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Fort Wayne students enriched by experience in Africa

One worked in a clinic, another raised AIDS awareness

Tuesday, July 28, 2009 - 11:55 am

The phrase “making a difference” is thrown around a lot, but two Fort Wayne women actually lived that mantra this summer in Lesotho, Africa.

Traveling 18 hours by plane and another eight by bus, Sarah Mutton, 21, and Jessie Voors, 20, visited a small village May 20-June 18 on a service trip with Ohio's Wittenberg University. And while the two students had different memories and experiences, both agree the experience was life-changing.

Mutton, who plans to become a dentist, led workshops and gave free fluoride treatments and plaque checkups to children in rural areas where access to dental care is limited. She also helped build two houses for 13 orphans, six playgrounds, gardens, a greenhouse and a chicken coop and planted 150 trees, along with 64 other college students who signed up for the trips.

“My goal personally was to experience another culture; to bring joy to children and people who don't have as much,” Mutton said. “It was great to do dental work down there.”

Voors, a child development major, decided to spend her second trip to Lesotho raising HIV/AIDS awareness and helping a friend in need. While visiting last year, Voors met a young girl, Rose, and left with the mission of raising money to help the girl, now 13, attend high school, which costs $700 a year. On her return to Lesotho, Voors learned Rose had been kicked out of school for not paying the very same day Voors was going to present her with the raised funds.

“I raised enough money to let her go to school at least the next year,” Voors said. “I learned with Rose you really can make a difference. It was really cool to see her reaction face-to-face.”

Last she had heard, Rose was No.1 in her class. Voors said she will continue to raise money to put Rose through high school.

Wittenberg University associate professor Scott Rosenberg organized the fifth and sixth trips to Lesotho, poring over more than 100 applications from students willing to foot the trip's $4,000 bill.

Because of the number of applicants, two trips were taken this year instead of one. The next one isn't until 2011.

“All majors from freshmen to graduating seniors attend,” he said. “They all have a love of service.”

Rosenberg even got his hands dirty with his “affinity for swinging a pick ax,” bringing back memories of his time in the Peace Corps. As for lessons learned, he said he hopes students gained a lot of them.

“Each of them will kind of take away something different,” he said.

“My job is to create the experience, lay out the opportunities. I hope they become more aware. Most of the students who go come back saying it's a life-changing experience.”

Mutton said she is still processing the trip.

“It's hard for me to put into words all the lessons I've learned,” she said. “The little things can make a big difference.”