Clothes, clean water and education. Those three things are often taken for granted in American society. There are some countries where the nearest school is 90 minutes away, and gulping water is more than just grabbing a Costco water bottle.
Since her return, junior Tara Heuple has never thought of a drink of water the same. Her mind is stuck — not on the taste — but on the kids in Africa who must boil brown, murky water from the Mara River just to get a single burst of hydration.
“It’s one thing to be like, ‘Oh, I’m helping kids in Africa by donating money,’ but it’s another thing to actually go there and see it first hand,” said Tara.
Over winter break, Tara traveled to Kenya with her dad, Jeff, and 10th-grade sister Carlie. “I knew that this was going to be a life-changing experience,” said Tara, referring to her thoughts before leaving.
Her thoughts were right on track. Tara explained that education isn’t easy in Kenya. Students sit six-to-a-desk and share one notebook and one pencil.
After experiencing their educational dilemma first hand, Tara has a different perspective on waking up in the morning. “I want to go to school because kids there [in Africa] don’t have education and they walk up to an hour and a half to go to school because that’s how passionate about learning they are.”
During their time in Kenya, the Heuple family helped the Free The Children organization and worked on building the foundation of a school.
According to the Free The Children organization’s website, they believe that “all young people are free to achieve their fullest potential as agents of change.”
This isn’t the first time, however, that the Heuple family has helped others. Every year at Christmas, each family member receives “x amount of money” and during Christmas 2011, Heuple’s dad heard the founder of Free The Children speak at a conference.
From there, her dad purchased the founder’s book, donated money to the organization and discussed the possibility of going to Africa.
Last summer, Tara and Carlie’s dad confirmed that the trio would travel to Africa during winter break this school year.
While most high schoolers are worried about being with their friends and having a party on New Year’s Eve, Heuple was not. “I kept an open mind about it and decided that I wanted to see what happened there (in Africa),” said Tara.
Her open mind most definitely paid off. “It was a really good New Year’s and we spent it with a lot of amazing people; I wouldn’t have spent it anywhere else,” Tara said.
To celebrate the new year in Africa, the Kenyan Boys Choir came to their location to sing and dance on New Year’s Eve. Tara explained that the choir is famous in Africa, similar to those on the radio in the United States.
Tara’s experiences in Africa were quick to open her eyes. “It was sad to see that people care about having brand-name stuff and the most expensive jeans (in America), and there it’s like they have clothes and classmates that they’re with and they have parents who try and provide for them, and that’s all that matters. It’s way different than what we care about here,” said Heuple.
Now, she is making a change in her own life. “The clothes I get and getting to get new clothes is going to be different, like ‘Do I really need this?’ or ‘Is it just something that I would like to have?’ ” said Tara. “Even though I really love to get new clothes and shop, it’s going to be different.”
Kids in Kenya basically do everything to help their parents, according to Tara, and that has inspired her. She plans to start helping her mom and dad more around the house. Tara is also planning to honor the important people in her life more because in Africa, people are dying all the time from diseases.
“Seeing the kids and just smiling, not being afraid of them, hugging them, holding their hand, and doing what they wanted was just like them knowing that they’re not any different than we are,” said Tara. All of those things, she said, left her with a great feeling inside.
The trip, to Tara, was beyond amazing and unforgettable. “Getting the opportunity to go and see how you make a difference and doing something about it just felt really good and knowing that you were changing lives is a feeling that I can’t describe,” she said.
“My bad days here, like having a bad day at school, or getting mad,” said Tara, “are nothing compared to a normal day there.”