Tomas Moreno continues to be ONE of a kind.
The Wofford junior, so instrumental in making Wofford the top ONE campus last year (which among other things brought Vampire Weekend to campus for a free concert), visited Africa over the summer and is still going strong in his never ending bid to bring attention to the struggles of others around the world.
His trip to Kenya came about because of the success of Wofford’s ONE program. Before he went over there, Moreno was contacted by a Wofford graduate, Alex Scheaffer, who is working with the Peace Corps in Kenya.
“Unfortunately I wasn’t able to connect with him because our schedule was so busy (75 site visits in one week), but he’s doing some amazing work there trying to build a library for a school system,” says Moreno. “I want to do Peace Corps some day. It’s a great program and another way to go back to Africa for me.”
So how was it the first time?
“Africa was amazing,” says Moreno. “I’ve always wanted to go, ever since I saw ‘Lion King’ as a little kid. Obviously my view of Africa has changed since then, but I’ve always been drawn to it and this was the perfect opportunity to go.
“I always wanted to go with a group on my first trip, too. It was phenomenal. I went with a great group of people and we saw so many different aspects of Kenya. We researched the economy. We researched agriculture. We researched the educational system and health care system. It was fantastic.”
It was perfect timing for the visit, seeing as how the current president has a Kenyan father.
“Pretty much everybody we talked to, as soon as they found out we were from America, they yelled ‘Obama!,’” Moreno says. “They really respect him there, even though he has been sort of heavy handed with their government in his speeches. He’s trying to get the Kenyan government to get its act together, and they love him for it.”
While Obama would stay in a palace were he to visit, Moreno and friends had much humbler accommodations for their week-long stay.
“In Nairobi we stayed at the Hilton, which sounds really nice,” he says. “It WAS nice, but it wasn’t fantastic by any means. We went to Lake Nakuru, which is a national park. We stayed in little villa-type huts there right on the water, so we had mosquito nets. That was a good experience for me, because I had always heard about anti-malarial funds and how they go toward mosquito nets. Other than that we stayed mostly in hotels just because they wanted to make sure we were safe.”
Food was a pleasant surprise, according to Moreno.
“We ate mostly westernized food with a couple of exceptions,” he said. “We had a fried whole tilapia with a bunch of sauce and stuff on it, and we also tried ugali, which is basically a loaf of hardened grits. It was actually pretty good, kind of doughy.”
Of course, people are food for some of Africa’s exotic wildlife. The “Lion King” fan got to see just about everything BUT lions.
“We had some animal time,” he says. “We did two safaris, one at dusk and one at sunrise. Let me just say that a Kenyan sunset is fantastic. I saw what they estimated was 2.6 million flamingos that were on the lake when we were there, and 10,000-20,000 pelicans. It was insane. I saw a bunch of elephants and both types of rhinos. The black rhino is supposed to be really, really rare, so that was cool. I didn’t see any big cats, though.”
So while he missed out on the reality version of “Lion King,” Moreno saw enough human reality to keep him busy for a while. For starters, he’s preparing to defend Wofford’s ONE campus title.
“We’re working on our schedule right now,” he says. “It looks like we’re going to be doing our second annual hunger and poverty week, teaming up with a bunch of organizations on campus and in the community. Don’t want to give away too much, but it will be the week before Thanksgiving break. We’re going to be selling Beads-for-Life, and 99 cents of each dollar you give actually will go back to Africa. It’s a great organization.
“We’re also teaming up with the Whetsell Fellowship scholar Amy Powers to do an art show to raise funds for an orphanage in Nicaragua. That will also be in November.”
Then there are Moreno’s personal projects. Any one of these would be enough for most college students, or perhaps too much to deal with. Yet Moreno juggles all of them successfully.
“I really REALLY want to get some Wofford people to donate money so that we can start a Wofford Kiva fund,” Moreno says. “Kiva is a microcredit financing organization that allows people from around the world to loan money to people around the world so that they can raise themselves out of poverty. I just loaned 25 dollars to a woman in Kenya so that she can increase the amount of food that she puts out to help her family. All that money gets paid back within a year. It’s a really great thing. I’d love to see Wofford students doing this -- get that Wofford connection going.
“There’s also a great organization in Kenya called Carolina for Keyberra. Keyberra is the biggest slum in Africa, right outside Nairobi. It hosts between 1.6 million and 2.6 million people in one square mile. It is intense. The organization, which was started by a UNC student, is one of the most active NGOs in Keyberra and they are fantastic. What I would like to see is a Wofford group going either annually or biannually to help this organization.”