A Photo Worth More than a Thousand Words
CCS alumna Courtney Hudson recently won CCS' 20th Anniversary Alumni Storytelling Contest with her photo of a Tanzanian boy who communicates through his smile.
While other kids dream about becoming vets or doctors, since Courtney Hudson was eight years old, she dreamt of going to Africa to help other people.
Her dream came true earlier this year when she volunteered abroad in Tanzania for three weeks with Cross-Cultural Solutions, but her journey to get there began much earlier. Courtney is a rising senior at California State University, Chico, where she studies Sociology and serves as President of STOP (Stop the Trafficking of People). In 2014, after searching online for volunteer programs in Africa, Courtney discovered CCS.
“My mom was obviously concerned about safety,” she said. “We requested the brochure materials, and we could tell CCS was a reliable organization.” After further researching CCS and Tanzania, they both felt comfortable with her decision: she enrolled on her program, giving herself one year to come up with the funds to make it happen. She describes her family as small and humble; she knew that she would have to figure out how to get to Africa through her own means. She requested that her birthday and Christmas gifts solely go towards her program. She talked to professors, offering to house and pet sit. She even went on the local radio show to talk about her volunteer impact and request donations.
One day in her large Criminology lecture course, someone walked into the room and shouted:
“Is Courtney Hudson here?” He repeated the question; students looked around and whispered.
“I thought I was in trouble,” she says. Quite the contrary, the person—a CSU faculty member—came to announce that she received the Chico State Outstanding Student Service Award, an honor based on faculty nominations, for her campus fundraising and outreach work with STOP. Courtney received $500, which she used for extra excursions on her trip.
In Tanzania, Courtney worked with the Kilimahewa Education Center, helping young children, teens, and adults. She collaborated with the Tanzanian teachers, as well as with a 2008 CCS alumna who now lives and works there.
“With the young kids, it was mostly loving them and playing with them. With the 14-19 year-olds, I co-taught a life skills class—we covered topics like hygiene, study skills, and safety. I also co-taught an English class.” Courtney further helped by taking exams back to the Home-Base and typing them for the Tanzanian teachers.
Out of all of the people she worked with, a couple stand out in her memory. One is Monica, a 17-year-old girl who would wear her jacket, play with her hair, and hold her hand.
“She couldn’t speak very much English, but she would say, ‘You are a good friend. I am a good friend.”
Goodi is the one who is perhaps most unforgettable.
Goodi is a three-year-old boy living on the property of the center. Courtney could tell by how dirty he was that he probably didn’t bathe; she only saw him wear two different outfits her entire time there. Courtney also noticed that he always was the first to finish his porridge and put his cup down for more. Goodi couldn’t talk, probably due to malnourishment. He would make sounds to communicate, but the thing that spoke the most about him was his wide smile.
“He always smiles,” Courtney says. “Every day when the van showed up, he would come running out with his arms wide open—smiling.” He loved Courtney in particular, and people began to call her “Goodi’s wife.”
On her last day at the center, when the teachers announced that she was leaving, Monica and her friend started to cry, covering their faces to try and hide it. Courtney describes herself as “not outwardly emotional”—not really one to cry in front of others, either.
“ I couldn’t hold it together. I got really upset, and I cried. I realized I had made an impact.” The students stood in front of the room, sharing in broken English how much her and the other volunteers meant to them. They asked her when she was coming back, insisting on knowing the exact date.
Before her trip was over, Courtney found herself on the verge of tears again, but this time for a very different reason. Her flight home had been cancelled, leaving her stranded in the airport. As she started to worry, she looked out the window and saw Jonathan, the CCS driver, waving to her to assure her that he wasn’t leaving. Over the phone, Courtney’s mom told her that she’d talk to the airline, and Courtney could go back to the Home-Base. As she went to step outside, the security guard shut the door, saying she couldn’t pass.
That’s when Jonathan stepped in, literally entering the building to reprimand the guard.
“He was saying ‘She is a volunteer, not a tourist. You have to let her go.’” Without further argument, the guard let her leave. “I thanked him, and he just said, ‘You are an ambassador. You are like my daughter. I wouldn’t leave you.’” Jonathan drove her back to the Home-Base, where she was welcomed by the rest of the staff with food and a warm bed.
“It made me feel so safe at a moment when I felt lost... All the staff at the Home-Base could not have been better. They made the experience.”
After returning from her program, Courtney entered, and won, our 20th Anniversary Alumni Storytelling Competition with her photo and caption of Goodi. She will receive a free CCS program. When we first notified her, she was overwhelmed with excitement: “Volunteering means so much to me, and I can’t wait to go and help more children internationally. This is easily one of the best days of my life.”