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Africa trip a life-changing experience, women say

Courtesy photo
Upendo orphanage: Carol Salisbury holds some of the children at the Upendo orphanage in Tanzania.
Courtesy photo Carol Salisbury and Cindy York, who work at Thomas Memorial Hospital, recently traveled to Tanzania on a mission trip.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- For Carol Salisbury, a recent trip to Africa was a life-changing experience.

Salisbury, of South Charleston, was one of six West Virginians who traveled to Tanzania in September to volunteer at two orphanages.

"I loved it," said Salisbury, a nurse at Thomas Memorial Hospital. "We're planning on maybe going back there next year."

Salisbury and the rest of the group, most of whom work in the medical field, volunteered at the Msamaria and Upendo orphanages in Tanzania.

"We don't know how blessed we are here because these kids, they had nothing," Salisbury said. "They had no one to care for them other than the workers, no one to love on them."

In January, Sarah Robinette, an epidemiologist for the Department of Health and Human Resources and one of the group members, had traveled to Africa as a tourist for the first time and climbed Mount Kilimanjaro. Going to Africa had always been her dream. Robinette said seeing the children there on her tourist trip inspired her to come back as a volunteer. She encouraged the others to do the same.

"The second time we were much closer to the reality of what it's like to live there," Robinette said. "The kids come up to you. ... The need for love and affection is so great and it's true, you come back and appreciate everything you have."

For most of the others, the September trip was the first time they'd been to Africa.

That was true of Salisbury's friend and co-worker, Cindy York, of Logan. York and Salisbury work together at Thomas Memorial Hospital.

"I have a heart for missions and I really wanted to do something for the orphans," York said of her reasons for wanting to go to Africa. "[It was] amazing if I could sum it up in one word. It was very emotional."

The children at the orphanage come from families living in extreme poverty. Their families couldn't provide the children with food, clothing or other needs, so they came to the orphanage.

"This way at least they have a place to rest their head and get something to eat," Salisbury said in a written account of the trip.

Even at the orphanage, though, the kids were very poor.

"There were no toys outside to play with except a jump rope that someone must have donated to the orphanage for the children," Salisbury wrote. "One boy named John was a very talented artist. He drew me a picture of an elephant and different animals for the other members of my group to take home. ... But all the children were talented in their own way."

One scary moment during the trip came when one of the group members got word of a terrorist attack in the neighboring country of Kenya. Gunmen killed 67 people over four days in a Nairobi shopping mall. The scare almost had the group leaving early.

"We were trying to get out of there as soon as we could," Salisbury said. "We tried to get a flight home and they were all booked up."

So the group ended up staying for the scheduled length of the trip.

Salisbury said seeing the conditions the children lived in made her emotional. They were affected by how much the children just wanted their attention.

"They were just like literally vying for our attention," York said. 

"The children were playing outside on the playground, while others just wanted to be held," Salisbury said. "A lot of kids had running noses, wet clothes, torn up [shoes] and baggy clothes that would not stay on them."

Becky Atkins, a nurse at Williamson Memorial Hospital, said the trip, also her first to Africa, was eye opening.

"It opened my eyes to see how other people live in the world," said Atkins, of Logan. "I'm saddened by the children there without any parents cared for by volunteers who don't even get paid to take care of [them]. It's really heartbreaking."

The women say they were so moved by their experience there that they not only want to travel to Africa again, but they also want to help out in the meantime by sending them items they need.

"We're going to continue to do more," Atkins said. "Right now I'm in the process of sending care packages of gifts for the children." Reach Lori Kersey at lori.kersey@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1240.


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