The Ross School senior talks about her experience in Africa, which inspired her to host a fundraiser for African Impact’s Happy Africa Foundation, whose goal is “to promote and advance community and conservation development on the continent of Africa.”
What was your inspiration for choosing this topic as your senior project?
Pretty much I was first inspired when I went to Africa with my school in March. We went with an organization called African Impact, which is the organization I am raising money for now. We went with them to Africa and we built an orphanage in Mozambique. It was incredible. It was a life changing experience. So upon returning home, I felt like I was not finished. I felt incomplete. I knew I wanted to go back really badly, so I organized a trip this summer with my mom and my best friend. We went to Tanzania this time but with the same organization. We went to a nursery school where we taught the children and played. And when I came home, I wanted to go back again. I felt like each time I came back that there was more I could do, that I was not finished. Since I couldn’t go back with school starting, I decided this would be a wonderful time to raise money for this great organization and basically I was going to have this fundraiser event where all the money will go to this nursery school we were at, and will basically provide them with pens, pencils, everything – because they basically have nothing. It is pretty much the floors, three posters in the classroom. They have nothing – no materials. When we went down we actually brought a huge suitcase of things to give to them and they have to distribute it over time.
In addition to the fundraiser you also have completed a documentary film on your experience. How did that happen?
Yes. When I was there this summer I took a camera from the school. I had never worked with film before, but I just took it, I set it up and shot. When I came back I was thinking maybe I can make something of this, maybe not; maybe it will be the main component of my senior project, maybe it won’t. So I have been taking this class, and I am the only one in the class. There is a lot involved in documentary filmmaking and a lot involved in this project. I actually found footage our teacher shot in Mozambique, which I have been integrating with the footage I shot this summer.
What story does the documentary tell? What message pops out?
The message is pretty much how this organization, Africa Impact, is a wonderful organization to be involved with and how much of an impact you can have on such a small society by volunteering your time, and how so little can mean so much.
Can you tell us a little about the organization?
They have 21 projects in 12 different countries, all in Africa, and they are all different. There are some involved in animal conservation to building orphanages to working in nursery schools. It is all hands on.
Is there one aspect of that kind of volunteer work you are interested in on a personal level?
Mostly, helping the little kids because they really do appreciate it more. Sometimes the adults see you coming and they kind of take it all for granted; but the kids are happy you are there and encourage you. When we were at the orphanage it was amazing because we had an opportunity to make these kids feel loved and they don’t really have anyone providing them that. I don’t know how to even explain it, but the feeling is incredible.
What did your mom think about the trip?
She hadn’t been to Africa, but she had been to Peru and she was there twice this year working at an orphanage, so she knew the feeling. She loved the trip. She would go back as well.
So your volunteer work is a family affair, and nothing new?
Definitely. My dad, he went to the Philippines last year with his girlfriend, whose family is from there and they visited an orphanage and helped out there.
Do you see yourself working towards a future in international education or a related field? Has this shaped where you are going in the next couple of years?
As of a couple of months ago, I was thinking about taking a gap year after my senior year, which I am still considering. I would apply to schools, defer for a year and maybe intern with this organization on all the different projects. I want to see what I am interested in and then come back and focus on that.
What are your hopes for the fundraiser?
Hopefully that a lot of people come. In the beginning I was actually going to organize a trip to send a group of people with me to Africa, and for a while that was really what I wanted to do. With the economy though, it became so expensive and difficult to encourage people enough to go. I just want to motivate people to want to go, so they can see for themselves how much fun it can be and the kind of impact they can have on people’s lives.
Montemarano will screen her film, “Explore, Inspire, Impact” at the fundraiser on Friday, November 7 from 6 to 10 p.m. at the Ross School in East Hampton. The event will also boast African drumming, a photography exhibit and sale, and a sampling of African cuisine. For more information on African Impact, visit www.africanimpact.com.Â