Sophia Brown is a rising junior at James Madison High School in Vienna, and despite being only half-way through her high school career, she is making major strides in helping communities across the world. Brown’s parents met in the Peace Corps, and their unwavering dedication to foreign service inspired their daughter to donate her own time to others. Partiularly her mother’s work on international development inspired her and helped her cultivate her own love to work with other cultures.
“I grew up in a family that is very internationally oriented, and my parents foreign service inspired me,” said Brown. “My mom went to Africa for work a lot and would take my old clothes with her to give to the kids, and she would take pictures of the kids in my clothes and show me. My mom is so selfless in every way, it inspired me to do community service for the rest of my life.”
Brown also is passionate about education and access to education, which many kids in Tanzania struggle with as they have to walk miles to school and often the schools lack supplies. “Kids need transportation to get education. So it all started when I was a Girl Scouts Brownie and started working with Wheels to Africa. They help create access to education and transportation for the kids,” she said.
Armed with her passion for education and foreign service, Brown set out to help the communities in Tanzania with getting bikes and books, two everyday items here in America, which can be life changing for children in Africa. She partnered with the local non-profit Wheels to Africa, which collects donated bikes to help African communities.
“Without education, there is no access to anything. The kids cannot excel in life without education as Tanzania’s economy is based on tourism and towns are tourism based, so they need to have basic education and English skills to make an income,” Brown said. “They need an introduction to English and need to be able to get to school and other places. Books give a leeway into learning and becoming a professional, while a bike helps with freedom and getting food, water or help.”
Brown’s work with Wheels to Africa was not only to make a difference abroad, but to earn her Girl Scout Gold Award which requires at least 30 hours of service among other requirements such as proposals and essays. Brown set out to get help from the community, as many people have items like books and bikes laying around. She ran a bike drive at Madison High, which garnered about 50 donated bikes. “If you can, always donate used bikes. They are just in a shed at home, but can totally transform lives, and books too are just laying around,” Brown said of the everyday items people may not realize could make a difference.
After about a year of planning, and collecting donations such as bikes, books and money, Brown was ready for her two-week trip to Africa in mid-June and was able to bring 300 bikes to Tanzanians alongside Wheels to Africa. Brown got to see all her hard work come to fruition firsthand. “Being able to be face to face and see up close the change we were making in their lives was so rewarding,” she said. “They were so grateful for what we were giving them. To see children’s faces light up and see books and colors they haven’t before, it feels like you are making a difference when to us they were just simple things, and they can transform their lives.”
U.S. News and World Report reported that Tanzania is one of the world’s poorest economies in terms of per capita income. With many families struggling to make ends meet and a variety of health concerns in the nation, Tanzanian communities were grateful for Brown’s help.
While Brown certainly has made her mark in Tanzania, she also holds events right in Fairfax County to bring more awareness to the needs of those abroad. “One event I hosted was a walk called ‘Bridge the Gap’, where I wanted to show representation of what walking five miles is like, as that is what children in Tanzania take to get to school on an empty stomach,” Brown said. The event was meant to show the community how children struggle to get an education and bring more awareness to Brown’s work.
For anyone looking to support Brown and Wheels to Africa’s work in the future, funds, bikes and books are always helpful for their service endeavors. Brown hopes to have more drives and events soon to get the community involved, and head back to Africa as soon as possible.
To get more information on Brown and Wheels to Africa’s work check out @booksandbikesforafrica on Instagram or https://wheels-to-africa.org/