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ALUMNI PROFILE - Tourism with a serious purpose

For Dr. Jonathan Levy ’67 (at center of photo below), one of the fondest memories from his summer travels was biking up and down the hilly roads of the Siha District of Tanzania, located between Mt. Kilimanjaro [20,000’] and Mt. Meru [15,000’] .  During those rides, the 62-year-old physician from Eugene, Ore., turned into the Mighty Mzungu [in Swahili, Mzungu means white person], trying to outrace guys half his age.

Jonathan Levy '67

However, the trip to the impoverished East African nation wasn’t just about mountain biking.  He wants to help to improve the quality of life.  Levy is president of Adventure Aid, an organization that focuses on “voluntourism”.  In other words, it provides the opportunities for people to travel abroad and work on volunteer projects that match their talents and interests. 

Levy lent assistance to the Faraja School for Disabled Children, which serves about 80 kids between the ages of 7 and 15.  He found it heartbreaking to see so many young children with deformed or missing limbs.

Faraja School for Disabled Children

“Malaria, polio, measles, rickets, floridosis [excess floride in the drinking water] and malnutrition are the most common illnesses that causes disabilities,” Levy said in a blog he wrote during his time overseas.  “Lack of early treatment for club foot and hydrocephalus go on to cause permanent disabilities.  Finally, the common congenital problems are spina bifida, cerebral palsy and genetic abnormalities.  When you go over this list, you see that simple prevention or treatment methods could eliminate or greatly reduce many of the causes.”

Faraja, Levy says, is just one example of how the Tanzanians are working to improve their collective lot in life.  Another is a women’s cooperative in Siha; its members put a few dollars a month into a pool, from which members borrow money to fund their own small businesses.  When members pay back the loans, with interest, the money is used to fuel future start-up ventures.

Women's co-operative in Siha, Tanzania

“Because of their poverty, and being rural women, they had very low self-esteem,” Levy wrote.  “By having the opportunity to achieve their successes as a group, you could see their pride and self-assurance. In America, the only news reports we see and hear about Africa concern war, famine, corruption and AIDS. A large portion of foreign aid money has been misused and, in many situations, has hindered areas that they wanted to address. This is a positive story of self-help that has improved the lives of these women and their families.  It is a model for others.”

The push toward growth and a relative measure of prosperity is taking place on a larger scale, as Siha is trying to establish itself as a destination for “green tourism”.  Levy would like to see his fellow Americans help with the effort to create a new Siha township.  In Africa, many cities and towns started with little planning or coordination.  The township would ideally have a more formal structure and be able to better serve its residents.  

“What a great opportunity for people with skills in urban design, architecture, water and waste management, solar and wind power and business development, just to name a few areas, where one could get involved in this process,” Levy said.

To find out more about Adventure Aid, and how you can become involved, visit http://www.adventureaid.org.  You can read more about Levy’s adventures at http://adventureaid.blogspot.com

Levy points out that combining tourism with volunteering overseas has significant savings and also advantages at tax time.  In his case, the experience has created memories that will last a lifetime. 

“If Thailand is known as the land of a thousand smiling faces, then Siha is surely the home of 10,000 smiles and jambos [hello in Swahili],” he wrote.  “The [Mighty Mzungu] has become quite proficient with his right and left waving and jamboing, but he warns you not to do this at the same time, especially as you race through Sanya Juu, the main town in the District, on market day. You run the risk of hitting a goat and doing an endo!”

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Last Updated: 11/12/13