Back from Africa: PotashCorp employees take humanitarian tripPublished 12:45pm Saturday, August 10, 2013
Rising at the crack of dawn to take a walk with a Maasai warrior. Watching a lion lolling on its back like a huge kitten. Being welcomed into a village by a joyful people, half a world away.
One could hardly imagine any of those things as being part of the average workday, but last month, for six PotashCorp-Aurora employees and three of their spouses, they very much were. Beverly Horvath, Barbara James, Joni Barrie, Travis Hubers, Melissa Nanney and Valeria Beck joined up with 21 other PotashCorp employees from across North America to work with Free The Children, an international development organization, said a press release from PotashCorp. The corporation funded the trip abroad; each had to apply to Free The Children and were chosen for the trip based on how well they fit the criteria for the organization’s Kenyan project, according to Rhonda Speiss, manager of corporate philanthropy at PotashCorp’s Saskatchewan headquarters.
“There were looking for people who had an interest in agricultural and food security and people who were already active in their communities,” Speiss said.
What they got were a registered nurse, a teacher, emergency-services personnel, a public-affairs specialist, among others — all of whom pitched in to help build the foundation of a dormitory at a girls’ school, build gardens and help teach the Maasai people how to grow food for a better diet.
“It’s a hand up, not a handout,” said Melissa Nanney, describing a program that works to develop food sustainability in regions across the globe which have historically suffered from food insecurity. “It’s about helping underserved populations get on their feet.”
But it was also about immersing themselves in another culture.
“They were very welcoming,” she said. “The children were beautiful and respectful and just joyful. They are very joyful people.”
That joy extends to schooling — a new opportunity, especially for young girls. Nanney said a visit to a nearby school where young girls sang for them and served them tea, was remarkable for the dialogue between the visitors and the students.
“They talked about their aspirations and dreams — this would not have been possible ten years ago in that community,” she explained.
Nanney described sleeping in tents, monkeys cavorting outside; walking with the tribe’s women to the river where they filled 25-gallon containers with water to carry back to their gardens; traveling over the Maasai plain in an open lorry, seeing giraffe, hippopotamus, crocodile, elephant and rhinoceros up close in their natural habitat. She spoke about being frightened in the dead of night by a bushbaby’s scream — a cute, nocturnal primate with a “horrible shriek” — only to realize there was nothing to fear when Maasai warriors patrol the village.
And another highlight had to do with perfect timing: witnessing one of the seven natural wonders of the world — the migration of Africa’s wildebeest, and watching thousands of animals crossing over Kenya’s Mara River.
“It was filled with adventure and discovery and it was beautiful,” Nanney said.
Nanney said the two weeks passed by so quickly, she’ll gladly reapply for next year’s trip to India. PotashCorp has entered into a three-year partnership with Free the Children and will continue to fund, and provide volunteers, for a series of humanitarian trips abroad.
“I don’t know if we can ever duplicate or replicate a feeling like that again,” Nanney said. “I was really proud to be a part of that company. Our fertilizer really does feed the world, and we saw it in action.”