Machu Picchu 2018 Trip Leader Story: Emilee Struss

“It started as a phone call, strictly for work, that turned into something…big.” – Emilee Struss

Emilee is a youth programs coordinator and writer that lives in Hailey, ID. She discovered Make A Difference (MAD) while researching nonprofits for a program she was designing. Her search led to a list of nonprofits in Idaho, one of the being MAD. After speaking with a MAD representative on the phone, she desired to know more due to her interest in traveling and working with nonprofits.

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Emilee on a trip to Lake Chala in Tanzania

After one short conversation with MAD’s founder, Theresa Grant, Emilee felt a strong desire to volunteer in Tanzania. Previously, Emilee had also volunteered in South Africa for six months and knew the impact that volunteering can make. She enjoyed learning about the culture, language and Africa’s simple way of living. She realized that not only could she use her education to better the life of another, but this was also an opportunity for her to grow as well.

In July of 2017, Emilee traveled to Tanzania as a volunteer. During her time, she met some of the students that MAD sponsors, conducted interviews and wrote articles about the great work that MAD was doing. Emilee has a background in Wilderness Therapy and enjoys the wilderness equally (if not more) than writing.

Upon returning from Tanzania, Emilee wanted to do more. MAD’s Charity Hikes peaked her interest. She was inspired by MAD’s honest approach at enriching the lives of not only vulnerable youth but their sponsors as well. Emilee is looking forward to getting more involved with MAD by leading the 2018 Machu Picchu trip.

Inspired by all the brave students that she met in Tanzania, Emilee started a blog series about them titled, “This Is”. To view some of those articles, please click here.


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This is Neema

This is Neema.

Her story has taken a bit longer to write.

Not because I wasn’t interested in writing it, but because I didn’t know how to properly describe her and my experience with her.

Neema is from the Kitiwo village in the Kilimanjaro region.

I had the chance to travel to this village with Neema to visit her relatives.

She was raised by her grandma and aunt.

Both of her parents passed away when she was young.

She doesn’t know how her parents passed.

The village is lush with trees bending under the weight of succulent fruits clumped at the top.

The houses are made out of clay and mud, usually with one room for people and another room for animals. The two rooms are connected.

Pathways to different homes in the village are lined with thin trees hosting large, thick green leaves.

Neema hadn’t seen her family in a year, since she left for the University of Dar Es Salaam in Tanzania. When she returned, it was as if she had just went for a walk down the street and returned. No running towards one another or big hugs. Seemingly no celebration.

I thought, maybe they aren’t that close?

Later, I learned that this is a cultural thing. You remain relaxed, and often the people you are most excited to see, you give the least amount of attention to.

It’s like a hidden code of respect.

In reality, her family is very close and loves each other very much. However, emotions are kept on the inside.

Neema spent the first fourteen years of her life in the Kitiwo village before going to an orphanage. She was sent to the orphanage in hopes that Neema would gain access to a greater education.

It worked.

She was supported by Make A Difference Now.

She was able to attend a private school and set the course for her dreams in pursuing higher education. Now, she attends the University of Dar Es Salaam for finance.

The educational system in Tanzania is very different from the United States of America.

When Neema applied for university, she was able to select 5 interests.

The university then looks at these 5 interests and drop down the list until they find one that can accept students. Most of the majors are full.

She got her last choice.

Her first choice was in fashion design.

I asked Neema if there is a way they can change that, like changing majors.

Neema has very strong facial features and exudes confidence. She smiled a charming smile and said, “No we can’t change it. I must just work hard. I am in university and that is the good thing.”

Talk about being grateful.

In the future, Neema hopes to visit the USA and meet the people that have sponsored her way to higher education. She also wants to visit “Mother Theresa”, who is the founder of Make A Difference.

You can check out MAD’s website and profiles of the children they sponsor by going to:

Words and photos by travel writer Emilee Struss, @emileemaestruss

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This is Subirah.

Subirah is twenty-one years old and was raised by her grandmother in Moshi Town, Tanzania.

She remembers staying at the orphanage for 9 years.

Subirah’s dreams, like all the other MAD students, is to use her education to give back.

She is pursuing nursing school and currently in her first year.

 I asked her what is difficult for her right now.

Her response, “Nothing. I am getting education and am happy for that.”

All that she cares about right now is getting a good education.

Subirah spends a lot of time away from family and rarely sees the ones she grew up with but is happy to get an education.

I asked her what her favorite memory with MAD was. Up until this point, it was very difficult to read Subirah because she is quite reserved and didn’t use many words in her responses.

She had a serious face and only answered what she needed to.

With the favorite memory question, I got a smile and even a shift in positioning on her chair.

