|AJ entered this contest to win a spot in the National Geographic Expedition Team to South Africa.|
By Kelly Luttinen
July 8, 2008. Versailles, KY. Thanks to
an enthusiastic Conquest member and a little help from St.
Therese of Lisieux, an impoverished town in South Africa will
soon have a source of clean water.
It all started last
year when the then 9-year-old AJ Ware, a self-described explorer
from Versailles, Kentucky, learned of a contest to win a
spot on the National Geographic Kids Expedition Team. Hopefuls needed
to write a short essay about how they liked to
explore in their own backyard and neighborhood. Fifteen winners would
be selected to take a safari to South Africa.
carrying around a backpack stuffed with binoculars, a pocketknife, magnifying
glass and sketchpad filled with drawings of the red-tailed hawks
that frequent his backyard, AJ had little trouble composing the
essay. His father Chris said that essay, along with the
drawings from AJ’s bird-watching adventures that he included, certainly helped
him win a coveted spot for the 10-day safari.
Loss Turns into a Win
But it wasn’t easy for the
youngest of the chosen explorers. Though AJ’s essay was selected
among the top 25 finalists, his was not, at first,
among the top 15. Chris explained that AJ, while very
disappointed, was most concerned about the feelings of the other
kids whose entries were not selected. AJ wrote a thank-you
note to National Geographic for allowing him to have the
experience. Chris sent the note, and added a request that
if any of the winners were unable to attend, might
AJ be considered as an alternate?
|The winners of the contest on safari in Africa.|
During the process
of the competition, AJ’s family had been praying a novena
to their favorite saint, Therese of Lisieux, also known as
the Little Flower. When they finished the novena, AJ got
a call from the magazine selection committee saying one of
the winners had been disqualified due to his Canadian citizenship.
(The contest was open to US citizens only.) A spot
was now open for AJ.
That same day, AJ’s father,
an artist by trade, was performing his weekly task of
downloading photos for work from a site on the Internet.
On that day, only one photo was available – a
single rose – which happens to be the trademark answer
from St. Therese that her intercessory prayers on your behalf
have been answered with a yes.
So began AJ’s trip
of a lifetime. He and his fellow explorers first saw
|Children of the Sam Nzima School in Lilydale, South Africa with Lester Holt.|
the South African coastal area with the purpose of studying
marine life. They would see dolphins, whales, seals, and penguins
and yes, even a Great White Shark. The students were
privileged to meet Lester Holt from the NBC Today Show
and Nightly News, who accompanied their sea voyage. Holt even
broadcast part of the trip in which he himself descended
into the deep in a shark cage for a closer
look at the Great White.
School and Town Meet AJ
and His Friends
But it would be during the second part
of the journey in which AJ would visit the South
African town know as Lilydale, where he would meet friends
whose lives this little boy would change forever. The contest
winners were to visit Sam Nzima School in the town.
Poor children, many of them AIDS orphans, would walk in
to the school from miles around.
AJ and his fellow
contest winners were deeply affected by what they saw. Chris
explained that the word “slum” was too nice a word
for the conditions at the school and in the town
– cardboard dwellings with pit toilets and no running water
anywhere. All these school children and townspeople had for fresh
|The Conquest boys and their fathers have donated five-hours of backbreaking labor so far, and plan to go back to finish to job as weather permits. Siena Farm has generously given $5,000 toward the foundation’s goal.|
water was located in scattered blue containers brought in from
wells outside the town.
The explorers wanted to do something to
help. The organizer of the tours for National Geographic is
Warren Green. Inspired by the children, he decided to pursue
his idea for a foundation called Footprints to help
these poor African towns. AJ contributed to the effort with
the slogan “Taking Steps to Help Others” and his father
Chris designed a logo for the foundation. A website for
this purpose is currently being developed.
The Foundation’s first act will be
to help Sam Nzima School put in a water pump
to bring fresh water to the school, as well as
surrounding town, at a cost of $15,000. The foundation will
also later help add more classroom space to the school
and a security fence to protect the students from wild
One of AJ’s fellow explorers, Meghan from California, raised $2,000
toward the foundation’s effort, and Caitlin from New York raised
Conquest Club’s Sacrifice Equals Success
But it’s AJ’s work that
has brought in the most money so far, surprising even
Mr. Green. With help from his local Conquest club, AJ
and 20 other members offered to help clear rocks from
|The donation was made in honor of AJ’s Conquest Club’s former Club President, the late Joe Taylor.|
a Kentucky thoroughbred horse farm whose manager, Ignacio Pitino, had
been trying to get the job done with his own
farmhands on the 200 acres for quite some time. In
the meantime, the horses were injuring their delicate hooves.
AJ, Conquest and Lilydale are thankful for the generosity
of Siena Farm, and Footprints should soon have enough funds
to put in the water pump. Great job AJ! (And
thanks St. Therese!)
Note: If you would like more information on
donating to help Footprints with its efforts in South Africa
and beyond, contact Kelly Luttinen via this website, www.regnumchristi.org/english,
and she will get you more information.