Meet Lily Gordon. It’s hard to believe she’s only 16. While most teenagers her age are focused on getting their driver’s license, Lily is focused on beating hunger in Tanzania. When Go Inspire Go‘s volunteer crew visited her family home in Berkeley, Calif., we immediately knew she was no ordinary teenager. As her father answered the door, Lily was in the kitchen cooking a delicious dinner for her parents and our crew.
Lily’s social awareness was sparked at an early age. She showed maturity, compassion and gratitude at 10-years-old. After learning about Africa and hearing about the starving African children from a classmate, she wanted to help. For her 11th birthday, instead of presents, she asked her friends to donate money to help build a water pipe for a Tanzanian school.
“The idea of getting 25 more puzzles didn’t seem as enchanting as the idea of being able to give kids water,” Lily said. She and her friends raised nearly $2,000 — more than Lily had ever imagined.
When she was 12 she hit another milestone — Lily’s first visit to Tanzania with African Immigrants Social & Cultural Services. She was struck by the beauty of the country — but even more so — the inner beauty of the people.
“Being really immersed in the culture and seeing the people, I guess it made me want to help even more, just because I felt really connected to them and I felt they gave so much to me and were so welcoming to me even though they had so much less than me.”
She noticed the stark difference between what she and her friends had in America and was moved that the kids she visited didn’t even have the basics: proper shelter, education or health care. What struck her most — the lack of food — was a devastating part of their existence Lily witnessed first-hand at the hospital. “Malnutrition is just part of existence there almost. The bloated bellies, they’re all very small for their age,” she said.
Lily learned that bread is imported to villages from big cities several hours away, but it’s often rotten by the time it arrives.
She knew she had to do something.
She came up with an idea that would save lives. When she returned home to California, she poured her heart — and her time — into fundraising and learning how to build a brick oven to empower the villagers to make their own bread and self sustain.
Last summer, Lily, her family and her friends built a rainwater harvest system to make clean water for the orphans. This summer, she plans to teach the villagers how to make their own smaller adobe ovens and a community garden.
“I’m so lucky I found it when I was young, but I feel like if anyone got the joy that I received from just being with these people, working together to do what we could, then there’s no way they would’ve turned down the opportunity,” she said.
Simple things many of us take for granted, like cooking dinner and breaking bread with our crew was an experience she knows many people, like her new friends in Tanzania, don’t have.
Special thanks to Jessica Chang for reporting this GIG story. Chang is is a former TV reporter who is developing her own travel/volunteer project: Volunteer Ventures.