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Tanzania trip opens eyes of Sunnyside High student

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In an African village, Sunnyside High School senior Dianna Mendoza met Hawa, who was the only woman in the village to publicly announce she was infected with AIDS.

TANZANIA - Three regions of Tanzania, Africa were recently visited by Sunnyside High School senior Dianna Mendoza, who was on an educational journey to see how the various tribes are being assisted by Lutheran World Relief projects.

"It created a culture shock, but returning to the U.S. was a reverse culture shock," Mendoza said.

"One of the most important 'people lessons' I learned was in taking time to truly connect with others and show that you care," she said. "In our culture we pass another person with a quick hello and we don't stop to really talk to the person, showing we care. There (Tanzania), people take the time to really see how a person is doing."

Mendoza said the first couple of days were spent in Moshi. "We were in a 'tourist phase' and we exchanged our money and did a lot of shopping."

She said the team of approximately 17 women she was with attended church the first Sunday. "We received a huge reception with ululations and wrap-around skirts as a welcome gift," she explained. After church, the women were treated to a buffet "...complete with goat, the 'African banana' as they call it. It was a hospitality gesture."

The following Monday and Tuesday, the group went on a safari. They visited a Massai village during their safari trip. "I was almost sold to the tribe's leader," she laughed.

She explained the situation was actually a practical joke in which the lead driver for her group told her the leader of the tribe wanted Mendoza as his wife. "He told me that I was worth $75, during the negotiations. He said it was a custom for a woman to beg not to be married," she said.

"I don't know how people always figure out I am gullible," she laughed.

The Massai, the tribe whom Mendoza's group was visiting, impressed her. "They are a primitive tribe who live off the land. They have livestock, make shoes from tires and are very resourceful."

The group began visiting three the Lutheran World Relief Projects the day after the safaris.

"The Kilmanjaro Native Cooperative Union (KNCU) is a group of coffee growers who work to educate farmers on growing and selling coffee. They teach them English for business purposes," Mendoza said.

"We spent two days with the coffee project. We picked and processed the coffee. We visited the farms and farmers," she stated.

After the visit to the coffee projects, the group traveled 12 hours to the Dodoma region. "It is the poorest region in Tanzania," Mendoza said. She said the region is considered a "Priority Action Zone."

"Most of the Lutheran resources go to the Dodoma region. They call it 'RIKIWAZAH' (the Swahili acronym for 'great farmers')," she said.

"We saw a ceremony for a training certificate for growing grapes while in the RIKIWAZAH," she beamed.

Also in the Dodoma region, the group visited the Hekima (Swahili for 'wisdom'). The Hekima project focuses on empowering women to better themselves, their community and helping the family. The Lutheran World Relief Project gives the women an educational loan through their program.

"I think that was the most important part of the trip," Mendoza commented.

Explaining the mission of the Lutheran World Relief Projects, Mendoza said, "It isn't like the Red Cross. They go in long term and provide tools and resources to the people they are assisting. They want to teach the people how to help themselves."

She said another experience in Tanzania that was gained was learning about "accompaniment." She said it is really stressed throughout the culture and is illustrated in holding hands. "It is a person to person connection," Mendoza explained.

She said, "It is easier to walk with a person while holding hands. You learn to keep pace with one another. It was my first 'aha moment'."

Mendoza said she wants to exhibit the connections with other people more in her daily life in the U.S. "We don't do a lot of that here," she said.

After the group visited the Hakima, they went to the Dar es Salaam region. "We went to the warehouses where all the supplies and goods from donations are received to provide relief to the country." Mendoza said.

She explained that quilts are the most popular item requested from the warehouses and it surprised her. "You think of Africa as warm, but there are areas that don't have real warm climates," she explained.

Another surprise to Mendoza was "...most of the requests are for prayer. It was really powerful to learn that. They aren't concerned so much with material goods, but simple things such as prayer."

Mendoza said the group did not do a lot of work because the trip was for educational purposes. "We wanted to become better educated about another part of the world," she said.

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