240,000 Miles, $1,000 in Shots, Two Feet From Instant Death
Jessica and Bill Kizorek are not strangers to international travel. They have been to a combined total of 200 countries, including one journey involving all seven continents.
By the beginning of 2007 the pair had committed to a unique kind of travel mission—giving away, in twelve months, one million frequent flyer miles to various global charities. They would also throw in their expertise as filmmakers to go abroad and document the good works of organizations who were helping out the world’s needy.
The daddy/daughter duo just got back from one of those video missions this time to Kumasi and Accra, both in the West African country of Ghana. “This was the most challenging so far,” said Jessica. “In our earlier trips to Cambodia and Moldova no vaccinations were required. Because of the potential for sickness I loaded up on Hepatitis A, Diptheria, Percussus, Tetanus, Meningitis, and Yellow Fever shots. My dad got even a few more because he was heading off to Rwanda and the Congo the following month. Both of us got prescription for aspirin-sized malaria tablets (Malerone). Together we spent over a thousand dollars on shots.”
In addition, they were outfitted with Buzz Off clothing, a product made by ExOfficio. The garments are embedded with a man-made version of a natural insect repellant found in certain chrysanthemums. This also helped protect the duo from potentially dangerous insect bites.
Delta’s new service direct from the USA to Accra saved the team from having to use up two days by flying first to London and then to West Africa. “I turned in 240,000 miles for a couple of tickets,” explained Bill. “By the time we arrived the heat, humidity and mosquitoes were ready. That first day we met a girl from Boston college who was working in town. She told us that, in spite of taking her malaria tablets, she had contracted Malaria three times.”
The Kizoreks had two missions while here; the first was to document the effect that vitamins and glyco-nutrients had on impoverished children in Accra, the second was to make a documentary film about how Fair Trade cocoa bean farming around the Kumasi region had improved the quality of life for tens of thousands of workers. Manna Relief was supplying the food supplements, and Lutheran World Relief (LWR) was now in partnership with Divine Chocolate—the end product of the cocoa bean harvest.
One of the most compelling days was at an orphanage outside two hour’s drive north of Africa. Rural. Twenty kids, mostly orphaned by parents who died of AIDS. They had a rickety structure about the size of a small American bedroom, but split in two. Ten kids slept on each side.
In spite of the almost abject poverty, the locals put out a welcome mat of with song and dance. After the ceremony, and distribution of vitamins there was a walk to hole in the ground where the townspeople scoop out buckets of a foggy substance resembling dirty dish water more than it does acceptable drinking water. They don’t boil it, just drink it, swallowing whatever bits of earth and bugs are suspended in it. Sickness abounds in the community largely due to a ghastly water supply. It would cost $5,500 to dig a well that would provide clean water for the entire community of 2,000 human beings, but none is planned.
Although also a poor town, a different scene appeared outside of Kumasi, five hours drive north of Accra. Here 40,000 cocoa farmers have banded together to form the Kapua Kakoo cocoa bean cooperative. Because of a deal with Divine Chocolate and now LWR, the beans are sold under “Fair Trade” agreements to allow the farmers to make a sustainable wage out of their efforts.
Jessica and Bill filmed the farm operations where cocoa bean pods grew on thirty-foot tall trees. Breaking open an avocado-sized pod revealed dozens of seeds with a slimy, white, vanilla-tasting coating. Many of these beans would later be dried out and shipped internationally to be processed by Divine Chocolate. The extra money created by the Fair Trade practices was invested in schools, wells, and other projects (snail farms, soap-making) which allowed the locals to enjoy, creating a more life for the farm families.
Because of the lack of resources in some parts of Africa, vehicle maintenance is not up to U.S.A. standards. This may or not have been the cause of a “near death” experience for Bill Kizorek, but he was lucky to leave this assignment alive.
After checking emails one night he hopped into a taxi for a five minute ride back to the Precise Lodge. The taxi stopped because a street fight was blocking the road. What did not stop was a semi truck (who whose driver would later tell police the brakes failed) that came barreling into the stopped traffic. It appeared that, at the last second, he might have tried to aim his eight-foot wide truck into the four-foot space between Bill’s taxi and the cab parked in the opposite direction. In an instant Bill’s taxi was hurled into a drainage ditch as the truck plowed into four more vehicles. Bill kicked out the window of the taxi, ran for his life—not knowing if the truck was a fuel tanker ready to blow up.
According to Bill, “the taxi that was next to me facing towards the truck was severely demolished. If the truck was just a foot or two over on my side, my head would have been ripped off by the impact. I have no idea why he decided to veer into the other lane rather than just crush us instead. He must have been in my lane to begin with because he was on a narrow road traveling in the same direction as my taxi.” Bill ended up covered in bruises and was put on the next Delta flight to New York.
According to Jessica, “my father is aware of the risks that go hand in hand visiting some of the poorest areas of the world: bugs, heat, snakes, diseases. This was something so random. I am glad we are both returning to tell the story of the need as well as those who have found a way to survive by taking control of their own fate.”
Last year Bill Kizorek entered his S.E.L.P. course with no idea of what he was going to do. He chose, for his project, to go to Thailand and Cambodia to document the work of a Seattle-based charity. He went on to donate a million more frequent flyer miles to charity in 2007. Jessica will be approved to lead the Self Expression and Leadership Program in June of 2007.