Ambassador / Wednesday Wisdom

Hakuna Matata. That’s just what we do.

Rachel teaching

Today’s post comes from Rachel Ishofsky, Managing Director of Innovation:Africa. During her time studying art and literature at New York University, Rachel founded a small non-profit for street children in West Africa. After graduation, she began traveling the world, teaching English on three continents and visiting over 30 countries. Here are her reflections on one of the most meaningful experiences in her global adventures.

Did you know Hakuna Matata actually does mean no worries?

It’s Swahili. And despite the fact that I have spent much of the last eight years of my life traveling, living and working throughout sub-Saharan Africa, this still never gets old.

But the phrase took on a whole new meaning after being in a car accident in Tanzania a few months ago.

Two colleagues and I were in a rented 4×4 driving along rough dirt roads to a project site about an hour from Bagamoyo Town. We lost control of the car and ended up swerving, driving up an embankment on the side of the road and flipping over.

The three of us in the car managed to climb out. We were shaken up, bumped and bruised. But we were OK. Just stranded.

Luckily, we were near a small village. Within minutes, people had come to help us. Together, we flipped the car back over, contacted the local authorities, and then waited. We ate lunch. We sat under a tree.

“I’m so sorry,” one woman said, as she saw me stretching out my neck and back, which had already begun to hurt. She let me use their limited water and pit latrine to wash up.  I thanked her. “Hakuna Matata,” she said. And this time, it sounded different.

Rachel and Mutisya (1)

I had been on my way to a site visit at the Milo Clinic. As managing director of Innovation: Africa, a non-profit organization that provides solar technology to power rural schools, medical clinics and water pumping systems, site visits are something I get to do often. Today, nearly 600 million sub-Saharan Africans live without electricity. My organization gets to provide light to schools, allowing children to study and learn after sunset. We offer electricity to medical clinics so they can refrigerate lifesaving medicines and vaccines, and so women can give birth without candles and kerosene lamps. We get to pump clean water in communities that have none, saving hours for women and girls who must bring water to their families each day. This also contributes to eradicating water-borne disease.

In six years, we have completed 60 solar projects that have impacted over 450,000 people. I have six years worth of meaningful stories about interactions with our partner communities, connections with the people I have met along the way and reactions of children when they see light bulbs turn on for the first time. But the story of this car accident is—to me—one of the most important.

When I first saw The Lion King in my native New York City as a child, I never imagined I’d go visit the Serengeti, and I never thought a language that sounded so foreign might one day become familiar. But in my travels to over 30 countries and through my work in the non-profit sector, the world has become a bit smaller for me,

Rachel at Nanzala (2)

I feel privileged to have spent this time in other countries, with people who are different from me. And I have learned that when I leave home I also leave the comforts of it. I become dependent on the kindness and patience of others. And this dependence is so incredibly important. Because if we’re doing it right, it teaches us humility. It reminds us that there’s only so much we can know, only so much we can prepare for. We are in need just as much as we are needed.

We have all been vulnerable. We have all been stuck. Sometimes we just need an extra hand. And that’s true for everyone. It can be easy to forget that.

I don’t remember the name of the village in which I was stranded for hours that day. I don’t know all the names of all the people who helped us flip over and tow the car. They were just strangers, people who saw something go wrong and came together to right it.

And just a few kilometers down the road, another nearly identical village with solar panels on their medical clinic never received the visitors they were expecting to thank for the gift of light. They don’t know my name either.

Hakuna Matata. That’s just what we do for one another.

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