Vanderbilt Athletics

Commodores in Tanzania: Day 7

July 21, 2013

Rene Sobolewski, a rising senior on the Vanderbilt women's golf team, is one of more than 20 Commodore student-athletes and staff on a 10-day journey with Soles4Souls to deliver shoes to those in need in Tanzania, Africa. The international service trip is the first for Vanderbilt athletics in which the student-athletes are solely providing service and not participating in any scheduled athletic competition during the trip. Sobolewski gives her perspective on day 7 of this unique experience.

Tanzania Journal: Trip Archive | Day 6 | Day 5 | Day 4 | Days 1-3

Each day it seems that I've come back and decided that that day was my favorite so far. Today was no exception.

It blows my mind how each day continues to get better than the last. Today we started out with our usual breakfast around 7:30, and spent our last minutes connecting to Wi-Fi on the pathway while watching the monkeys finally emerge and chase each other around the grounds of our incredible lodge.

Our first stop of the day was at an orphanage where we had the opportunity to distribute shoes to children of many ages, as well as the adults who run the establishment. We went around one by one introducing ourselves using the Swahili translation of "My name is," which we've grown very accustomed to. Afterwards, we were asked to sing a song, we decided to change it up and sing "Lean On Me" and "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" for them. Although we brought our athleticism to our voices and harmonized beautifully (at least in our opinions), we did not stand a chance against our Tanzanian friends, who belted two African chants which both had such heartwarming meaning.

Distributing shoes was once again rewarding as ever. I can't put into words how amazing it is to be able to bring such joy through a pair of shoes. Some of the children would even stand up and twirl around or jump up and down, while others would give you a huge hug or two or three! One of the leaders told me that he ran 15 km this morning, but simply because of these shoes, he would now be able to run at least 20. It was a statement so simple and honest, yet so moving.

Like yesterday, we were able to give shoes to several children who wandered in from off the street, an experience so gratifying because their need is unmistakable. As much as we love handing out shoes, we all cherish our time playing with and giving love and laughter to the children. Today we played soccer, raced, took pictures, blew bubbles and even did the "wobble" with them. Several of us learned to count to 10 in Swahili along with some other phrases that might help us throughout the rest of the week.

At our second distribution, we visited a school where we handed out shoes to mothers of the school children. Cierra Gillison, a Vanderbilt academic counselor, introduced our group in Swahili, which she studied in college. She impressed everyone in the room and definitely created an even greater connection between these women and us. Although we encountered some difficulties with sizing, we had so much fun interacting with the women who, just like us girls, love a cute, new pair of shoes! They were all so grateful for our help and walked out with huge smiles on their faces, sporting pink girly sneakers or colorful flats. In the meantime, several student-athletes were outside playing with all the children, handing out stickers and coloring books, which could have entertained them for days.

When we got back to the lodge, several of us used our free time to head to the beach where we jumped off the dock, swam in the lake, and enjoyed our mile trek back up the rocky dirt hill to shower and get to dinner. We ended our day watching another spectacular sunset and eating dinner overlooking the lake. We even happened to meet a fellow Vanderbilt graduate, who was having dinner at our lodge.

Not only has this trip showed us how small of a world we live in, but it has given us the biggest perspective change we could have asked for. We are able to see such love and happiness in what some would consider a hopeless place. Although we came here to distribute shoes to help better people's lives, we have learned that it is simply a smile that can change the world, and we hope to bring that (and so much more) back to our Vanderbilt community.

-Rene Sobolewski


Day 7 Photos

Big thanks to Commodore student-athletes Abby Carr (soccer) and Amanda Lockwood (lacrosse) for taking over the photography duties on Sunday. It gave me the chance to take a break from my job and experience the joy of giving children shoes and playing games with them, something our student-athletes have done an amazing job with since we arrived in Kigoma. And as you'll see below, Abby and Amanda are also very talented shutterbugs.

-Brandon Barca

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