Hey folks, do you want to win an all-expense paid vacation? Enjoy deluxe accommodation, luxury spas and hair salons, a warm welcome from warm, hospitable people, indulge in regional delicacies—strictly organic, a chance to engage in traditional sports? Okay, okay, it won’t be pina coladas and infinity pools. This trip isn’t about tourism, but journalism.
And there’s a brothel right there…right? For the next trip, I’m choosing a university student to travel with me to the developing world. The winner will be an undergraduate or graduate student at an American University. That winner will blog with me on the New York Times website and also be featured in videos about our trip. On our first trip, I traveled with a Mississippi student named Casey Parks.
I’m not a girly-girl, but I’m not exactly a seasoned hiker like Nick Kristoff.
Casey had never been outside the U.S. before. We encountered guerillas and elephants in the Central African Republic, our vehicle was stopped by armed bandits on a remote track, and most poignant at-?of all, we tried to help a mother of three dying in childbirth. We donated money and blood to try to save her life, but our efforts failed and we were broken hearted as we watched her dying.
On the second trip, I traveled with Lena Nguyen, a medical student from Washington University. We met Rwanda’s president and admired his country’s economic boom. And in Congo, we had dinner with a warlord. And what do you call a warlord? Mr. warlord? Your honorable warlord? And then met people starved by the deprivations of his soldiers.
For the third trip, I traveled with Paul Bowers of the University of South Carolina. We reported on pneumonia in Senegal, glaucoma and other causes of blindness in Guinea, and the tentative rise of Liberia from the ashes of conflict. I think in the end, what we’re looking for is the truth, and sometimes the truth is tough to talk about.
For the fourth trip, I traveled with Mitch Smith from the University of Kansas. He had only one serious shortcoming: he towered over me. We saw the efforts to build a tourism industry in beautiful Gabon. We came across swimming hippos, monkeys and, with the help of our guide, small antelope.
Then we traveled across retched roads in the Congo Republic. We visited schools and hospitals. Here were these beautiful young babies with the ability to one day do great things. Yet some of them were born to parents without the means to educate them or give them access to proper medical care.
On the fifth trip, I traveled with a medical student, Selmia Dave. It’s definitely moved me today, the situation. It’s going to be hard for me to walk away from this one. And also a member of the over 60 crowd—a teacher named Maureen Connolly.
We began in Morocco and Mauritania, and then moved on to Niger and Burkina Faso, looking at health and nutrition challenges. We visited a village that had been devastated by river blindness. We examined simple ways to save lives, such as exclusive breastfeeding and small vegetable gardens. This is fascinating to me because I run a garden with my students in Newark, New Jersey and we grow almost the same things.
In 2012, I traveled with a Rice University engineering student, Jordan Shurmahorn. We looked at progress against AIDS in Southern Africa, at factory production as a way to fight poverty in Losotho, and at microsavings and agricultural innovations as promising paths to improve lives in Malawi. I invite you to apply to join me so that together we can bring back some of these stories that are so often neglected.