Milica, what made an IT expert leave an office job and head to Africa to help poor people?
I left my office job because I realised it was not what I wanted, I felt trapped. It’s like when you put a wild animal in a cage – it is not its natural habitat. I am the same, my natural surrounding is the World – that is why I decided to dedicate my life to traveling. What makes my journeys different from the ones other people make is the fact that I wish to contribute by helping. I realised I can get to know more about other cultures by volunteering and helping local endangered comunities.
Did you have a regular 9-5h job before starting your adventure, or did working solely on projects leave room for living and traveling this way?
I organized my life so that by working on projects I can have enough time to travel for several months and then work the rest of the year in Belgrade. I’m lucky I’m my own boss, so I can do things that make me happy and enjoy it fully.
In Kenya, you slept in the simple house of a local teacher for only 5 euros a month, bed and a bit of food. How did you manage to find him, and how did you organize your stay there before landing in Africa?
In Kenya, I visited several places, and one of them was a small village on Rusinga Island, located in western Kenya near the Tanzanian and Ugandan borders. While traveling around, I came across a little local school with 12 students who really needed help. I travel often and meet people from all around the world. In January, I was in Israel and I met two people from Nairobi who helped me with my stay in Africa.
One of your main goals was to help those kids. How old are they, and is their level of knowledge and education in accordance with their age?
Helping those children was not my initial plan. I just wondered around, exploring Kenya, so I could see for myself where help was most needed. Then, after meeting them I realised how bad the conditions they were studying in were. Moreover, most of them hadn’t eaten in days, and they did not have books, pencils, or notebooks. The children are two to twelve years old, everyone knows how to read, write, count, and do basic math. It is because they are all in the same class regardless of their age, so they all learn the same lessons.
How did the kids react to you, and what were you teaching them?
The kids were very curious, craving for play and knowledge. They came to love me very much because I was doing my best to help them during and after their classes. We played games together, learned, drew, and laughed together..I was teaching them all the things they were taught by their teacher – maths, reading, writing. They loved listening to me reading them stories. Some stories I would find on the internet, some I would improvise, remembering them from my childhood.
How do they spend their leisure time after school? Do they help their parents in the fields or do some chores?
These kids work hard, they have no other choice. They don’t have toys – they find their toys in nature: a wheel, a stone, a stick. It is so sad knowing they haven’t eaten for days. Sometimes their only meal is salted rice or water or corn flour. Even badly nourished, they have to go to school every day, help in the fields, take care of the cattle, and bring drinking water from the local lake.
What do they lack the most? What is their usual lunch or dinner in the village? Did you help them by buying them some additional food at the local market or nearby?
They lack food, water, basic living conditions. They usually eat just salted rice, corn flour boild in water, or boiled beans. I used to buy them food whenever I had the chance to do so. They loved eating fruit. The donation I organized helped to supply them with a 6 month food supply, which makes me really happy.
What is it exactly that prevents the kids and their parents from having a better quality of nutrition – poverty or the distance to the local markets to find meat, fruit, and vegetables?
What is great in this part of the world, is the fact you can trade goods with your neighbours so you can often buy fruit, vegetables, or milk from the people next door. Distance was never an issue for them, they can walk for hours. The biggest problems are poverty and lack of rain. When they don’t have enough food they plant vegetables. For instance, this season there was a drought, so all the crops failed and they had no food during the whole year.
What parts of Kenya have you visited, and what is your impression of water and electricity supplies?
I have visited several parts of Kenya, and I have seen how it is to live in the city, in rural areas, and in tribal surroundings. In the city they have electricity and water, but the water is not safe for drinking. Rural and tribal areas have none of this. They mostly use water from the lakes nearby, this is how they bathe and wash their dishes. Electricity is a huge problem. Some of the houses use solar panels that are just enough to light one light bulb, that’s it. The rest of them simply light candles when it gets dark and go to bed early. If anyone has a cell phone it can be charged in the local store for 50 dinars.
What is your plan for using the money that is being raised in the charity auction you organized?
As soon as I arrived at the school and saw these kids I felt the urge and responsibility to help, not just to come, take photos, and leave them. Using my blog, themilica.com, I organized a charity auction. So far, we have managed to raise enough money to buy food supplies for six months, books for the next four years, notebooks, pencils, all the necessary school equipment, a water system, and school uniforms.
What exactly is wrong with the system, when an unknown girl from far away Serbia needs to react and help poor kids in endangered parts of Africa? Does their Government have any kind of plan?
Their system requires the families to pay 500 euros annually for primary school and high school educations. Most of the families can’t afford it. That is why there are schools like this one, for the kids from poor families. This one was founded by a professor who works in the local state school. He was sorry for children who might receive no education just because their parents didn’t have enough money. Their teacher works for free. She volunteers.
Have you felt any progress in working with kids, and how do they react to you after a month of playing and learning with you?
The progress was obvious, because they remembered easily the lessons from the stories I read to them. I worked a bit more with some of the kids so they could all reach the same level of knowledge. During the second part of my stay there, I focused on completing the charity auction, so I had less time to teach. They were so happy when they got dressed in their brand new uniforms. They kept saying thank you to me and how I loved them: Milisa, you love us.
You set off on this journey all alone, it seems like you prefer traveling this way. Why is it good to travel alone?
I really prefer traveling alone – when you travel alone, it gives you the freedom to go where and whenever you wish. You are more connected to local people. When you travel with someone you are focused on that other person. Traveling alone gives me the chance to sum up all my impressions and questions from the world around me. My favourite way to travel is to travel by train – let’s say 10 hours or more, so I can carry on monologues in my head and get to know myself on a higher level.