Tripper of the Week: Claudia Alycia H, Nonprofit Founder and Returned Peace Corps Volunteer

An avid traveler, Returned Peace Corps Volunteer (South Africa), founder of a nonprofit and creator of documentary videos, Claudia Alycia H is our Tripper of the Week.....

Tell us a little bit about yourself.

I consider myself a member of the human family and a citizen of the world, embracing truth and compassion in my daily activities. I believe that peace is possible in my lifetime. Not that there won't be different perspectives and varying degrees of conflict, but I believe if humanity is to survive on this planet, violent conflict will need to become a thing of the past. I believe in love, peace and infinite possibilities for all humanity.

You've traveled all over - from Japan to the Canary Islands to Zambia, India, Mexico and more. Of all the places you've traveled but not lived, which one has been your favorite?

France and Maui are two places in particular with which I seem to have an unspoken affinity. The first time I went to France, I was awed by the Rodin Museum, Giverny and the Musee d' Orsay. I also enjoy impressionist paintings, so the top floor at Musee d' Orsay was like paradise to me, but to stand on the bridge over the lily pond in Monet's garden at Giverny was literally heaven.

The road to Hana and sunrise at Haleakala are both spiritual experiences that shall remain with me always, as will the drive I experienced with my mother in celebration of her 70th birthday along the Mediterranean Coast from Cannes to Monte Carlo.

You were in the Peace Corps and served in Kwambonambi in South Africa. What were some of your most memorable moments there and how did your experiences shape your view of the world?

It was the 23rd of December and my first year of Peace Corps service in South Africa. As I walked empty handed toward my home at Amangwe Village from the post office in Kwambonambi, I was feeling sorry for myself because no one seemed to care enough to send me a card. When I reached my house, two of the girls from the village were waiting at my door. I asked them what they were hoping to get for Christmas. The five year old was quick to say that she wanted a tree, but the 15 year old said, with a tear in her eye, "I'll just hope to get something because til now, I haven't had" [a gift].

Although I thought being in South Africa would allow me to escape the frenzy of Christmas Eve shopping, the next day, I found myself running to Kwambonambi with the last 100 rand that I had (about $13). From the only shop that was open, I purchased small gifts for each of the 6 children in the family of those I had queried the day before. I knew the teenager didn't have shoes because she had visited in the rain a few days earlier and I had asked why she wasn't wearing anything on her feet. I spent R10 on a pair of flip flops for her and then I pilfered the office of the organization for which I was working for a smallish gold tree. Of course I told the project manager later and offered to pay for the tree, but she didn't find it necessary since the tree had been given to her and she was of a faith that didn't celebrate Christmas.

At the crack of dawn on Christmas Day, a rooster crowed outside my window, prompting me to tiptoe to the home of the children. I left their gifts on the stoop and quickly scurried away. By 9AM, the teen was at my house wearing her new flip flops. When I asked her where she had gotten them, a look of wonder came over her and she said, "I don't know" as she wiped a tear from her cheek. She visited the whole day and by 5PM, her five siblings had arrived as well, so I cooked macaroni and cheese (the only thing I had in the house) and had one of the best Christmas dinners of my life. Since that Christmas, I have not felt sorry for myself, nor have I experienced the desire to possess anything beyond what I already have.

You make 'documentary videos about people who pursue their seemingly impossible goals given their circumstances' - interesting! We'd love to hear more about that.

Everything was scarce when I was a child, and though the neighbors were not aware of it, the snack they casually offered after school many times ended up being my dinner for the evening. I think creating video documentaries for A Mission of Hope, Inc., the non-profit I founded in 2004, is my way of paying that generosity forward. It is my hope that sharing the stories of individuals who go forward without resources will inspire others to be proactive in pursuing their goals as well.

I find fulfillment in assisting individuals like Lindiwe M. who fosters five children in South Africa. She works full time earning a modest salary but desires to build a house for her children so they will have a place to call their own. A Mission of Hope, Inc. has been helping with donations from friends, while documenting the process along the way.

