Aug. 2, 2013
LOGAN, Utah - Utah State volleyball player Kaitlyn VanHoff recently returned from a month-long trip to Tanzania on the eastern side of Africa volunteering with HELP International.
HELP International was created in 1999 to aid recovery efforts after the devastating effects of Hurricane Mitch. The initial 46 volunteers raised $115,000 while spending four months in Honduras. While there, they did humanitarian work along with giving microcredit loans to encourage local businesses. Now with programs in eight different countries, HELP International works with locals to develop communities through public health, education, entrepreneurship and business projects.
VanHoff, a native of Draper, Utah, will be a junior middle blocker for the Aggies this upcoming season. While in Tanzania, VanHoff kept a journal and upon her return, has shared her experiences from her trip:
It's hard to know where to begin talking about Africa. Being there a whole month really puts your life into perspective and changes your outlook on life completely. Right after stepping off the plane I said to myself, "Let the adventures begin." I knew it was going to be crazy and different in every way and I couldn't go in with any expectations because who knows what to expect when you live in a third-world country for a month. Every single person I came in contact with had the most humble, kind attitude I've ever encountered. I don't think we realize how incredibly blessed we actually are here in the United States. We have a bed we can sleep in every night, a shower to get clean from, a toilet, food and the list could go on. A lot of them have none of this. Most of their houses are made out of mud and sticks, or just little shacks put together. The little kids entertain themselves with sticks and rocks, and we're over here watching our kids fight over what video game they should play. I've also come to learn that schooling and education are such a huge blessing. I know sometimes you don't want to have to wake up for that early class, but think for a second, three-fourths of the people there don't even have the OPTION of going to school because of financial reasons, not enough opportunities, etc. A lot of them are selling things on the street and begging for money. We live in such a blessed and amazing country, so don't ever take it for granted.
While I was there, I worked on two main projects. The first was teaching English to the Utukufu School. I'm not going to lie, teaching a language is incredibly hard and at times can be frustrating because they're young kids, so you feel as though they don't understand you. But in the end, it is so rewarding when you see them catching on to phrases, words and songs. You can't help but just squeeze them and give them the biggest hug and just be so proud of them. They were the cutest little kids ever. Right when we walked into the school they would just run up and hug us and hold onto our hands for dear life as though if they let go it would be the end of the world. I genuinely love those kids after teaching them for a month. It was so hard to leave them.
The second project I worked on was building a new orphanage for the Osiligi Orphanage. Osiligi means HOPE. A friend of our group, Michael Medoth, runs the orphanage, and that is exactly what he is giving those little kids, is hope. He is the most humble, amazing man I've ever met in my whole entire life. He always gives, gives, gives, and expects nothing in return. He always has other people's best interest in mind. He's always looking to help and make things better. He has so much hope and faith in these kids in the orphanage to become something so great. Helping build the orphanage for them was also rewarding because you know that it's helping those kids become something amazing. He has taught them and helped them so much; it's incredible.
Leaving the kids and people of Tanzania was so hard because you get so attached to the people you work with. For me, I made friendships that will last forever. I'm so grateful that I was able to go over there and help as much as I could. There's so much in this world that we don't even know about because we're living in our bubble of luxury. Take a step back in your life and filter out everything bad. Live in happiness and learn to love and serve others.
VanHoff encourages anyone that wants to help impact other people's lives and donate to HELP International, or for more information, to visit help-international.org.
VanHoff is one of four returning starters for the Aggies, who were the 2012 Western Athletic Conference regular-season champion, winning USU's first-ever WAC regular-season title to go with its 2010 WAC Tournament championship in its eighth and final season in the league before joining the Mountain West this season. VanHoff is one of four returning all-WAC honorees from last season's squad that posted a milestone season with a 21-9 record.
Utah State opens the 2013 season on Aug. 30-31 at the University of Utah Tournament. The Aggies then play at the University of Portland Nike Invitational on Sept. 6-7, before playing at in-state foe Weber State on Sept. 10. USU then plays at the Duke University Tournament on Sept. 13-14. The Aggies open Mountain West play with their home opener against Boise State on Sept. 18.
For USU volleyball ticket information, fans can contact the USU Athletics Ticket Office over the phone by calling 1-888-USTATE-1 or 435-797-0305 during regular hours of operation. Fans can also buy their tickets in person at the USU Ticket Office inside the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum.
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