound and certain urban chaos. We started working on the project and few weeks later, with my team already formed by volunteers from the UK and Latinos, we came to the place from where I’m writing this post right now, the green and stunning Nicaraguan mountains of a small community named San Pedro in the Muy Muy region.
The project is in the same area WASH (Water Hygiene & Sanitation), however, this time the content is slightly different. We work with a group of entrepreneurs training and giving to them the resources to start their own business in ITS (Improved Sanitation Technologies) thus the sanitation infrastructure in the community is improved. We’ve helped the Community to create the CAPS (Potable Water & Sanitation Committee) and now we are working to give them the knowledge to improve the water supply system infrastructure and achieve a safe and reliable drinking water supply for the inhabitants of San Pedro. We work with the Community building soil and water conservation structures. We also work with the Community and the local school promoting health & hygiene good habits. We carry out an awareness raising campaign on environmental matters such as waste management, reforestation & climate change. As transversal issues, always, climate change and gender equality.
Different country and culture, same motivation to do my bit to help. The day to day is still full of challenges although this time the experience and the fact that I speak both languages make things easier.
In mid December I will finish the project and carry on with my travels around America. I have no itinerary, I’ll rather leave my instinct to guide me, and neither do I know when this adventure will come to an end, at home nobody waits for me this Christmas; nor do I have an idea to what corner of the world my next job will take me. The only thing I am certain of is that there is no major satisfaction than to carry out your plans and dreams, life well deserves to be lived like this.