Started several years ago by then-Middle School history teacher Jay Crosby, the Botswana Trip serves as an opportunity for a dedicated group of Upper School students to travel to Botswana and help kids in need.
The inspiration for the trip came from Jay's father, who spent much of his time in Botswana before he passed away in June of 2003. Before his death, he had plans to move to Botswana and start a hospital, orphanage, or even possibly a research camp. When donations poured in to continue his dream after his death, Jay's family decided to visit Botswana to find the greatest need.
Jay discovered that due to the AIDS epidemic in Botswana (at the time it had the highest HIV/AIDS rate in the world; now it is number two behind Swaziland), there was an unusually high number of orphans. Children were roaming the streets, getting involved in drugs, alcohol, and petty crimes, and being sexually and physically abused.
Jay found a woman, Emily Cusak, in Maun, Botswana who was taking in kids in small groups off of the streets and attempting to enroll them in schools. With Jay’s help, she was able to start a center, Bana Ba Letsatsi (Children of the Sun), that would take kids off the streets, feed them, clothe them, provide them with basic health care, and enroll them in schools.
There are now over 300 children at the Bana Ba Letsatsi, and Riverdale students have been involved in a number of projects there for the last four years, including reconstructing and fortifying an enclosed garden, enlarging a playground, installing a volleyball court, and painting a mural. Some of the students also worked at a nearby center for mentally and physically disabled people, planting a garden and building a sandbag wall to prevent the flooding waters from destroying their church and kitchen.
Jay has found the trip to be an overwhelmingly positive experience, saying “What Riverdale students over the past four years have done is provide these children with some hope and the realization that there are people out there who care for them and do love them...It is important for many of them to see children of all races, ages, and financial backgrounds be successful, intelligent, and committed to education.”