Steamboat Springs At first, their parents rolled their eyes when a group of middle school students said they wanted to travel to Africa to work at a school for three weeks.
But now that the students have finished their freshman year of high school and raised $6,000, they have won over their parents and are ready to pack their bags for Zambia. They leave July 13.
The six students, who have created the trip with no official sponsorship from schools, churches or other organizations, will travel to a village just outside the Chimfunchi chimpanzee sanctuary on Zambia's north-central border. Accompanied by two leaders, both in their mid-20s, the Steamboat Springs High School students will work in the local school and volunteer at the sanctuary for three weeks. One of the sponsors, 24-year-old Steamboat Springs native Lennae Jenkins, has spent 10 months at the village during two previous trips and helped build the school where the students will be assisting.
The idea for the trip was sparked when several of the students were on an eighth-grade student council trip to the PeaceJam conference in Denver with sponsor Johnny Walker. There, students listened to 12 Nobel Peace Prize winners, including Desmond Tutu and the 14th Dalai Lama, and decided they needed to do something big.
After another trip to Denver, Walker said he and Jenkins separately began thinking of the possibility of the students going to Africa and approached them one morning during breakfast.
"We walked over and said, 'Guys, let's go to Africa,'" he said. Walker said he can't go on this trip because of liability issues and the lack of sponsorship, but he hopes this becomes a tradition with trips in the future.
The students going on the trip all have traveled outside the U.S. before and, despite school fundraisers and bake sales, they will be funding the bulk of the $4,000-a-person expense through their families.
Student Natalie Wright said she expects the trip to be a valuable experience in her own education, as well.
"We'll probably end up learning more than the students we're teaching," she said.
Another student, Kayleigh Esswein, who was president of the student council when the idea was hatched, said she had to work to win over her parents.
"They had both traveled to Africa before, so they were all for it. They were kind of wary on safety issues, but Lennae convinced them pretty well," she said. "Basically, from the moment I came home and said, 'This would be a really cool project. It would be sweet if I could go and teach the kids,' they knew this was my thing and they supported it."
Before the new schoolhouse was built in the village, which is near the Congo border, the closest school was 30 miles away, which meant many of the local students were unable to obtain an education. Since Jenkins helped create the new building, however, more than 40 students are attending classes and one government-hired teacher is working full time.
The students will teach at the school during the week, assisting in English and math instruction, and volunteer at the sanctuary during the weekend. They also will sponsor another school to visit the sanctuary and make donations to a local women's club while they are there.
After the main trip ends Aug. 5, the students will travel to Victoria Falls and go on a three-day safari in Botswana.
Esswein said the students also likely will hold a bake sale during the July 4 weekend to raise more funds.
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