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African Experience Hits Home for Rotary Member

Chris Major returns from trek to African villages realizing that we take a lot of things for granted.

A three-week trip to Uganda and Nigeria grew from a Rotary Club outreach project evolved into an eye-opening, life-changing experience for Chris Major.

In March, the Novato resident and member of the Rotary Club of Novato Sunrise embarked on a journey that he won’t soon forget.

“The first thing you learn is what we take for granted,” Major said. “Things as basic as clean drinking water and a public education system that works. We have a basic fundamental right to have an education … and we complain about it.”

As an educator and advocate for youth programs, these topics hit home for Major. And as founder of the Novato Chess Club and leader of the Rotary’s New Generation program, he’s continually working to benefit children. His Facebook page details his efforts.

One reason for the trip was to carry on Rotary Club outreach projects. There are more than 1.2 million Rotarians in about 200 countries; one of the club’s international projects was digging water wells in the African region Major was visiting.

Major, 51, admitted that seeing the poverty-stricken villagers was saddening, but there was an upside. “If you saw how hard the kids are working, it renews your spirit.”

Major said that the young kids in Africa realize the value of an education — it’s a ticket straight from poverty to potential. He said the kids who are afforded an education are in school from 8 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. and are sometimes taught two or three languages.

Coincidentally, March was Literacy Month for the Rotarians.

It’s no small undertaking to make this journey, but Major admits to having personal motivations as well as Rotarian.

“As an African-American, I have always wanted to go to Africa,” he said.

The Rotary Club of Novato Sunrise raised $1,500 to help defray the costs, and Major said, “Once I bought that ticket, I knew I was in it.”

He was still taking pills to ward off malaria weeks after returning and it was “an amazing amount of shots” he endured before embarking.

Major’s hosts, he said, could not have been more welcoming. “Black Americans are treated with tremendous respect and dignity,” he said.

Major had the chance to speak to several Rotary Clubs while on his journey, as well as an Interact Club and colleges.

Witnessing the hard work of the locals was one of the trip’s high points, but so was the global outreach that Major experienced. He reminisced about young volunteers from throughout Europe who were helping the villagers. “I was amazed at the pipeline to get in and help,” he said.

Veronica Laboure-Slaughter April 15, 2013 at 06:28 PM
Thank you for all the pictures of this exciting project. It was very heart warming to see this beautiful faces of african countries still struggling to get the basics.
Tina McMillan April 15, 2013 at 07:01 PM
The work of Chris Major and the Novato Rotary makes places as far away as Africa seem so much closer to home. Thank you Patch and Chris for sharing this trip. While I have never been to Africa, I was able to read about a two and a half year journey, as Douglas Cruickshank, a family friend, lived and worked in the mountain village of Kyarumba, Uganda as a member of the Peace Corp. We supported one of Doug's projects which was building and outfitting a local school. Supporting education, whether it is here in Novato, or as far away as Uganda, is a path that has the same result throughout the world, of bringing people from poverty to resilience. Doug's current project is to publish a book of his time spent in Kyarumba. 50% of the profits will then go back to the village to continue to support education. "In 2009, at age 56, Cruickshank became a volunteer in the U.S. Peace Corps and for the next two-and-half years lived in a remote community of subsistence farmers in the mountains of western Uganda where he worked for a coffee cooperative. The writing and photographs in Somehow: Living on Uganda Time were done during that period." If interested please check link below. http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/somehow-living-on-uganda-time
Novato Chess Club April 16, 2013 at 04:35 PM
Thank you Tina, I encourage you to make your Africa trip. A true blessing from God to have my eyes open on the true sacrifice citizens of the world make everyday. Thank you for the info....Since Rotary's mission is ending polio, I met two physicians from Kenya, Africa and Atlanta, GA, USA dedicated to ending polio in Nigeria...so it looks like another trip.....
Novato Chess Club April 16, 2013 at 05:00 PM
Thank you Veronica, there are so many beautiful images of African students working hard in school for a better future. The hours for school are 8-4:30pm, with (4) hours of study hall on Saturday. Along with the difficult images of youth who struggle at providing the basics, so school is NOT an option. Thank you for spending the time reading the article. I consider it the beginning of lifetime experiences in Africa----and "building communities and bridging continents" in the spirit of Rotary International Service. Have a blessed day, and prayers for a world focused on literacy for all.
Sarah Kern May 18, 2013 at 10:39 AM
You are everytime very welcome here in Uganda :-)
Novato Chess Club May 28, 2013 at 09:08 PM
Thank you Sarah for your hospitality....look forward to returning to Jinja.
Cecilia Larita August 20, 2013 at 03:43 AM
Very heartwarming experience of reaching out to our African brothers. Not everybody is given that chance. God must have loved you that much for you to experience a great opportunity to be with the people God loves most Rtn Chris Major. Congratulations.
Cecilia Larita August 20, 2013 at 03:44 AM
Africa is my dream place to travel too. I wish I'll be given the chance.
NovatoAVID September 02, 2013 at 03:59 PM
Cecilia, Sarah Kern can make it happen..a wonderful place to start for a safe; but real Africa experience..

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