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    The group was brought to Tanzania through the ME to WE organization and they gathered together, wearing the traditional Maasai colours. (Submitted photo)

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    The group was brought to Tanzania through the ME to WE organization and they gathered together, wearing the traditional Maasai colours. (Submitted photo)

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    The sun hovers over the Tanzanian mountains. Chalmers-Wein and the rest of the volunteers lived in the mountainous region, about 40 minutes from where they built the school. (Submitted photo)



Petawawa teen takes part in groundbreaking ME to WE trip to Tanzania

Community News

By Patricia Leboeuf

Posted on Thursday, August 11, 2016

A ME to WE humanitarian trip to Tanzania has changed the course of 17-year-old Jeris Chalmers-Wein’s life forever, cementing her on the long and often difficult path towards changing the world. “I’m so privileged to live here in Canada,” Chalmers-Wein said. “Just by being here, I get so many things that other people don’t. I don’t think that it is necessarily fair. I am grateful for it, but I want to make change around the world.”

She knows now beyond the shadow of a doubt that she will strive to make the world a better place. Whether through a career in health care, volunteering abroad and at home or just by helping out wherever she can, she knows it is her calling. She has a long list of volunteer achievements in the community, but ME to We is currently her way of bringing about change abroad.

The organization is an “innovative social enterprise that inspires and enables people to become leaders and agents of change,” notably offering young people the chance to volunteer in third world countries, making positive contributions to communities in need.

She hadn’t been planning on going to Tanzania; rather she had hoped to focus on working all summer. A phone call from the organization quickly changed her mind and she left on June 30 to return on July 19. It was hard to resist the offer. It was not only an incredible opportunity, but her team would be the first on the ground as ME to WE had never operated in Tanzania. She would help shape the organization’s future contributions to the area. “I love helping people, it’s what I enjoy doing,” said Chalmers-Wein, adding the trip was one of the best things she has ever done.

It is her second time volunteering internationally, having previously worked in Nicaragua building a school. She did the same in Africa.

Her recent efforts were assisting in adding an extra classroom to make room for the school’s 600 students, who were sharing a total of five classrooms. Having this additional space will allow them to be more comfortable and focus on their studies. “I want to go back to Tanzania and see how the projects are (helping),” said Chalmers-Wein. “I want to see those kids again.”

It may have been incredible, but the experience wasn’t a vacation. Though she did go on a short safari and visited a cultural centre, the focus of her time abroad was helping the Maasai community in which she was placed. In addition to helping build a school, she also hauled 20 litres of water over eight kilometres of dusty, scorched terrain. The trek was painful and difficult, and at times, she felt she would literally break. Yet she managed to prevail after she found motivation in Maasai Mama Sara.

As conversation developed between them, a bond grew and so did Chalmers-Wein’s admiration. This grandmother had been doing this journey at least twice a day and never faltered. “I’m young and I could barely do it,” she said. “I couldn’t imagine how she did it, but she had no choice. The access to water isn’t readily available, she can’t just turn on the tap.”

Before Chalmers-Wein left the country, Sara presented the teenager with a hand-beaded white cross as a gift of their unlikely friendship. It is a gift that Chalmers-Wein cherishes. The act brought her to tears, overwhelmed by the generosity of one who has so little. “She wanted it to signify that we will always be friends,” she said. “I was blown away that she would give me one of her personal items,” she added. “She’s changed my life for sure.”

The 17-year-old was continually amazed by how friendly the people were, how happy they were despite their lives of hardships and dangers. She reminisced fondly of the time an unknown little girl curled up onto her lap and just fell asleep. Once one of the guards picked up her arm and put it next to his, then pointed out that they are the exactly same, just with different skin colours. “It’s the little things that are just amazing,” said Chalmers-Wein. “I think about it all the time.”

The trip has also made her even more grateful for the life she has in Canada. Not necessarily the luxuries, but the simple fact that she has never had to go hungry, a reality for many in Tanzania. Even as a volunteer, once food for the night was gone, there was nothing until the next meal. “There were times where I wasn’t able to get in line in time for seconds, so I didn’t get any,” said Chalmers-Wein. “And a lot of these people didn’t even have the chance for firsts.”

She was also given the opportunity to spend the day eating like the Maasai. In the morning, she had a bowl of the porridge-like Tanzanian staple called ugali. At night, it was ugali once more, but this time it had hardened after being left out through the day.

It isn’t a meal she cares to repeat, though she’d be happy to repeat the experience as a whole, and return to Africa, or perhaps travel to India next summer. Chalmers-Wein is grateful that she has so many supporters in her life, willing to help her accomplish her dreams.

For more information on ME to WE or to look at volunteering experiences, please visit www.metowe.com.