She said, “In December, we all get together and make good food. We all enjoy that time together. We celebrate.”

She is a Muslim yet her favorite thing of the year is to celebrate Christmas.

I found that contrast intriguing. While the world is known for destruction between Christians and Muslims, this one girl has the ability to celebrate both and delight in the beauty of belief.

The meaning of her name, Subirah, is patience.

Wouldn’t there be so much more peace in the world if we just practiced more patience?


You can check out MAD’s website and profiles of the children they sponsor by going to:

Words and photos by travel writer Emilee Struss, @emileemaestruss

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This is Pina.

This is Pina. 

The lovely Pina.

She was born in the Rombo-mashati village.

Some women are born with a mother’s heart. Pina is one of those women.

She has been creating a home of the MAD guesthouse for 9 years through gardening, cooking and sharing in the greatest medicine of all – laugher.

Her full name is Agrapina.

She is a devoted lover of Jesus.

Jesus’ entire life was centered around servanthood. Inviting others in as brothers and sisters. Placing himself last.

Paul said that Jesus, “Took the very nature of a servant”(Phil 2:7).

Pina reflects the actions of Jesus in this way. It is clear that it brings her great joy to serve others.

To bring them fresh lemongrass tea. To randomly leave the guesthouse and return with three massive avocados saying, “These are for you”.

To prepare fresh food every day. The best fresh food.

To prepare and tend to the garden.

To stay late in order to make sure the security guards have a warm meal.

She is continually giving. Serving. Blessing others with her presence and kickback laughter.

The very fact that I had to dive deeper into scripture to even write about this woman reveals who she is.

Pina was raised in a family of three girls and three boys.

She has raised one of sister’s sons and sent him to school. She has just eight years of schooling herself, from a local government school.

Her favorite thing about being a part of Make A Difference is that, “It helps kids make a stronger future.”

My last question for Pina was, “What is your dream?”

She said, “To have my own hotel and to be the cook there, and feed many people.”

Pina is always giving, serving and loving. She is invaluable to the MAD team here in Tanzania.  If you can, I recommend you come visit while you still have the chance to meet this joyous spirit.

You can check out MAD’s website and profiles of the children the sponsor by going to:

Words and photos by travel writer Emilee Struss, @emileemaestruss


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This is Janeth.

This is Janeth. 

Janeth grew up near Kenya in the Kikelelwa village, where she attended school. She comes from a family of ten; four girls, four boys and her parents.

 Janeth holds a very important position with Make A Difference; she is their administrative assistant for Tanzania.

It was very difficult to get Janeth to share about herself as she only wanted to share information about MAD. She really believes in the organization, which is why she has faithfully worked with MAD for three years now.

Previous to accepting the position as an administrative assistant for MAD, she worked for another NGO that raised street children.

She wasn’t satisfied with her position there however because she wanted to not only take children in but empower them to create a better life for themselves.

That’s when she discovered MAD.

When I asked Janeth what inspires her, she said, “Providing education to youth that in turn empowers them to be self-reliant.”

She refused to focus on herself for most of the interview, desiring only to share the greatness of MAD.

She did share one piece of advice,

If you don’t know what to do next in life, change your environment. It is very powerful.” 

She said that growing up in Kenya, then working in Tanzania has helped her understand more. She also interacts with many volunteers from all over the world that come to help with MAD.

Janeth is a young woman on a mission.

A mission to live an unwasted life for the betterment of others around her.

She is proof there is power in the peacefulness and quietness. That is who she is.

Peaceful. Quiet. Powerful.


You can check out MAD’s website and profiles of the children they sponsor by going to:

Words and photos by travel writer Emilee Struss, @emileemaestruss

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This is Revo.

This is Revo. 

Revo is twenty-four years old and a student who has been helped by Make A Difference (MAD) Now.

The proof of MAD’s success lies within the life of Revo. He grew up in the Uru-Shimbwe village in Tanzania. He was living with his father and step-mother until his father passed away from several health issues.

Revo was sent to live with his mother when his father passed away.

His mother struggled to take care of Revo so she sent him to his aunt and uncles home.

It was at this time when two women, Irene and Lily, entered his village in search of children needing quality education and a chance at a better life.

The village leader suggested the women visit Revo’s home, as he needed help. The women visited Revo and spoke with his family about his situation and eventually sent Revo with these them to get support.

Sitting across from me under a shade-tree at the MAD guesthouse, Revo shared, “I was 14 then and even when I got in the vehicle with these two women I didn’t know where I was going. I thought they would take me back to the village later, but they didn’t.”

