The students met with the king of the southern African nation during their three-week trip.
By JOSH ECHT
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
NORTH LIMA -- From staying in a soda-can house to drinking orange soda with an African king, Jennifer Dickey will never view soda the same after a trip to the southern African nation of Lesotho.
Dickey, of North Lima, and nine other Baldwin-Wallace College students took a service trip to three cities in Lesotho May 9-29 to experience a different culture and provide services.
The group stayed in and visited the capital city of Maseru, the town of Mohales Hoek and the remote village of Mokhotlong.
A royal get-together
"We met with the king of Lesotho, King Letsie III, and had an informal meeting with him," she said.
Mila Cooper, the college's director of the Office of Community Outreach and the group's adviser, said they expected to see him in his royal regalia.
"He came out in normal clothes and asked us questions as well," Cooper said. "He is well-liked in his country."
The idea for a big service trip began last October, Dickey said.
"Jennifer and Tim Conrad, another student, came to me with the idea and we decided to run with it," Cooper said. The community outreach office worked on making the necessary connections for several months. Fifty-six students applied, but the organization only took 10.
"We've gone to other countries like Honduras and England before," Cooper said. "But this is the biggest trip ever."
The trip, which cost $2,000 per student, became possible through individual fund-raising efforts and a donation from St. James AME Church in Cleveland.
"Mila's husband, Gerald, is the reverend and the church provided a financial contribution," Dickey said. The church also provided backing for housing and food costs.
However, students came up with fund raising on their own to make up the difference, she said.
After a grueling 28-hour flight to Johannesburg, South Africa, the group traveled to Lesotho, surrounded by South Africa.
"Often times, we'd have to travel six or more hours from city to city," she said.
Dickey said she had no idea of the squalid conditions awaiting her.
Surprised by poverty
"The poverty was hard to miss," she said. "We stayed in a house made out of soda cans on the outside, with plywood inside for reinforcement."
Her group constructed a foundation for an orphanage, assisted with painting a church and built a wall for a church in remote Mokhotlong.
"We had to find specific stones in Mokhotlong that would fit right and mortar them in place," she said. "We completed less than we wanted to, but it was still a help to the people."
Dickey said the people, despite facing poverty, had a strong tradition to give handmade gifts in exchange for the group's manual labor.
"If you turn down gifts, it's almost rude," she said.
She said she also remembers her host family's friendliness and sense of humor.
"The host mother in one of the cities would wake us up happily; she called us her kids," Dickey said, laughing. "She would remind us to be in bed at 8 p.m., no later."
Dickey said the trip affected the group and made them realize how lucky they were.
"In trying to make an impact on them, we were impacted," she said.
Dickey's mother, Dawn, said she was apprehensive at first about the trip.
"We were nervous about the conditions," she said. "We weren't sure if it was the right thing, based on general impressions of the country."
However, she said her daughter changed for the better after the trip, and that she was impressed with Jennifer's hard work in helping to organize the event.
"Jennifer's a very compassionate person," she said. "She has told me often she has a desire to go back to help these people."