During the summer of 2006, Lexington's Adam Rector traveled to Kenya and spent two months living in a mud, stick and dung hut without the luxuries of running water and electricity.
He loved it so much, he left Monday to return to the area.
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This time around, though, instead of focusing on teaching math to Masai sixth-graders in Kimuka, Kenya, Rector, 22, will be studying Swahili in Zanzibar and working with a non-governmental organization to improve the lives of residents there.
”You appreciate what you have and want to give more, but more in a sustainable way,“ he said. ”Don't think you can go to Africa and not be touched if you see the cities and the actual people and not just the safaris.“
While in Zanzibar, Rector will learn Swahili from 8 a.m. to noon each day; his afternoons will be spent working with farmers or with unemployed youth.
With this experience behind him, he'll enter the University of Kentucky Patterson School of Diplomacy and International Commerce this fall, one of only 35 students accepted each year.
Although he has a degree in marketing, Rector wasn't quite sure what he wanted to do with it upon graduation. He worked at a local winery — ”at super-hard physical labor“ — for several months before deciding that he wanted to work with a non-governmental organization or with the United Nations.
Zanzibar is 97 percent Sunni Muslim, Rector said, and that has some folks worried for him. He stayed with a Muslim family briefly at the end of his last trip to Africa.
”I had friends ask, "Did they try to hurt you?'“ Rector said laughing. ”I said no. They are actually like people!“
Getting to learn the truth about various cultures and trying to improve their lot is Rector's game plan.
”I think it helps to add an experience, a face, a relationship to world poverty,“ Rector said. ”Instead of seeing starving children in a 30-second commercial, you can understand a bit what it's like, their dreams, fears and experiences. It makes you want to do more than build a school or go on a safari; you want to be part of the solution that elevates them economically away from hungry bellies at night and death from malaria or AIDS, which can be treated with medication that costs a mere $1 per day.“
Arlene Rector, his mother, said she and her husband, Keith, respect their son's passion.
”We support him any way we can,“ she said. ”I didn't have any idea what I wanted to do at that age, but he is committed.“
In 2006, after completing his assignment with Global Volunteers Network, Adam Rector and a couple of friends climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, went scuba diving in Zanzibar, tracked gorillas in Rwanda and rafted the source of the Nile River.
That was the fun part.
Unfortunately, he also saw 13 huge concrete slabs in Rwanda that he learned covered mass graves of 20,000 bodies each. The dead were among the 800,000 Tutsis and thousands of Hutus killed during the genocide of 1994.
”They were just people they collected off the streets,“ he said.
He hopes to eventually raise enough money to build a medical clinic in Kimuka, where he stayed in 2006. There is a clinic 10 or 15 miles from there, he said, ”and a truck comes through every other day. But you can't walk that far if you are really sick, and you can't wait for the truck.“
The clinic would be a means of health maintenance for those with malaria or AIDS until they could get to Nairobi.
People have asked him why he can't use that passion here in the United States, here in Kentucky.
”I get that a lot,“ he said. ”It is a little different here. With the worst of the worst, you still have an avenue to get a job, or we have soup kitchens or something.
”Over there, poverty is chronic. Governments are corrupt. People live and sleep on trash piles. There is no way to move upwards. It is a whole new realm of poverty.“
The people usually see government officials only at election time, swooping into areas in their ”Mercedes SUVs and three-piece suits,“ Rector said. When he was in Kimuka, he had cows walking up to his classroom. All the people needed was a fence to keep the animals out.
The politicians promised the fence, got the votes, but the fence was never built.
”You get a different perspective on a lot of issues,“ Rector said. ”You see the truth instead of what the news organizations show you.“
After spending 21/2 months in Zanzibar, and a little time near Nairobi with Virginia Sakuda and her family, with whom he stayed in 2006, Rector said he plans to travel through Ethiopia for two or three weeks before returning to Lexington.
That's fine, said Jill Holtman, Rector's girlfriend, who is attending law school.
”I just know he really wants to go,“ she said. ”I am going to try to go next time.“
We might lose some sleep worrying about them, but young people like that will make this a much better world for us all.