At 19, Tri-City College Prep student Angie Gwaspika opted to adventure on her own to Tanzania.
Sight unseen, Gwaspika left her decade-long home in Prescott for mission work in the impoverished African nation. She ended up spending three years working in an orphanage for HIV-infected children and with single-mother households at a charity school as well as at a safari company.
Though she returned to the United States to pursue her college education and begin a career, Gwaspika’s experiences were never far from her heart. The impact of the orphans and the struggling, yet kind-hearted and devoted mothers desperate to care for their own kept percolating in her life.
“I feel like my time in Africa was life-changing in so many ways,” said Gwaspika, who now lives outside Charlotte, North Carolina, and in December will complete her online bachelor’s degree in political science from Arizona State University. Her mother, Sharon Weymouth, still lives in Prescott. “It gave me a new perspective on what is important in life, and what’s not important.”
At the beginning of this year, Gwaspika connected with a social worker in one of the Tanzanian villages where she was assigned seven years ago. The worker shared with her the plight of some 38 Tanzanians, with seven single mother households and 11 orphans living in desperate conditions.
One of those children was a 15-year-old deaf and mute boy with sickle cell disease who was unable to obtain medical treatment because his family cannot afford the costs. Another single mother lost the farm where she was growing fruits and vegetables to sell to support her young children. A number of children cannot go to school because they can’t afford to pay for lunch, the only meal offered to them.
Working together with the social worker, whose Swahili name means “love” in English, Gwaspika decided the time was now to take action. At the end of July, she launched a GoFundMe campaign she titled, “The Unforgotten Mamas and Children.”
In less than one month, the campaign earned 40 percent of the $7,000 goal, Gwaspika said, and the first $2,700 was used to buy the single mother’s farm back; pay for the medicine the orphan boy required to treat his sickle cell disease, and bought school lunches, school supplies and shoes for several children. Money was also dedicated to cover medical bills for at least five other children, one of whom is awaiting heart surgery in a month. As money continues to flow in, more needs will be answered, she said.
“Our dollars go a lot farther over there,” Gwaspika said. “So you can really get a lot done and change a lot of lives. What to us doesn’t seem like much, to them is the world.”
Beyond the initial campaign, Gwaspika saw a bigger mission — a long-term charity operation aimed at infusing these women and children with hope, dignity, and the financial independence so the children and families can thrive amid harsh circumstances.
As of this past week, Gwaspika is the founder and executive director of the Greatest of These International, an official nonprofit charity sanctioned through the state of North Carolina.
“It’s very humbling to be able to pull together and change someone’s life, to help them get to a place where they can provide for themselves and be independent again,” Gwaspika said.
One of Gwaspika’s Tri-City English teachers, Tom Henry, now a professor at Utah Valley University in Provo, Utah, described his former student as “a great human being.”
“It’s someone like Angie who makes a mark on you,” the two-decade educator said, noting another of his Prescott students was Kayla Mueller, a humanitarian aid worker killed by terrorists in 2015, two years after she was kidnapped from a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Aleppo, Syria.
“I didn’t know she would take that kind of leap, but it shows a lot of courage and integrity,” Henry said of Gwaspika’s latest endeavor.
The vice president and secretary for Gwaspika’s new charity, Dennis Steenwyk, said this is a heartfelt passion intended to help these mothers find “independence rather than create dependence.”
“Most of Africa does not have safety nets like we have in the United States, and they (women and children) are a lot more vulnerable than we are here in the United States,” Steenwyk said.
To see orphaned children and struggling mothers get much deserved assistance is an incomparable gift, Gwaspika said.
“To me, it’s greater than anything I could ask for myself,” she concluded.
**Reposted with permission of the Daily Courier