I’m 25 years old and have been living in Southern California for almost 11 years. I was born and raised in Johannesburg, South Africa until my family emigrated in July of 2000. I’m an English Major at UCLA and my ultimate goal is to earn a teaching degree in English Literature. I’ve always been interested in working with children and growing up in a third-world country I’ve seen both the best and worst in people. Many of the things I saw in Haiti reminded me of home but at the same time there were a lot of things I witnessed that gave me hope; hope that Haiti will one day get back on its feet and I’m eternally grateful to have played just a tiny part in that.

Meet Terri Samuels

Where are you from?

Johannesburg, South Africa (but I now live in California-LA to be exact)

What made you want to go to Haiti?

For so many years I’ve been involved in charitable work, but it’s largely been through donating money. I wanted to go on this project because obviously, it’s for an incredible goal, but I really relish the idea of being more actively involved in a project such as this one. To actually be there, see the devastation, work hard and get to see the results first-hand will be one of the most meaningful, and probably emotional, moments of my life and I can’t wait.

What are you hoping to take away from this experience?

In terms of what I’m hoping to get out of this trip, I just know it will be such a rewarding experience. I have no doubt that it will change my life. Growing up in South Africa I saw so much poverty-people in townships living in tin shacks with three families all living in only one room with no privacy whatsoever, no running water, no heat, that sort of thing-there would be people begging on almost every street corner we drove past. When I was younger I would close my eyes whenever we happened to drive past one of these areas; I didn’t want to face the fact that people actually had to live like that, for a long time I didn’t allow that reality to seep in. Over time I started to really change and forced myself to really look at situations like this and knowing that there were people out there in such dire situations broke my heart. I became actively involved in creating awareness, started volunteering at some of the many orphanages throughout the area and just doing what little I could to try help people who needed it-such as giving money to beggars whenever I could; I still do that whenever I go back to visit. Once I got to the states I started volunteering to tutor at a nearby homeless shelter and donating to local charities whenever I was able. Being able to actually witness the changes you are making in even one person’s life is the most rewarding thing I’ve ever experienced. Being able to actually be there in Haiti, to see the devastation with our own eyes, actually go through the physical work of building the refuge and then experience the sense of accomplishment once it’s built is a once-in-a-lifetime chance (I apologize for the extremely long answer).

How did you approach the task of raising $5,000 in donations?

Through the extreme generosity of my father I was able to be the first person to reach the $5,000 goal. He helped me by approaching all of his colleagues and asking them if they would be willing to donate, he also donated a large amount of the money himself and I am slowly building up the funds to pay him back by taking the semester off from college to work I’ve also offered all my friends and classmates, as well as my younger sister’s classmates, to proof-read any essays or term papers they have to write since I am an English major at UCLA for 5-10 dollars depending on the amount of pages; I’ve actually helped quite a few of them get pretty high scores which is a pretty cool feeling for me. Some people had some really hurtful comments when they found out that my dad “paid” for my spot on the team, rather than me getting donations, but as far as I’m concerned it doesn’t matter where or how you get the money, however you reach the goal the money is being used to fund the same cause and an extremely worthy one at that.

What are a few of your best fundraising tips?

One of the things I found to be really effective was simply reminding people about the horrific events of last year and showing them pictures I found online of the extreme devastation. In the aftermath of the Japanese tsunami many people were so focused on sending aid and donations that they forgot the fact that Haiti is still desperately trying to recover from the crippling results of their own natural disaster. However, I’m overwhelmingly excited that a portion of the money we raise will be going to help the victims of the tsunami. It’s a pretty fantastic two-for-one deal. As for other fundraising ideas get creative, utilize your unique skills and offer people something they can’t get anywhere else. Approach small local businesses and ask if they’re willing to put flyers up in their windows advertising what you’re trying to do, or possibly even keep a stack by the register or hand them out with purchases, hell just go up to people on the street even. Talk to friends who aren’t able to go on the trip and ask them if they’d be willing to donate 5 or 10 dollars. Also, a bikini carwash (especially around a college campus, maybe a few frat houses) never hurt anyone, right ladies.

Can you offer any words of encouragement to those still working towards their fundraising goal?

Just keep going and don’t give up. You might be surprised at how many people you find who are willing to help out. You still have 47 days to go so keep chugging along and I’m looking forward to meeting you all.