It was one of my first weeks in Africa,
— and I was a curly-headed blonde teenager looking to make a difference.
We traveled so far, for so long, dodging baboons and even elephants on the highways of the national parks,
— that normal protocols didn’t seem to exist anymore.
There were so many people who were needing new clothing, and wearing various attires to cover their bodies,
— that I felt good about my clothes — even when they didn’t match.
Early in the morning, someone came to wake us and lead us to the students and the classrooms.
I had acclimated enough to the poverty that surrounded us, that I didn’t feel like I needed to brush my teeth, or comb my hair.
Sleepily, I followed the guide along the dusty path towards the school building.
Perhaps I could have paid better attention to my surroundings, but everything was so different that my consciousness was a little bit worn out.
As we walked into an office building, I followed, not realizing there was a speech platform on the other side.
As I was walked out on the platform, my heart got caught up in my chest.
There were about 5,000 people staring back at me.
The headmaster explained my name to the crowd — and informed them that I was going to tell them who I was, and where I was from and what I liked to do…
Shocked, I tried to keep a mental list of topics to cover.
I realized, as they all turned to me —
–– that I hadn’t even brushed my teeth.
One of the items that would have helped me through my first serious public speaking experiences — was a hair comb and a toothbrush.
Later on that trip, I picked up this comb —
–– an artisan comb — hand-carved —
— in a village —
— that reminds me of that first experience.
I felt like that experience taught me that it is important to have good hygiene habits, even amongst those who don’t have access to the same resources. Later, as I began to care for children affected by poverty, that a good hair-combing can help identify many problems, from signs of malnutrition, to parasitic infections which can cause several problems that impede development, nutritional status and learning in children.