A Trip of a Lifetime

Michaela Maynard of Pawtucket, RI, won the 2007 Americans for UNFPA Essay Contest for the Health and Dignity of Women. Now, she's off to Malawi — follow her adventures here.

Dear Marie Claire readers,

Before I start grad school at George Washington University, I'm packing my bags for Africa! In March, while a senior at the University of Rhode Island, I wrote about my plans to impact and improve women's health and rights around the world for a national essay contest. And, I won! Lucky for me, the grand prize is a trip to Malawi with a delegation representing Americans for UNFPA. You can only imagine my excitement of traveling to a new continent to learn about a new culture and to help other women.

Don't feel bad if you are unable to find Malawi on a map right away — I had to look it up, too. It is located in southeastern Africa and is bordered by Zambia, Tanzania, and Mozambique. With a population of about 13 million, 65 percent of all households in this small country live below the national poverty line.

This trip will help me gain a broader perspective on the world and the people in it. I am eager to meet young women like myself and learn about their lives, culture, values, accomplishments, and dreams. I have a feeling we're not as different as we may seem.

When I learned I won the contest, I called my parents immediately, and my mom said she knew I would visit Africa one day because that's all I talked about after riding through the African Safari in Disney World's Animal Kingdom. Malawi will, of course, be different than my Orlando experience. I now have the opportunity to visit maternity hospitals, fistula clinics, and youth centers, and to meet with representatives of Malawi's Parliament.

When I tell people about my trip I am always being asked if I am nervous to go to Africa. Perhaps anxious is a better way to describe how I am feeling. I am excited to experience an entirely different way of life. But I will admit that I am a little bit of a "germaphobe," so I will certainly pack a lot of antibacterial hand sanitizer! More daunting than the actual trip is packing. It seems like I have been talking about my trip for so long, but it still hasn't hit me. And I don't think it will until I step off the plane.

I hope you will join me on my adventure in Africa…

To learn more about Americans for UNFPA, go to americansforunfpa.org/getinvolved

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