By Daquon Wilson
This past summer, I had the opportunity to travel to Tanzania with my scholarship cohort at the Jackie Robinson Foundation. I remember sitting at home after finals and getting an email that said, “What if I told you that you can go on a volunteer and leadership mission trip to Tanzania, Africa, and all you need to do is pay a commitment fee of $100?” I stared at my phone puzzled, wondering if they were actually serious about this. Even after that wave of confusion left, I sat there and thought that there was no way my parents would be able to handle that. They barely wanted me to go out of state for college, let alone travel out of the country for the first time with a group of people who I didn’t really know all too well. In fact, when I first told my mom about it she just laughed and said, “yeah right.” Neither of us could’ve ever imagined that this trip would lead to reevaluate how I prioritized relationships and responsibilities.
Fast forward a few months and I was there in Tanzania. We were pickaxing stone and shoveling dirt to help build the foundation for a classroom and teacher’s office. We walked a little way up a mountain to fetch gallons of water for the local people to use. We taught school-children how to play rock, paper, scissors, while they taught us new songs. We didn’t get to spend much time with the school-children, but anytime they saw us they would always say hi, ask a bunch of questions, and hold our hands while walking with us wherever we went. We fought through hordes of all types of flying bugs just to make it to our tent last.
One thing that really stuck out to me was a leadership module we did. We were divided into groups and each group was a country. Every country had things that they were rich in, things that they wanted more of: money, armies, varying population sizes, etc. We were shown a map of a continent where each section had a certain point value and we were tasked with claiming whatever land with the amount of points we had. Quickly, each of the countries strategized the best ways to get what they wanted. Sometimes multiple countries wanted the same plot of land, so they either negotiated or they fought about it. It even got to the point to where some of the countries formed alliances and would combine military powers to claim a certain area.
At the end of the exercise, the facilitators asked us questions like, how did we choose what land to claim? How were alliances formed? And then they asked if anyone thought about the people who lived there, and the mess tent went silent. We colonized the continent without ever thinking about the people that lived there. A separate article could be written about being inside the mind of a colonizer, but the reason this moment of the trip stands out so much is because as college students, we get so wrapped up in what we’re doing that we lose sight of what’s most important: the people around us. We focus so much on grades, extracurriculars, leadership positions, research, and I’ve noticed, at least for me, that such focus makes me forget to spend time with friends, family, or even take time for self-care I get so caught up on things like planning Homecoming Week events or being an overachiever in classes that I forget to call my parents, or get adequate sleep each night. It’s a common thing that we focus so much on our goals that we tunnel vision, just like my group, we were so fixated on our goal of claiming land that we never took the time to think about anything else.