When Molly Hoyt headed to college, she wasn’t sure what major to pursue. She only knew that she wanted an experience that was different — and that would make a difference.
She found that experience half a world away in Tanzania.
“What drew me to Africa is how the people always seem happy, no matter what their circumstance. There is something about Africa that was so different from all the other places that you could go,” says Hoyt, a University of Maine senior from St. George, Maine, who is majoring in international relations. “I went to Tanzania trying to find what I wanted to do with my life. I found that I love culture and love people.”
At UMaine, Hoyt has made Africa the focus of her international relations studies. In addition to her coursework, she studied abroad at the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London. There her coursework included Swahili.
The seed was planted in high school, where Hoyt was involved in the outdoor-based youth mentoring group Trekkers, based in Tenants Harbor, Maine. Trekkers, which provides educational, experiential and crosscultural learning opportunities for youths, encourages students to explore diverse cultures that are outside their everyday lives.
“Trekkers definitely got me to Tanzania,” she says. “It gave me the confidence to just leave the bubble of the small town, to do something that was totally radical and different.”
On her first trip to Tanzania in January 2008, Hoyt was a volunteer with the nonprofit organization Cross-Cultural Solutions, teaching English to preschoolers in Bagamoyo. With little knowledge of Africa, Hoyt requested the placement based on the community’s location on the coast — like her hometown.
“Just being near the ocean is really close to my heart,” she says.
Adjusting to the hot climate and new cultural experiences was toughest in Hoyt’s first week in the East African country. But the interaction with the youngsters let her know that she’d found her place.
“They gave me a sense that I made a difference. It was rewarding,” says Hoyt, who extended what was to be a three-month stay to six months. “Beyond that, they really liked me.”
While in Bagamoyo, Hoyt enjoyed watching youngsters of all ages play her favorite sport — soccer. When a local coach learned that Hoyt had played varsity throughout high school, he asked her to start the first all-girl soccer team. But one of the biggest challenges for the children was the lack of equipment.
“Some of the kids were playing barefoot,” she says. “One person that had cleats would share one (shoe) with another kid.”
When she returned to the States to pick up her college career at UMaine in fall 2008 (she had spent her first year at Emmanuel College), Hoyt was determined help the young soccer players. She contacted her high school coach to request any donations of used equipment and she started fundraising in her hometown.
“We were able to come up with four boxes of about 200 pounds of soccer equipment,” she says. Even a laptop was donated from a school.
During semester break in December 2009, Hoyt delivered the equipment and spent three more weeks in the community.
“(The youngsters) were so excited to have shin guards, cleats and shirts,” she says. “They look up to soccer players in their country and they were excited to feel that much more like a real soccer player.
“For me, I was just happy. I feel that I had accomplished something,” she says. “I had made a decision a year earlier and I kept a promise.”
When she graduates this May, Hoyt plans to return to East Africa, most likely as a Peace Corps volunteer. One day she hopes to work for Invisible Children, a volunteer organization focused on aiding the war-affected children of East Africa, including former child soldiers.
Image Description: Hoyt with African Children