Published in the Guelph Mercury, August 19, 2011, by Chris Seto
GUELPH — In a downtown coffee shop, Claire Teri received a call from a friend she made while she was in Africa. Although she only heard 30 seconds of voice and static, it brought a smile to her face.
Teri was one of the 12 Guelph students who travelled to Lesotho, in southern Africa, as part of a high school program called Reach Lesotho. The three-week trip abroad was the final portion of an 18-month long school program.
The trip was organized by former University of Guelph student Abid Virani, the founder of the I Have Hope charity.
“It’s not about saving people, it’s about empowering people,” said Virani. He said there are so many television shows and commercials that show the worst parts of Africa to guilt people into donating money.
“Everyone knows what disease and despair look like,” he said. “People seem to have forgotten what people look like.”
For this reason, a film crew came on the trip as well, shooting over 125 hours of footage for use in a documentary about the excursion. The group’s hope is to show this film on TV and to high school students around the country.
As in many reality TV shows, the students had cameras in their faces and microphones attached to their shirts, capturing the good times and the hard times.
The 12 Guelph travellers paired up with a dozen youth from Lesotho and took part in various community development programs.
“We were coming over and saying, ‘OK, What do you guys want to do? What are the projects that are important to you?’ ” said Brian Thomsen, one of students on the trip.
These projects included painting a mural, fixing fences and lending a hand in vegetable gardens. The Guelph youth teamed up with their African counterparts and managed to plant 1,700 trees for the community.
When others in the village saw the youth working together on these projects, many were inspired to join them. The 17-year-old Thomsen said although the tree planting began with 24 youth, it ended up drawing around 300 people, swinging pickaxes and working together.
Some of the students said their time abroad has reshaped the way they look at the world.
“I see a lot of things now as superficial,” she said Elyse Holmes, 17.
Madeline Turland said the trip and the 18 months of preparation has made her more aware and less quick to place blame. “People do have reasons for the way they do things,” the 17-year-old said. “Now, I look for all the information before I make a judgment.”
The documentary is set to premiere at the Harbourfront Centre in Toronto on Dec. 1. The students see this film as a way to share their journey and empower their peers, a legacy that will continue.
“A big part of the trip was showing the power of community and the power of youth volunteerism,” said 18-year-old student Drew Anderson. “I think that if you show that documentary in Canada, it can hopefully inspire people here to get involved in their own community.”
The $90,000 cost of the trip and shooting the film was covered by the students and their fundraising, donors and sponsors.
To find out more about when the documentary will be showing in Guelph, visit the website ihavehope.ca
To hear more from the students, view the video at guelphmercury.com