For Carbondale woman, trip to Africa will be like going home |

For Carbondale woman, trip to Africa will be like going home

Stina Sieg
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Chad Spangler Post Independent

CARBONDALE, Colorado ” Smiling and talking excitedly with her hands, this is how Amy Kimberly described her upcoming trip to Africa:

“I feel like I’m going to,” she said, pausing for a moment, “home.”

If her journey is anything like last time, that’s how she’ll be greeted, as well.

For nearly a decade, Kimberly has been intimately involved with Manzini, Swaziland. She’s the former director of the Telluride AIDS Benefit, which still sends about $8,000-10,000 to the African locale, its sister city. In 2000, she traveled to Swaziland to check in on its people, to make sure the money was really making a difference, to see if there was anything else she could do to help. She went into the experience knowing the specifics, that the country is ravaged by AIDS, that its life expectancy, at 32, is the lowest in the world.

She left amazed.

“The thing is, you see the biggest smiles of your life from these people,” she said.

They made her feel completely welcome, and she could see that her coming truly mattered to them. Better yet, so did the money they’d been receiving. As allocated by a board of Swazis, it was going toward the town’s poorest section, without any interference from the government. Kimberly spent a few weeks helping out in Manzini and vowed that, once her kids were out of the house, she’d devote even more effort to the town. Now, eight years later, that time has come ” and she’s bringing a few of her friends. Joining her are fellow Carbondale residents Ro Mead, as well as Leslie Johnson and her husband, Patrick, step-daughter, Annika, and brother-in-law, Matt.

Leaving on Christmas and staying in Africa for three weeks, the group will make a big impact ” Kimberly’s sure of it. From art projects to solar panel repair, she’s got grand hopes for the orphanages where they’ll be working (the latest beneficiaries of the project’s funds). There’s no bureaucracy, she explained, no red tape to get through. This money doesn’t get stuck in some government agency. It goes right to those who need it, and that’s what makes this charity such a rare, important thing.

“It’s very empowering to be able to help something like this, because you can make a difference. Just purely based on relationships, we’re going to be able to get involved,” she said, snapping her fingers for emphasis, “and directly make a connection with them and help them.”

What they’re doing is bringing hope, she explained. And everyone in her posse has his or her own idea about how to do just that.

For Johnson and her family, it means doing whatever needs to be ” even if it means hard manual labor. An international traveler already, Johnson has this desire to give back to a world that she feels has given so much to her. Years ago, she volunteered at schools and gardens in Nicaragua, and came away shocked by how little things really meant something to the people. Watching small children get completely overjoyed when she gave them toothbrushes, for example, changed her world view irrevocably.

“Everybody needs to realize what they have and also give to others,” she said.

Her family certainly does. At only 19, Annika chose to go on the trip because she’s “always enjoyed helping people,” she said. Patrick, who’s decided to see if he can get the orphanage’s old solar panel system up and running and is planning on doing a photography project with the children, explained that the more globalized the planet gets, the more separated we all become.

“This is a way to bring us together with other people,” he said.

For Mead, the director of the Carbondale Council on Arts and Humanities, this trip is a time to do something she loves ” work with children. She envisions creating art projects with the little ones, perhaps even making a piece that could be sold in Colorado, with the money going back to orphanage itself. Basically, she just wants to give the children a chance to play, to forget everything else in their world.

“Anytime you let kids be creative, you’ve got a winner on your hands,” she said, “especially when they don’t have to stay inside the lines.”

Regardless of how the specifics work out, that’s the gift she wants them to have. That’s a huge part of why she wanted to come on this trip, even though she’s never been any farther from the United States than Mexico or Canada. Even when Kimberly had moments of doubt about the travels, Mead never wavered. She just knew it was time for something like this.

“We’ve got to live in the now,” she said, her voice full of emotion and resolve. “Neither I or Amy have any money to go, but we’re making it happen.”

In Kimberly’s words, “If you do these things, it all works out. But you have to do them. You can’t think about it too much.”

So, she’s not. She didn’t list off financial worries or fears about how this trip might turn out. Instead, she seemed completely comfortable, talking about her Swazi friends as if she hadn’t seen them for a few months, instead of the better part of a decade. She described their gratitude, their vitality, their warm nature. Then she described a scene that captured all of that.

At the end of her last visit to Manzini, the townspeople put on a huge celebration for her group. As the party heated up, rain threatened to drown it out. Instead of abandoning the festivities, however, everyone just jumped into a tiny gazebo and continued boogying down to Eminem. Then, spontaneously, they all ran out into the storm. As they continued to dance, Kimberly remembers them all smiling. They were so happy.

“It was just, like, the culmination of it all, to have such a beautiful experience in the rain,” she said, recounting the moment as if she were still there.

She sounded content and kind of proud right then, like she really was talking about her home. She sounded like she couldn’t wait to get back.

Contact Stina Sieg: 384-9111

Post Independent Glenwood Springs CO Colorado

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