BRATTLEBORO -- The only thing Daniel Herlocker has in common with Africa, so far, is his wife. And he can't wait to see the majestic continent that has stolen her away four times already.
Lauren Rose Herlocker has traveled to Africa on three different occasions, both with umbrella organizations and by herself, and she and her husband have planned a trip through three countries before winding up in Gisenyi, Rwanda, where they will help build a new house for a family Lauren has gotten to know. So the trip will be part-tourist, part-humanitarian in nature and Daniel will get to experience the culture Lauren, 32, has fallen in love with.
The couple, both nurses by profession, will embark on an overland trip through Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda after departing from John F. Kennedy International Airport on Friday, Jan. 10, and Lauren expects they will land in Rwanda around mid-March.
"I'm so excited for (Daniel) to see this area that I keep going back to, that I have a connection to. And for us to go on this extraordinary adventure is just the first part of it," she said, adding that the region's picturesque landscapes can captivate anyone.
Daniel, 39, said he is excited to experience the real Africa -- and not just what is perpetuated through the media.
"I'm very much looking forward to the trip. It will be a nice opportunity to work in and see Africa," he said via phone while on break from a nursing round at Grace Cottage Hospital in Townshend. "For me, Africa has always been what you see in National Geographic and things like that."
Upon arriving in Rwanda, the couple will dedicate the rest of their trip to help build a new home for a disadvantaged family Lauren met through her interpreter Felix Rudasingwa, who works for a microloan organization called Rwanda Sustainable Families. The family's matriarch, Solome, is a microloan recipient and a rabbit farmer.
"They had a house and it was washed away by a landslide. So the government gave them a piece of land, which they own, which is where the corrugated metal structure is. That's all they can afford to build," Lauren said. "They have built a foundation for a house, because what they use for foundation in that part of the country is volcanic rock ... but they don't have money for materials for the rest of the house."
Lauren, a per diem nurse at Brattleboro Memorial Hospital, said the family have been living in the metal structure for nearly three years. She also said both Solome and her husband are HIV-positive and the husband suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder after having lost an eye due to a shrapnel wound during the Rwandan Genocide.
The African nation has been through a nightmarish ordeal since the airplane of Rwandan President Juvénal Habyarimana was shot down in April 1994, resulting in the mass slaughter of an estimated 800,000 people. It was culmination of pent-up aggression and hatred between two of the country's ethnic groups, as the majority Hutus, who had been in power since the late 1950s, tried to wipe out the minority Tutsis.
Solome's family, consisting of four children, is still reeling from the effects of the genocide and is unable to raise enough money to build a new home. That's why the Herlockers have taken it upon themselves to generates funds. Lauren estimates it will take $3,000 for the labor and materials for a new home and a Facebook page she set up last year -- "Inshuti of Rwanda" -- now has a way for people to donate money. She said "Inshuti" means "Friends."
"The last couple of months have been tough -- it's been rainy there, and their roof was leaking so they all have to scrunch to one side of this tiny structure," Lauren said. "So they've been really anxious for us to arrive, as you can imagine."
Daniel said he is optimistic he and his wife can raise the money, as Solome's family needs every dime of it.
This will be Lauren's fourth time to Africa, and third time to Rwanda. Two years ago, she went after a friend who works at the University of Florida secured a large grant to build water filtration systems in a village of the Twa people, Rwanda's poorest ethnic group. Lauren ventured to Africa to ensure the water filters would be used properly. She also taught some health education classes.
"Being an emergency room nurse ... I'm in Western medicine and I'm doing crazy amounts of procedures with intense medications and it's very fast-paced. And this is very slow and extraordinarily basic, but very effective," she said, adding that many Rwandans suffer from injuries worsened by poor hygiene and nutrition. Lauren said she brought visual aids on a previous trip and it makes students of health education more engaged.
The Herlockers, who honeymooned in Thailand, are a well-traveled couple, having been to France, Belgium and Colorado since Lauren returned from Rwanda last year. Lauren told the Reformer she has a long-time fascination with Africa and hopes to share that with her husband.
"I think that people who enjoy traveling kind of have an area or region of the world that attracts them for whatever reason. Well before I ever went to Africa, I was always intrigued, read a lot of books. It's just such a vast, untapped continent," she said. "It's the one that people tend to shy away from or get a little nervous to travel to or know the least about and I just enjoy reading about their culture and history and their climate and their way of life -- the simplicity of it all. It's my favorite time of the year, when I can chuck my cell phone off to the side for however long I'm going to be there -- no e-mails, no phones and just be."
Domenic Poli can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoli_reformer.