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Trip abroad inspires foundation

Ryan Graff

Even as a second-semester freshman in college, Vallee Noone is still working on homework from high school.Noone, of Glenwood Springs, spent most of last May working with the poor, hungry, homeless and sick in South Africa.She took the trip to fulfill a senior internship requirement at Colorado Rocky Mountain School, where she graduated last spring. The three-week trip, however, has become much more for 19-year-old Noone and CRMS classmate Nelson Harvey of Basalt, who took the trip with her. Last month, Noone and Harvey created a fund-raising foundation, Zenzele USA, so they could keep helping the people they spent three weeks with eight months ago. Noone and Harvey worked in Finetown, a government-sponsored settlement outside of Johannesburg, South Africa. The settlement was considered “informal,” Noone said. A plot of land cost $10, and people threw together huts from whatever they could find and lived without any good supply of water or electricity. The two worked with Winnie Mombasso, who manages the Zenzele organization, and who takes care of 500 South Africans suffering from poverty, meningitis, tuberculosis and AIDS in Finetown. Zenzele means “to lift yourself up.””She knows she can’t stop people from dying,” Noone said of Mombasso, “but she wants people to die with dignity and with some grace.” Noone had high hopes going in to her experience. “I just felt like I had to go,” she said. “I wanted to see people who had to survive, and help them.”But when Noone arrived in Finetown she was shocked at just how grim the conditions were. “It was really surreal,” she said, “really detached.””People (there) are trying desperately to survive.”Noone and Harvey had brought bottles of Tylenol with them to Africa. They were surprised to find that people suffering from serious diseases like elephantiasis and AIDS were grateful to have an over-the-counter pain reliever. Those experiences also made Noone ask bigger questions about herself and about where she came from. She asked herself why she had been fortunate enough to grow up in the Roaring Fork Valley, a “utopia” compared to Finetown. Noone and Harvey didn’t forget about their time in South Africa when just 48 hours after leaving South Africa they walked through the graduation ceremony at CRMS. And they also haven’t forgotten Finetown through their first semesters of college – Noone at St. Lawrence College in New York, and Harvey at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Last month Zenzele USA took its first official action when it sent out letters to everyone Noone and Harvey could think in hopes of sending as much money to South Africa as possible. Though donations haven’t poured in to Zenzele USA in the short time since the mailing, Noone is optimistic that they will. Of course, for Noone and Harvey the decision to help South Africans almost wasn’t a decision at all. “We go back (to the United States),” said Noone. “And we had to do something.” Contact Ryan Graff: 945-8515, ext. 520rgraff@postindependent.com


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