The world in your hands

Taking on the world at 17


photo courtesy of Madelyn Singh

Pictured above is Madelynn Singh and her family bonding together.

Natalie Eljamal, Online Editor

When high school students graduate, their first thoughts may be freedom and friends. For senior Madelynn Singh, she’s counting down the days for her early graduation for another reason. Singh is taking a trip to some places an average teenager would never even dream about going to. Her mission is to lift up the lives around her and make a long lasting impact on people.

Singh is taking a four-month trip and will be going to a multitude of different countries. Africa, India and Bali are the places she will be spending most of her time. Anticipating to walk at graduation, she plans on arriving back in the United States just one week before walking. 

I am most excited to look at all these little kids that I will be helping and see the smiles on their faces,” Singh said. “A phone to them, or a camera, that is something that they don’t see everyday. So when I go to take a simple picture with them and you see their big smile, that’s what I am excited for. I’ll be making their day every day, and I’ll be able to see them smile and play games with them and interact with them and make even their worst pain, even just a little bit better.”

The trip is planned through UK organization called “Plan My Gap Year”. Though it is a program designed for teenagers in the UK, anyone is welcome to contact them and plan a trip to visit third world countries. 

“Plan My Gap Year is widely regarded as a global leader and is a safe, structured social platform,” coordinator Josh McEnaney said. “We aim to make positive impacts within local communities where possible. More specifically, we have community-based projects (traditionally childcare, teaching, medical, wildlife) where participants can give back and make an impact at grassroots levels and learn about the cultures and communities they are immersing themselves in at the same time. In addition to this, we aim to empower local communities with local team employment running and co-ordinating our overseas projects.”

With the help of her family, this trip was made possible. Though her parents are going to miss their 17-year-old girl as she embarks on a new journey around the world, taking an opportunity that many people don’t get the chance to have. 

“One of the most difficult parts of raising a child is giving them the space to make their own decisions,” mother Laura Chrest said. “The decision to graduate early, miss Prom and leave friends was not an easy decision for Maddie to make, but it was her decision. Maddie has created her own list of goals and if I see her sway off path or doubt herself, I remind her of her written goals. And as her mom, I will worry about her everyday whether if she is in Sri Lanka or in Omaha.”

Before traveling to these countries, the participants are taught some basics about what one can and cannot do. Drinking water, for example, is scarce in these regions of the world. Many people do not have access to water, which also means the consumption of many fruits is also not allowed. 

“There are so many simple things that we do and don’t even realize how lucky we are,” Singh said. “For example, they can’t eat fruit. The reason for that is they don’t have clean drinking water to wash their fruit. Their water is so contaminated with diseases and bacteria that could kill them. To break it down, it’s crazy to think that a strawberry could kill you.”

Learning something about different cultures and getting to experience how they live their day to day life could come as troubling for teenagers in America, but Singh is determined to experience everything that she can. 

“Maddie, like most of her classmates, had led a life free from the true poverty that impacts much of the world,” Chrest said. “My goal is that Maddie returns home with a new appreciation for food in the fridge and safe drinking water. I hope that when she is struggling to study for a tough test in college, that she remembers how fortunate she is to attend college. I want her to come home feeling that she made a difference and for her servant’s heart to grow.”

Preparations to attend this trip is a long process, as you need to have dozens of vaccinations and visas to be as safe as possible to return home without many implications. 

“Maddie’s immunization records had to be updated before traveling to these countries,” Chrest said. “She is now vaccinated against yellow fever, rabies, Japanese Encephalitis and typhoid.  Malaria is a real danger and requires preventive daily medication. In Nebraska, a mosquito bite hurts and may swell a little. In Ghana, a mosquito bite could mean malaria or dengue fever.”

Singh hopes to return with a new perspective on life and to learn new things that she wouldn’t have even thought about. Just a couple of short weeks until the plane takes off.