We asked Heather Parisi, Founder of education charity Fitness for Africa, to tell us about her work and her love of the continent
What was your childhood like?
My childhood was truly very special. I grew up in a ‘Leave it to Beaver’ household, where my mum and dad were the exemplary parents. I was truly blessed to be able to participate in gymnastics and to go after my dreams of the Olympics with their full support. Life was really one where I never had a worry and my parents always made sure that my brother and I were taken care of. As kids you never realise just how much your parents are doing to assure you, as a child, have no worries and put your head on a pillow every night in peace.
When was your first visit to Africa?
My first trip to Africa was in August 2008, when I went on a three-week safari to Kenya and Tanzania.
How has Africa changed your life?
Africa has immersed me in a culture that has added new breath to the depth of who I am and where I see my future. Africa, as a whole, is a place where the smell of fresh air when you are on safari opens your mind to a purity unlike anywhere else I have ever been. There is a grace and a dance that takes place in the plains that is like a canvas being painted with you in the centre. Everyday I wake I feel happy that I am living out my dreams with the community in Uganda, and I look forward to seeing where this journey takes me.
What is Fitness for Africa?
It is a non-profit charity organisation that provides education scholarships to vulnerable families across Africa and also teaches them fitness and wellness skills.
Why have you targeted Uganda primarily for your non-profit organisation?
Uganda has had a special place in my heart, ever since I went gorilla trekking in 2011 and learnt about the atrocities of Idi Amin, Joseph Kony and the LRA. I knew that it was my calling to bring education and health to the people of Uganda. This was my calling to assure that healthy lifestyles were opened to everyone and that they had the tools necessary to live a healthy life.
What challenges lie ahead for you?
Pearl of Hope is currently being forced to move to a new location and the raising of sufficient funds to relocate is a very big challenge at the moment. The day-to-day challenges of overcoming trust and differences in culture and understanding will always play a role in how Fitness For Africa is accepted… I’m hopeful that, over time, with consistency and patience, the people in my village will open their hearts and minds to the belief that I am here to stay and that I am not leaving.
What is it about Africa, in general, that you want people to know from your time there?
Africa is pure. From the landscape that offers some of the most beautiful sunsets I have ever seen to the animals and the cycle of life that takes place everyday to the innocence of the culture in the villages… Africa is pure… Raw, beautiful and truly just pure – a place that everyone should venture to at least once, as it will open your mind and change your life like no other place on Earth.
How can others help?
If someone is interested in helping you can make a donation at www.FitnessForAfrica.org or you can join our PenPal project and share an experience with an individual from the village.