The Press Newspaper

Toledo, Ohio & Lake Erie

The Press Newspaper

The Press Newspaper


Elmore resident Hunter Gregory now has a greater appreciation of things.

That is because last spring, Gregory went on a mission trip to Africa that saw him make new friends in another continent while enduring challenges not seen in Northwest Ohio.

For two weeks, Gregory, along with his aunt, Sharon, and some of her friends, helped to build a residence hall for an orphanage in Malawi, a country located in southeast Africa.

Gregory, 18, who graduated from Woodmore High School in the spring, said the experience had its share of joy and sorrow.

"It was very different from here," Gregory said. "It was very ‘Third World’ and there was a lot of poverty and it gave me a different perspective on life."

During the day, Gregory would haul bricks to the building site as his colleagues worked to construct a fortress. The work, which was arduous, gave him the opportunity to bond with the African children.

"We would use broken wheelbarrows to get the bricks, which were a half a mile away, push it through sand," Gregory said. "We would do that for eight hours per day and they would lay the bricks very fast, so they always needed new ones.

"A lot of kids liked to help and it was like a game for them. It helped to bond with the kids. They loved us. We were kind of like celebrities to them. They would want to play with us and hold our hands. A lot of the kids were very helpful. All they wanted to do was help us. They are a lot less spoiled."

According to Gregory, many of the children become orphaned because of the AIDS epidemic in Africa. In fact, the 2012 United Nations AIDS Report states that approximately 25 million people who had contracted with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, lived in sub-Saharan Africa.

But there are other reasons the children have been orphaned.

"A lot of them were dropped off there," Gregory said. "Their parents might be alive and they'd hear about the place and they'd walk thousands of miles to drop their kids off because they knew (the orphanage) would provide a better life for them. And they know there's no way to track them down. Sometimes kids with abusive parents are rescued and brought to the orphanage, too."

Despite the hardships the people have endured, they are making progress and heading in the right direction.

"They're at the stage now where they're trying to get leaders in their communities, which is going pretty well," Gregory said. "They're in need of education."

He also spent time at a local hospital, which he said was a sobering experience.

"It was kind of sad," Gregory said. "They had a whole different cultural perspective. The hospital would not feed the kids, the mothers had to. It's customary for the mother to take care of the child. So we would bring food to the hospital for them. That was very different. I even had to (administer) an IV because they would not take no for an answer (when they asked me to help). It was disheartening to see those kids knowing a lot of them didn't make it."

There were a couple of things that made every day a challenge. The one that stuck out the most was tolerable barely-showers. Another was the availability of food. There was no snacking and the only time he was able to eat was at meal times. Fresh water was also an issue, but finding and locating it wasn’t as hard he was told it might have been.

He also coached a children’s soccer team at a tournament. He said the experience he had was amazing.

“I would do this again if I was given the chance,” said Gregory, and he is, by planning to head back to Africa as soon as he can.

“The kids were great to be with and the people were so friendly to me.”

Before and during his trip, Gregory had to take some precautions. He had to have multiple vaccinations before he left. While he was there, he had to make sure his windows and doors were locked at night to prevent the local wildlife from intruding upon his shelter. He also had to make sure if he was walking at night he was accompanied by someone.

Gregory, who played soccer and track while at Woodmore, will be a freshman at the University of Toledo this fall. He plans to study Human Resources & Finance and hopes to get a job someday that allows him to travel.

(Part of this article is from Window To Woodmore, a student publication, with permission).

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