Kisongo Trek: The real deal

World Vision Experience provides interactive ways for communities across the United States to share a glimpse into what poverty looks like in the developing world and to understand first-hand the work that World Vision is doing to break the cycle of poverty.

Today, Rich Stearns, president of World Vision U.S., introduces the new World Vision Experience, Kisongo Trek, and describes his visit to Tanzania where that Experience project all began.

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Last April in Nashville, Tennessee, my wife Reneé and I went through the Kisongo Trek -- an impressive, immersive new way that World Vision is able to bring Africa back to the United States.

The hands-on, multimedia experience is hosted by a young man named Babayetu, who guides you through a day in his life.

In May, Reneé and I went to Tanzania to study an innovative new agricultural project called Secure the Future. While there, I got the chance to meet all of the people in the Kisongo Trek -- Babayetu, his parents, his teacher, and his friends.

Babayetu’s family welcomed us with open arms, Maasai jumping dances, and a heaping plate of goat meat -- a delicacy in Tanzania.

Reneé and I loved Babayetu and his family. But of all the people I met that day, the person who had the greatest impact on me was the village elder, Daudi.

Daudi was way cool. He’s a Maasai chief and one of the wisest, most thoughtful men I’ve ever met on my travels with World Vision. Daudi has responsibility for about 130,000 people in the communities. It’s a big responsibility, and he doesn’t take it lightly.

Rich Stearns with Daudi in Kisongo, Tanzania. (Photo: Jon Warren/World Vision)

Over lunch, he said, “Mr. Stearns, I see a lot of NGOs come and go in my community. I call them 'hit and run NGOs.' They come, they have some new ideas, they give us things. They are here for a year, and then they’re gone. We see this parade of four-wheel-drive vehicles that come and go.”

He paused and said, “But World Vision is different. You come and you stay. You get to know us. You set up shop in our midst. That’s the difference with World Vision.”

I am fond of saying that development is rocket science. Daudi agreed. “Sometimes my people will say to me, ‘Daudi, World Vision doesn’t give us things. They don’t give us money. They don’t give us goodies.’

“I tell them, you have it all wrong. When you send your children to school, you have to pay school fees. Because what happens to your children when they go to school? They teach them how to think differently. And you pay for that opportunity.

“World Vision is teaching us how to think differently. World Vision is reaching inside of our heads to think differently about our community and about strategies for development. Why should they give us things? We actually owe them!

“We should give them things! We should pay them for what they’re doing for us, because they’re teaching us to think in a different way.”

I looked at Daudi and thought: You are a CEO. You understand that the relationship your community has with World Vision isn’t based on giving and receiving but on shared, mutually agreed-upon goals and respect.

What we do and who we work with in the field never ceases to amaze me. Daudi amazed me. I am so glad I had the opportunity to meet him.

And thanks to World Vision’s Kisongo Trek, now you can meet him, too.

"Travel" to Kisongo, Tanzania, through the immersive Kisongo Trek World Vision Experience. Hear the real-life story of how 13-year-old Babayetu’s community moved from poverty to hope with help from World Vision and caring supporters. Find an event near you!

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