By Molly Folse
Journal Staff Writer
Ellison Moore wears a stack of bracelets on her left wrist. Some are just for fun, while others chronicle her travels around the world.
One reads “Tanzania” in yellow block letters. The 15-year-old from Mountain Brook spent five weeks in the east African country in the summer of 2009 with a teen travel program called Rustic Pathways. Working alongside other high school students, she taught English and hygiene skills to Tanzanian children.
Moore also has traveled to South Africa, Costa Rica, Spain, France, New Zealand, Australia, Mexico, Bermuda and several Caribbean islands. She enjoys learning about other cultures and hopes to one day become a diplomat.
“My mom is probably the reason why I love to travel so much,” she said. “She took us so many places when I was little.”
While Moore loves traveling with her family, her most memorable trips have been her recent adventures with Rustic Pathways. Last summer, she spent a month in Fiji helping build a toilet block for a local school. Once the toilet block is complete, the government will recognize the facility, and older students won’t have to walk to another village for secondary school.
Visiting the struggling villages opened Moore’s eyes to a different way of life. The average person she encountered lives on less than $1 a day. The schools had clay walls and dirt floors, and children sat on the ground or on makeshift benches made by the natives. The instructors aren’t exactly qualified to teach, so younger children spend most of their time drawing in coloring books.
“When I left the school in Fiji, they only had one piece of chalk left to use,” Moore said.
On both trips, she compiled lists of things each village needed. But reality soon set in as she realized how great their needs were.
“I knew I couldn’t do it by myself,” she said. “I gave them what I had when I was there, but I don’t have enough money or clothes to come close to meeting their needs.”
That’s when she decided to establish Mission: HISSC, which stands for Help for International Small Schools and Communities. Since establishing a nonprofit is a new experience for most teens, Moore turned to her family for help. Her uncle transferred a previously established nonprofit organization to her name, and Mission: HISSC was born.
Moore’s organization seeks to collect money, clothing and school supplies for the villages where she worked in Tanzania and Fiji.
“Most people don’t know, but it gets really cold in Tanzania, so they need jackets,” she said. “When I was there, it was freezing and it was summertime.
“In Tanzania, their shoes are made out of tires, but in Fiji, I didn’t know one person who had a single pair of shoes.”
Items most needed include clothing, shoes, paper, pencils, markers, solar-powered calculators and water filters.
“Their villages are so far away from where they get supplies that they don’t think to get pencils because they need to get more important things, like food,” Moore said.
There is currently a donation drop box at Mountain Brook Creamery, where Moore works after school. She hopes to soon put other drop boxes at Edgewood Creamery, Mountain Brook High School, Mountain Brook Junior High and at her church.
It has been only a month since she established her nonprofit, but Moore hopes to soon have enough donations to make her first shipments to the villages. One of the Fijians has a mailbox set up at the airport, while donations for the Tanzanian village will be distributed through the Rustic Pathways base.
“I really hope that I can make a difference in these peoples’ lives because they made such a big difference in mine,” said Moore. “They are just so happy, even living in huts, not having anything and not knowing where their next meal is coming from.
“They’re happier than any of the people I know here. They really did show me that happiness is a choice.
“They never ask for anything. When I went around and asked them what they needed, they told me that no one had ever asked them that before.”
Next summer, Moore plans to work in an orphanage and travel to Namibia, Botswana and Morocco. She looks forward to expanding her nonprofit to other villages but said the places she has already visited will always be with her.
“I thought living in those conditions would be hard and uncomfortable, but it really wasn’t,” she said. “Their beds were just slats of wood with a sheet, but if they had one, they let us sleep in it while they slept on the floor.
“It’s hard seeing them live like that, but it puts things in perspective. In the end, the hardest part for me was leaving.”