Heading to Africa with helping hearts

Digging wells, asking mayors for money, trying to change the world — Peninsula teens Corinna Banda and Jan Tancinco aren’t exactly gearing up for a run-of-the-mill high school summer vacation.

Banda and Tancinco, both 17, will trade in their lazy afternoons by the pool for six weeks of grueling, but rewarding, work helping children affected by HIV and AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa this summer.

The girls, who do not know each other, are two of 22 teens from across the nation trekking to Namibia and South Africa on a campaign for the United Nations Association of the USA.

The “youth ambassadors” will spend much of their time working in schools, teaching, tutoring, painting walls and building fences and playgrounds. They also will dig wells for water, provide counseling and help supply clean clothing for the residents.

The work is aimed at improving the lives of orphans and other children affected by the HIV and AIDS epidemic.

“It’s more fulfilling than I think what other school-aged children will be doing this summer,” said Tancinco, who lives in Burlingame. “I used to just watch TV during my summer, and I felt like I was wasting time, and I felt like I needed to do something meaningful and purposeful.”

Before they can head halfway around the world June 28, the teens each need to raise $5,000 to cover the costs of their trip. Working on their own, they have sent letters to neighbors, petitioned mayors and held carwashes and yard sales to raise part of the cash needed so far.

Banda, who lives in Redwood City, has been determined to help others since she studied events such as the Holocaust in school. The turning point came during a summer afternoon when she picked up a newspaper and read an article about fights between Israel and Lebanon, which included frightening pictures of a girl who Banda figured just as easily could have been her if she had been born into a different situation.

“I was reading the paper and the pictures got to me,” Banda said. “That picture, I think, was what motivated me. She was a woman my age. She had already lost everything.”

Tancinco, meanwhile, feels it is her “moral obligation” to help those less fortunate.

“You can get a lot accomplished in one summer,” Tancinco said. “I think this is a good opportunity to change the world, I guess.”

mrosenberg@sfexaminer.com 

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