Helping others on a global level
Islander Sarah Wineberg helped plant an important cherry blossom tree in Providence last Sunday. Wineberg, along with other Rhode Island teenagers who are members of Youth United for Global Action and Awareness, participated in the Tree of Hope tree planting ceremony with Mayor David Cicilline. The May 7 ceremony marked the fifth annual World AIDS Orphans' Day.
Wineberg's interest in global awareness does not stop at tree planting, however. The teenage freshman at Rocky Hill School in East Greenwich spent two weeks of her summer vacation last year with the Iteso, the largest ethnic group in the Republic of Uganda. She traveled with a team of youth reporters to Tororo, a Ugandan community where Plan, a global partnership helping the world's poorest children, works to provide primary health care, education, and food security, as well as HIV/AIDS education and prevention, for many in need. According to Plan, the film crew documented life in the rural village and experienced a cultural exchange with the people there.
In a competitive interview process, Plan USA, the American chapter of the international partnership, chose Wineberg as one of four regional youth participants. "It was the most amazing experience of my life," said Wineberg. Through her trip, Wineberg found out firsthand about one of the poorest countries in the world, and the impact AIDS has had on the community she visited. Wineberg met and interviewed mothers participating in a three-year Plan project aimed to improve the quality of life for children and families living with and affected by HIV/AIDS.
Arriving at the East African village on Wineberg's 15th birthday, the film crew stayed in a game reserve. She described the country as beautiful, and the colors "brighter that you see in movies." The teenager also described how many of the people live. "I didn't think the poverty would be so bad. We drove with the windows down, and we could smell the rubbish," Wineberg said, adding that they also smelled fragrant flowers.
"The most interesting thing about the trip was meeting the people. Even though they had nothing, the people were so welcoming," Wineberg noted. Wineberg worked together with the crew to collect images, sounds, and stories that represent life in the village for a documented virtual tour of the Ugandan village.
Wineberg expressed amazement at some villagers she met who built their own homes, which were not much more than a tiny room made of mud. She said she was impressed by how hard the mothers she met worked to provide food and education for their children. "Some nights they didn't eat in order to have the money for school," Wineberg noted. "No one could speak the language, but we 'signed' to communicate," she explained, gesturing with her hands.
Wineberg said that she first learned about the youth group YUGA from local resident Mary Wright, who is a fifth-grade teacher at Rocky Hill School. "She told me about the youth conference and encouraged me to go," Wineberg noted, referring to the 2004 Global Connections Youth Conference in Massachusetts that she attended. After the conference, Wineberg kept in touch with other participants through Plan USA.
Although Wineberg is still young and has time to think about her adult goals, she knows she wants to commit to helping others and travel more in the future.
"I'm pretty lucky," says Wineberg about her life. "I've got my brand new blue bike and to go to private school," she adds, waving a hand and rolling her eyes. "I've got so much that I just want to share."