By Kevin Patterson
Kevin Patterson was one of three Wake Forest University football players who joined The Nyanya Project in June, 2008, to build a home for elderly grandmothers and their AIDS orphaned grandchildren and to work with grandmothers learning crafts in Dar Es Salam, Tanzania. He, Alphonso Smith and Chantz McClinic were all starters on the team that went ahead to win the Eagle Bank Bowl championship after their return. All graduated in December, 2008. Kevin, who played safety and majored in Sociology, is from Georgia. This was his first trip out of the country. He wrote the following before he left.
There are so many theories that we encounter on a daily basis in class that seem so distant because we don’t see how they directly affect us. And we are constantly bombarded in our society with images of Third World countries and so many people who need help in the world, but to us they are just pictures and sound bites of things that we can’t control or have any contact with.
We see the pictures on television of starving children and the ads asking for money, and we turn our heads, turn the channel and turn off our hearts because images such as those are too hard to digest as we live lives so different than the lives we are shown.
It is not from a lack of compassion that we turn the channel or a lack of caring, but rather, that we are not willing to emotionally invest and give our time to something so painful.
When I was presented with the opportunity to be a part of a trip that would allow me to affect change on an international scale and for people whom I sometimes feel so disjointed from, I was thrilled and jumped at the opportunity.
The trip is called The Nyanya Project. It is a coordinated effort to help and aid African grandmothers who are raising their grandchildren who have been orphaned as a result of AIDS claiming the lives of the children’s parents. As of now, there are 2.5 million orphans in Kenya, the country where the project was initially scheduled to be housed, but now because of extreme political unrest has been moved to Tanzania.
The need for aid and help is dire for the grandmothers, because in their old age, they have no jobs, little skills and no viable way of income. And without government assistance they so desperately need, they are left to live in extreme poverty.
With this trip, I have set some personal goals for myself, as well as for the group with which I will be traveling. Personally, I want to be humbled.
Many times, I take for granted that I am so blessed. As an American, we live in such a materialistic society that focuses solely on monetary gain and doesn’t appreciate other values such as family, friendship. It would be beneficial indeed to encounter a people who have no choice but to depend on each other instead of the tangible symbols of wealth that we focus on.
As an African-American, my roots are in Africa. The only connection that I’ve had thus far is the term “African” attached to my racial/ethnic group. My ancestors lived and died there, and I know that the connection will become more real to me once I have the chance to visit Africa, the “motherland” of my history. I’m not interested in simply touring and seeing the beauty that Africa holds for the observer willing to find it, but I want to be a part of the fabric that is Africa, its people, and affect positive change in Africans’ lives.
I also realize that there is a reciprocal relationship and benefit that happens when we choose to help someone less fortunate than ourselves and give selflessly to others. I have so many things to offer others that it is selfish indeed to keep my gifts to myself. I’m a hard worker, a committed man to finishing the task at hand. I realize that my strongest asset is to lead by example and to inspire change through my actions. I’m excited to be able to use my gifts to further someone else’s ability to use their own.
For once, all that I’ve learned from professors and books and the media concerning AIDS and poverty and the repercussions on children – that all of the issues that Africa is facing – will become real to me as I come face to face with realities so different than my own. Embarking on this journey gives me a chance to stretch myself academically and mentally. I will experience Pro Humanitate, the belief that this university was founded upon – for humanity.