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Giving the gift of life

The opportunity of a lifetime came knocking at Tracy Curley's door, and she answered it with open arms.

The opportunity of a lifetime came knocking at Tracy Curley's door, and she answered it with open arms.

Although she doesn't quite know why, Curley is in love with Africa and has been for a long time, so when she was offered the chance to volunteer for a humanitarian aid organization in Africa, she pounced on it like a lion.

"I feel very blessed that I have the opportunity to do this," said Curley, a 12-year Squamish resident. "I just want to go and be with the people to help out any way I can. When I met with the organizers I told them I have a strong desire to go to Africa."

Curley, whose last day as Highlands branch manager at the Squamish Credit Union is today (Feb. 27), will soon be leaving Squamish to volunteer with the HOPE International Development Agency. She will first be visiting Bangalore, India for two months before heading to the dark continent for a four-month stay in southern Ethiopia.

Every year, thousands upon thousands of Ethiopians die from diseases associated with drinking dirty water. Children drink water taken from the same muddy ponds where cattle bathe and urinate. Mothers walk up to four hours a day in search of water for cooking and bathing; water that is always contaminated. Drinking this water can infect a person with deadly diseases like cholera or dysentery. Yet day in and day out, families use the water because they simply have no other options.

While there, Curley will live in a tent in the village, and will spearhead HOPE's efforts of tapping into fresh water and piping it into the centre of the village.

Curley realizes that she will be subject to seeing extreme poverty and children ravaged by disease, but is prepared to deal with whatever comes her way. Most of all, she wants to learn.

"I'm going there for them to teach me," she said. "I know there will be poverty, I know I will get sick - but I know I'm going to be changed. I know these people will teach me more than I'll ever learn here."

Her role will be to provide manual labour for digging wells and ditches, and to help in other areas to strengthen the people of the community.

For the first two months while in the Ethiopian village, she will be the only HOPE representative. As a result, Curley must be ready to deal will many challenges thrown in her direction.

"I'll have to learn the language and communicate with them - but sometimes you don't need words to communicate," she said.

"I'm looking forward to being one with the people - just knowing what it's like for them and to know it inside, to feel it. It's a spiritual thing for me."

She remembers watching the Wild Kingdom as a child, and being drawn into the lure of Africa."It's so powerful," she said. "It's magical and exotic."

Curley is in the process of a career change, and wanted to do something positive with time off in between careers. Her husband urged her to travel and she took his advice, searching for volunteer organizations that she could support and relate to as an individual.

"He's been huge in supporting me to reach this," she said of her husband Brad. "I couldn't have done it without him - he's my anchor."

After getting the thumbs-up from her husband to leave for six months, she found HOPE International and knew it was the right fit for her.

"I feel very comfortable being affiliated with HOPE, they do great things for people in need. I'm looking forward to the whole experience and I support their cause 100 per cent."

Working in Africa, Asia, and the Americas in such countries as Ethiopia, Cambodia, India and the Dominican Republic, HOPE undertakes and supports people-oriented projects. These projects empower people and communities in need by focusing on the provision of clean and safe water and sustainable living.

In 1985, HOPE began a comprehensive water resource development program. Their first projects included drilling water wells for villages located in the parched plains of Southern Ethiopia. In 1994, the project was expanded to include spring capping and water distribution systems.

Today, more than 50,000 Ethiopians have access to clean water as a result of the spring capping projects completed to date.

HOPE encourages people from poor communities to use their skills or learn new ones to implement the project, and the compassion of donors to provide the required funding.

Curley has never been to Africa before, but is excited about what lies ahead. She will be experiencing much hardship and dealing with many tough emotional situations on a daily basis, but hopes she can make a difference.

"I'm going to see strength and courage and true survival of these people," she said. "I'm going to go and learn to know how these women handle life. I'm going to learn a lot.

"The hardest thing will be dealing with death - watching a child die. Who knows how I'll take it, but I believe I'll be okay."

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