Makayla Henwood, a graduating senior at Apache Junction High School, will trade the arid Sonoran desert for the verdant African plains of Tanzania this summer when she volunteers to help care for impoverished young girls at the Maasai Girls Rescue Center.
“I’m excited to see the girls again,” she said.
Two years ago, Ms. Henwood volunteered at the center, founded and run by her grandfather, Rick Morro, a retired businessman from Scottsdale who moved to Tanzania nine years ago to help the poorest of the poor.
Ms. Henwood, 18, recalled playing games and singing songs with the girls, helping them with their schoolwork and conversing with them to practice English. In high school, Ms. Henwood was a student athlete who enjoyed writing, reading and math. Graduation is set for May 20.
This summer Ms. Henwood will bring along two close friends to volunteer — Madonna Packer and Britney Davis. They will join two other young women from Colorado at the Maasai Girls Rescue Center in Karatu, located near famous wild game preserves and spectacular natural resources that draw tourists on safari.
About 50 rescued girls, who range in age from preschool to 17, live at the center. They were brought by local social welfare officials and family members. Some girls are orphaned, some abused, some are runaways from forced marriages to much older men. Nearly all arrive starving and needing health care.
“They come from bad situations,” Ms. Henwood said. “My grandfather helps get them out of it. He makes them go to school and have a better future.”
Mr. Morro was introduced to the area through a church-sponsored trip. What he saw inspired him to pack up his Scottsdale life and move halfway around the world. Initially the center operated for years at an abandoned hostel in Longido.
In early 2021, Mr. Morro, the staff and the girls moved to Karatu, where a permanent ecoVillage is under construction on 15 acres owned by the center, a nonprofit.
“I have seen such great things happen to this organization since I was there and need to see it for myself,” Ms. Henwood said. “My grandfather is amazing. I don’t know how he does it every day.”
Mr. Morro is looking forward to the volunteers’ arrival. They open the world to the Maasai girls simply by sharing stories about their lives and future plans, he said.
Like her grandfather, Ms. Henwood is an adventuresome soul with no trepidation about international travel during a global pandemic. “I’m not worried,” she said.
She looks forward to visiting the beach and seeing the sites as well as acting like a big sister to the Maasai girls.
“Volunteering in Tanzania inspires me to be a better person every day,” she said.
Ms. Henwood has organized a fundraiser on behalf of Maasai Girls Rescue Center at Go Fund Me (searchable by her name). Each volunteer is asked to raise $500 to support the center.
“My grandfather is such a kind-hearted person and I wouldn’t think of anyone else fit for doing what he does. I admire everything he has done for these girls and I would like the help any way I can,” she said.
To learn more about the center, go to maasairescue.org.
Editor’s note: Beverly Medlyn is a Phoenix-based freelance writer.