Cierra Brown’s experience volunteering in Central America this summer was not unlike that of many Davis teens: a mix of anticipation and anxiety about being out of the country for the first time, a couple tough days adjusting to life with a host family in a strange country, followed by a period of time so wonderful she didn’t want to leave.
Brown, a senior at Davis High School, spent her summer as a Wandering Scholar, thanks to the Walking Tree Travel program, which selected Brown and a couple other teens from around the country for full fellowships. Brown traveled to Guatemala, where she lived with a host family, helped rebuild a women’s center and focused on education, visiting local schools and meeting the children.
“I had a great time,” Brown said.
“It really opened my eyes,” she added. “I’d never been on a plane, never been out of the country, but I loved it. I didn’t want to leave.”
And the experience brought her future goals into focus: “I want to travel more, and I want to become a pediatrician,” she said. “I want to help kids around the world. That’s my goal.”
The beginning was a bit tough though, she admitted.
“I was so scared being out of the country for the first time and missing my mom … the first two days were really tough, but then it all really touches you.”
Brown first heard about the Walking Tree program when a representative visited her Spanish class sophomore year. A year later, she decided to apply for Walking Tree’s wandering scholar program, which selects three teens from low-income backgrounds who are passionate about global exploration, exhibit promise as “intercultural innovators,” and demonstrate intellectual and entrepreneurial curiosity despite a lack of resources and opportunity.
Hearing that all her expenses would be covered, Brown thought, “Oh, I should do that.'”
She knew the odds would be against her, given that just a few students are chosen from around the country, but she credited her Spanish teacher at Davis High, Janice Candelario, with helping her through the application process.
She was thrilled to be selected.
Walking Tree Travel sends hundreds of students to one of seven countries in Central America, Africa and Asia, where they work on projects aimed at improving life in local communities. They build community centers, dig wells, paint buildings and more.
In Guatemala, Brown helped rebuild a women’s center, “a little muscle work,” as she called it.
When not laboring, she was enjoying time with her large host family. They live in a cement house with a metal roof — “it was really loud when it rained” — where she shared a room with another wandering scholar.
Though she’d been studying Spanish in school, she found herself facing a bit of a language divide.
“They all laughed at my Spanish,” she recalled. “But they could understand me. I was only there two weeks but I learned a lot.”
Now that she’s back in Davis, she’s staying in touch with her host family and also plans to continue helping their community by collecting school supplies for them.
“I want people here in the United States to help them out,” she said, adding that she’ll be presenting her plans at Davis High and using social media to get the word out to the community.
And that, it turns out, is the whole point of Walking Tree Travel.
Paul Laurie, the program’s director, says, “We hope that our participants bring their experiences home and start a dialogue with other kids to better appreciate the world which we all share.”
Learn more about the program at http://www.walkingtree.org
— Reach Anne Ternus-Bellamy at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-747-8051. Follow her on Twitter at @ATernusBellamy