The women brought Revo to an orphanage.They told Revo they were traveling to Arusha, another town in Tanzania, to make money in order to send Revo to school.

A few weeks later, the women returned and brought Revo to Royal Academy, a boarding school. When they later realized how challenging it was to pay for Revo’s school fees, food, clothing and medical needs they turned to MAD to take over supporting and caring for Revo.

Revo (left) and Deo (Right) with a current MAD student

At Royal Academy Revo excelled in his studies and was president of the student body, as a primary school student.  At the time Royal didn’t have a secondary school so when Revo graduating from primary school MAD researched the best schools in the Kilimanjaro areas and helped get him into Tengeru Secondary School. At Tengeru he was one of the top students. For advanced level they were hoping to get him a scholarship at the International School of Moshi (ISM). However, when no scholarship came they found a way to pay for his schooling so that he could have access to the quality education and more opportunities to success.

Adjusting to an international school where there was regular homework and assignments due online wasn’t easy, but Revo worked hard and eventually graduated from ISM.

MAD wanted to make sure Revo was given every opportunity to success and go as far as he could due to his hard work. They set him up with a guidance counselor and together decided that Revo should apply to Duke University for early admissions. Duke gives full ride scholarships to scholars and they also have a strong presence in Moshi. In order to prepare Revo for his college application, MAD paid for numerous trips for Revo to go to Dar es Salaam (10 hours from Moshi) so that he could be tutored on the SAT, ACT as well as essay writing.

Revo eventually applied to Duke and got an interview which he was nervous in having. Before starting the interview, Revo had to share with the interviewers that the power could go out during the interview.

They said that was okay.

He got accepted and has attended Duke University for one year now.

Revo is currently in Tanzania for summer break visiting family and friends and completing an internship with MAD.

When Revo left Tanzania he thought he wanted to pursue computer science but now he has changed to statistics. At Duke he sings in an African A Capella group called Amamdla, which means “power”.

He hopes to play in intramural soccer leagues next year.

When I asked Revo about the difference between US education and TZ education, he said that TZ education is much more rigid in strict studies whereas the US education encourages more extracurriculars.

He also noticed that teachers in the US expected students to participate in class discussion whereas in TZ students do not speak often.

Revo is a true success story of what MAD does.

He is now a great role model for younger students just like him. He shows that hard work does pay off.

It’s not hard to believe the name “Revo” means “The Persistent One” in latin.  

Although Revo has been through a lot, his journey has only just begun. He looks to the future with bright eyes and a cheerful heart for all that is possible.

Persistence is key. 

You can check out MAD’s website and profiles of the children they sponsor by going to:

Words and photos by travel writer Emilee Struss, @emileemaestruss.


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This is Naomi.

This is Naomi.

She is from Australia and this is her second time volunteering with Make A Difference.

Naomi is known for her unbelievably fast speech and ability to accomplish tasks. She is a do-er. The eldest of four in her family.

Naomi is well versed in programming and accounting.

She registered with AfID (Accounting for International Development) and got connected with Theresa from MAD. Both of her trips to Tanzania have been six weeks long. During the first trip she climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro and went on a safari.

In the time it takes one person to sit and think about doing something, Naomi has already done it.

The principal at the Royal Academy said, “Naomi, I imagine you drive very fast. You must do everything fast.”

She used her hands to express the rate at which Naomi accomplishes tasks, “I can see you at your house and nobody can sit down because you tell them they must do a task,” she said with laugher.

During her first trip, Naomi also helped with the Kilimanjaro Kitchen cookbook. All of the proceeds from the Kilimanjaro Kitchen cookbook goes towards providing quality education for vulnerable children.

When I first arrived at the MAD guesthouse, I was nervous about traveling around the area. The location is gated and there is a security guard. It led me to believe that the streets around are not safe and I should not go walking far.

Naomi’s view was quite the opposite.

“My view is that fear attracts fear, so I do my best to feel peaceful and trust,” Naomi said.

From here she is traveling to Hong Kong to visit family. Naomi is very family oriented and places great emphasis on helping others.

When I asked Naomi about her experience with MAD, she said, “My experience has been awesome. I have seen a lot of growth and change in the students over one year. I am excited to see more!”

Naomi is a traveler and seeker of new experiences.

She highly recommends volunteering with MAD to all interested.

“There is always something to do or help with. People can come here, even for a short while, and feel like they really made a difference. You may not be asked to help however, so you must just jump in a help out here you see fit.” – Naomi 

Jump in and help out where you can, the Naomi way!

You can check out MAD’s Web site and profiles of the other children they help by going to:
Words and photos by travel writer Emilee Struss, @emileemaestruss.
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