Published in the Guelph Mercury, July 1, 2011, by Chris Seto
GUELPH — With her sights set on helping the youth in Lesotho, Vanessa Linton is preparing for a trip of a lifetime.
The 16-year-old will be leaving July 25 with 11 other high school students for a three-week trip to Lesotho, Africa. The students have been preparing for the past 18 months and said that they are ready.
“I don’t know how much more ready we can be,” Linton said.
The trip’s aim is to educate and support the youth in Lesotho about HIV and AIDS while also creating a documentary video to share with Canadian students.
In January 2010, a team of 12 students was selected from Centennial, Guelph CVI and John F. Ross Collegiate high schools. Over the past 18 months they have been working together and raising money for the trip..
Brian Thomsen, 18, said that the past year and a half has been worth the effort in preparing for this trip, even though it is only three weeks of travel.
“The trip is useless unless you prepare for it,” he said. “We can go over as tourists, or we could go over as somebody who’s educated.”
Linton said that she would have been completely unprepared if the team were to have left soon after it was assembled. “I feel like it will be so much more valuable with all the knowledge and experience that we’ve gained in 18 months,” she said.
The year and a half of preparation will also count as a high school credit course called “Issues in Human Rights.” The course covered the culture, history and language of Lesotho. The students were prepared to be pushed out of their comfort zone.
Each of the students was paired up with a leader in the Guelph community that could act as a mentor.
Guelph MP Frank Valeriote was the mentor for Linton. He encouraged her to journal. “Mostly I wanted her to open herself up to that opportunity, that her life will change while changing the lives of others,” he said.
The idea for this trip was dreamed up four years ago by University of Guelph student Abid Virani while he was still in high school. Virani created an organization called Reach Lesotho with the dream of sending students to Lesotho and provide support to the communities that have been ravaged by the spread of AIDS.
Last week the organization changed its name to I Have Hope and became officially recognized as a charity. The students were able to raise $100,000 for trip through fundraisers and donations.
Joel Barr, a teacher at Centennial and co-creator of the Reach Lesotho program, said a major part of this trip is the documentary video that will be used to educate the youth in Canada about what is happening in Africa.
“It has to have a legacy,” he said. “We wanted to leave something that would inspire.”
The full documentary will be screened at the Harbourfront Centre in Toronto on Dec. 1, World AIDS Day.
At the official send-off held at the Boathouse, each of the students said a few words. With bright eyes and smiles on their faces, each of them took a moment to express their excitement and gratitude toward the other students on the team.
Because Virani is currently in Africa awaiting the team’s arrival, he sent a letter to be read to the students before they leave. Besides congratulating the team on completing the course, he expressed his excitement for the coming trip. “The 12 students are in every way a reason that we should all have hope,” he wrote.