Of all the locals you've interacted with as a traveler, which one was the most memorable?

There are so many amazing people that I've met from around the world, with the most extraordinary that come to mind being those from India and South Africa. I have found that those with the least resources are the ones most willing to share whatever they have; be it accommodation in a small room with many others or a bit of food from their meager pantries.

Having struggled through severe illness in her family, with many hungry nights, as well as the darkest days during South Africa's transition from apartheid, Lindiwe M, mentioned above, is one of the most amazing humans I have met. She will help anyone in need without blinking an eye and she will do whatever it takes to support the children in her care. This not only includes waking before dawn to clean house and bake scones to sell in the village after completing a full day of work, but caring for anyone in the village who asks for assistance in whatever way she can.

Another that comes to mind as contributing to one of the most amazing days of my life is a man from Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary in Swaziland. I was traveling alone through Swazi on the BAZ bus from Kwambonambi to Nelspruit with a compulsory stay overnight in Mbabane. I slept at Sondzela Backpackers on the Mlilwane reserve. At the main camp, I met a man who instructed me to go off the trail, past the hippo pond, being mindful of the possible crocodile along the way, to continue up the road with the "do not enter" sign. It sounded like an adventurous shortcut, so along I went.

The man who had given me instruction in the morning, was waiting when I reached Reilly's Lodge on the return. He told me that the next day he would be visiting the other two national game parks in Swaziland. His name was Ted and he seemed nice enough so I agreed to join him for the ride.

Ted picked me up at 9:00. When we approached the gate at Hlane Royal National Park, Ted filled out a paper and we were waved through. We toured the park with a ranger, seeing lions within a few feet of our open air vehicle. Next we saw wild dogs and vultures, a few elephants and loads of rhino.

Next, we went to Mkhaya where Ted just happened to have the key to the locked rear entrance. Once inside, a ranger traded us vehicles near a watering hole, Ted's truck for an open air Range Rover. With Ted behind the wheel of the Range Rover, we drove into the brush.

A short while later, an elephant walked up to my side of the vehicle nearly touching my arm with its trunk. There was nothing keeping this enormous bull from plucking me out of the vehicle and tossing me into the air. The next encounter was with a "curious" as Ted called it, white rhino, who came dangerously close to the vehicle. This one ended up staring us in the eye, while Ted, using a very soothing tone, praised it for its beauty. Afterward, Ted showed me the side of a vehicle that a rhino had charged the week before, and I was glad we had escaped without incident.

Upon completing the game drive, we pulled up to a beautiful camp with individual open air accommodations built from stone. It was past lunch time and the restaurant had closed, but the staff set a special table just for us and served a feast. Even though I was a Peace Corps Volunteer with nearly no cash, I felt like a princess in a magical kingdom and the day didn't cost me a dime.

I'm so grateful to Ted Reilly for showing me his world. Of course he didn't tell me, but I learned online later that Reilly's Hilltop Lodge had been Ted's father's farm, as well as Ted's childhood home. It was Ted himself who organized the land and the home into a trust so people of the kingdom would have a sanctuary to enjoy wildlife and nature. This made Ted, in partnership with the king, the founding fathers of conservation in Swaziland with Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary being the first of its kind in the country. I am forever grateful for this once in a lifetime experience and have been back to visit Mlilwane several times since.

What attracted you most about Tripping and our community and to what do you most look forward as a Tripper?

I learned about through the National Peace Corps Association and I see it as a way to connect with fellow returned, as well as current Peace Corps Volunteers around the globe. I look forward to possibly staying with other trippers when I tour the world with my friend Cecilia, The Peace Troubadour. If anyone would like to invite us to their neck of the woods, please feel free to let me know and I'll get busy planning the tour ASAP. Of course, I'm also available to host at my house until that time.

Trippers, you can connect with Claudia Alycia via her Tripping profile.

Know a Peace Corps Volunteer (or Returned Peace Corps Volunteer)? Tell them about the National Peace Corps Association Network on Tripping. ;)