Shawna Renga

I’ve traveled to Africa twice in the last year.

Even as I write those words, my mind struggles to process that this is my life! For the first 35 years of my existence, Africa was a dream. Something that I wrote about in my diary while bored in school. Adventurers went to Africa. Strong, powerful, brave women went to Africa. Girls like me – from small town, middle class families – did not go to Africa.

My primary emotion is gratitude. I feel it fill my heart and warm my body from the inside out. I am grateful to Global Sojourns for planning the most amazing trip to Uganda last October. I am grateful that I spent time getting to know Priscilla on that trip, talking more about the work that the Global Sojourns Giving Circle does with girls in Southern Africa.

I am grateful that I felt called to volunteer, and I am grateful that my Social Media skills were a match for some of the Giving Circle’s needs. I am profoundly and indescribably grateful that Priscilla said a few months ago “We need to get you over here to see the work”, and I am so very grateful that Priscilla and Erin helped make that happen.

Initially I had a plan in my head about what this trip to Zambia and Zimbabwe would be. I imagined gathering content to supply the Giving Circle social media channels for the next year or so. I planned to collect clips and footage for a donation video. There were thoughts of specific interview questions, b-roll, lighting conditions, what equipment to bring…so many little details to prepare for!

I was completely unprepared.

I was unprepared for the intense and passionate discussions, the meeting of the minds that occurred when many of the GSGC staff met up in Victoria Falls. The days were long. Things did not go to plan. Cars broke down. The power was out. But the ideas and energy that came out of those days give new meaning to the term “brainstorming”. I felt alive and engaged. I felt part of a group that can actually change the world.

I was unprepared for the warmth and welcome offered by the GSGC Aunties. Auntie Agnes gave me a hug that soothed anxieties I didn’t even realize I had. Auntie Rachael is basically my sister from another mother. Auntie Procedure shared her home with me, relating stories and details about life in Zimbabwe that I could not have experienced in any other way. Auntie Sfe spoke so powerfully about her dreams for the girls in her club that my heart was truly moved. These women are the heart and soul of the Giving Circle. I am honored to know them.

Most of all I was unprepared for the girls. I think I expected to have something to offer to them… some advice or thoughts that might “help” them in some way, and yet the opposite was true.  These beautiful, hardworking girls have a strength of spirit that I found inspiring to be around. Their life experiences allow them to hold space for others in such a powerful way that I found myself opening up and talking about a painful experience from my past. Sharing my trauma with them helped heal ME, and I will forever be grateful to them.

I’ve learned that some people get touched by Africa, and find it hard to stay away. That is certainly true for me now. If you are a traveler who has been touched by this amazing continent, I encourage you to go deeper and experience travel in a more complete way. I was called to volunteer, and found ways to contribute that met a need. You have skills that the Giving Circle needs. Perhaps you are a grant writer. Maybe you have video editing skills. Maybe you just have passion, time, and financial resources. Whatever you have to give, consider giving it. Your next trip to Africa will be different in a way that is hard to put into words. Mine was. My trip taught me that girls from small town, middle class families grow up to be strong, powerful, brave women… who go to Africa. 

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