Westerville News & Public Opinion

Father, daughter work through mission to Africa

Daughter helps teach English; dad teaches physics and statistics

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If given the choice to go to any continent, where would you choose?

Sean Byron asked that of his 10-year-old daughter, Grace Byron. Without any hesitation, she said, "Africa."

"It's across the world and a different culture and I wanted to try Africa," Grace said.

Byron, an assistant men's volleyball coach at Ohio State University, saw how his daughter enjoyed volunteer work at Westerville Area Resource Ministry and wanted to take her on a service mission trip. He turned to resources available at the university and found a wide selection of options.

Grace, a fifth-grader at Annehurst Elementary School, could have chosen to do her volunteer work in several exotic, yet poor, locations. Byron began to go over a list of options, but as soon as Grace heard Africa, she decided to go there.

"I felt like she was ready for it and I thought it would change her perspective a little bit," Byron said.

The two began to plan their trip to a small village in Tanzania, a poor country in east Africa. Though Byron paid for most of the trip, the two hosted fundraisers at Orange Leaf Frozen Yogurt in May to offset some of the cost.

In mid-July, the two began their four-day journey to the small village of Pommern, several hundred miles west of the capital Dar es Salaam. Pommern is a village of approximately 3,000 people who speak English, Swahili and a local tribal language.

Grace said she wasn't nervous about leaving the familiarities of home -- she was too eager to see Africa.

"I was excited to go there," she said. "I got to meet a lot of new people and make new friends."

The village residents welcomed Byron and Grace and other members of Global Volunteers into their lives. For three weeks, Byron and Grace fraternized with the locals, helped teach classes at the primary and secondary schools and even built a bathroom for the students.

As Byron helped teach physics and statistics to the secondary school students, Grace taught polite conversational English to the primary school students. Many of the students were her age.

"When I was there, I taught at the primary school and that was basically kindergarten through sixth grade. I taught English and expressions of politeness," she said. "We taught them to say please and thank you."

Together, the two with other volunteers, helped build a bathroom for the school. Using resources available, they constructed a brick building with mixed cement and water. Then they carved and dug six holes in the ground to create toilets, and installed porcelain seats.

"When we showed pictures to everyone, they said that was disgusting and they would never use that," Byron said.

It may not seem like much since it lacks sophisticated indoor plumbing, but it made a significant difference. The school's headmaster told Byron that the bathroom would attract students from all across the country to the school.

"The headmaster couldn't thank us enough," he said.

It wasn't all work and no play either. The residents began including their guests to some of their most intimate ceremonies. One week, they attended a funeral for a 115-year-old woman. The next week, they celebrated a couple's nuptials.

At other times, they saw the more unfortunate parts of the village life. They watched children as young as 5 years old leave school to care for a younger sibling or to help out their parents, or rise at early hours in order to collect food for the day. They also visited an orphanage run by Italian Catholics that housed "disowned children," those suffering from disabilities and diseases such as HIV and AIDS.

Grace and Byron said they believe they saw the village at its best and at its worst. They both admired how the villagers took little for granted and were very resourceful, despite hardships.

"I learned that they use their resources wisely ... They use what they have," Grace said. "(Everyone) should know that Africa is more than just seeing pretty sunsets and animals. There is a lot of hard work there."

For Byron, the trip's lessons were two-fold. He learned more about the culture and lifestyles of eastern Africa, but also observed his daughter grow and mature in a short timeframe.

"It was great. I got to experience it and meet our entire team of volunteers ... and we'll stay in touch for the rest of our lives. That was fantastic," he said. "It was also great to see Grace and watch her interact and teach a class."

It may be awhile before Byron and Grace take another trip like this one. Grace does hope, however, to return to Pommern.

"I want to go back to Tanzania again because I want to see everyone again that I worked with and see how they progressed," she said.

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