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DailyTidings.com
  • ASHLAND HIGH SCHOOL

    Aurora Sherman: Africa on Her Own

    AHS senior is ready for her next adventure
  • Like many of her graduating classmates at Ashland High School, Aurora Sherman can't say exactly what she wants to do for the rest of her life. She does have a few things figured out about herself, however.
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    • If you go
      What: Ashland High School graduation
      When: 6:30 p.m. Friday, May 30
      Where: Lithia Park's Butler Band Shell, 59 Winburn Way
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      If you go
      What: Ashland High School graduation

      When: 6:30 p.m. Friday, May 30

      Where: Lithia Park's Butler Band Shell, 59 Winburn Way
  • Like many of her graduating classmates at Ashland High School, Aurora Sherman can't say exactly what she wants to do for the rest of her life. She does have a few things figured out about herself, however.
    She knows she wants to travel the world, and she strongly wants to work helping people. It sort of runs in the family.
    Her father, Will Sherman, a former Alaskan bush pilot and a lawyer, has worked as a pilot in Nicaragua, Iraq and Afghanistan, where he founded an innovative small nonprofit, the Afghan Child Project, in his spare time.
    Her mom, Becky Sherman, raised in Alaska by globe-trotting missionary pilot Dwayne King and his wife, Carolyn, traveled, worked and studied in Africa, Japan and Israel while in college. A clinical nurse at La Clinica, she recently earned her master's degree in international public health, with an eye toward returning to Africa.
    Aurora's first international trip was at age 9 months, when she and her mom went to visit the Kings, who were then living and working in Russia.
    Her sister Taiga, 12, has been to Europe with the family, and also loves international travel. Even the family's dog, Santo, is from Italy.
    As she prepares to attend Clark Honors College at the University of Oregon in the fall, Aurora hopes to become a teacher. This is a longtime interest reinforced by an adventure on her own in Africa last summer.
    For most of her six weeks in Uganda, Aurora was a volunteer teacher and tutor of English in Kampala at Dwelling Places, an organization dedicated to helping the many thousands of street children there.
    "The goal is to resettle these children," she says, either "back with their families, or with a new family, or "¦ to a boarding school."
    She loved getting to know the kids, and was impressed with the friendliness of Ugandans. But the harsh poverty of many of their lives "was awful," she says. "They've gone through more than I will ever experience." She had to cope. "I was able to say, well, I can't let this get to me. I have to be able to work."
    Her friends were the staff members at Dwelling Places, who took her to traditional ceremonies and events, enabling her to experience Ugandan customs of marriage, birth and death.
    In the end, Aurora says going alone to Africa was what enabled her to have an amazing summer teaching children and getting to know another culture. "Because I was on my own, I got to experience everything," she says. "It was really different."
    Will and Becky had been on board with Aurora's trip to Africa last summer, even when it meant their 16-year-old daughter would be traveling alone.
    At first, they thought Aurora would be staying at the home of their good friends in Kenya and working at a respected orphanage.
    But unexpectedly, their friends had to move away for their work, and the whole Kenya plan fell through. There was just about two weeks until the flight date. "We were really freaking out," says Aurora.
    Will was then in Afghanistan, piloting for a defense contractor. He connected with an African acquaintance at Bagram Air Base who had a sister employed by a nonprofit helping kids in Uganda. Dwelling Places agreed to take Aurora as a volunteer, even providing housing (see www.dwellingplaces.org).
    Problem solved. But there was still a moment of doubt, especially for Becky. Aurora would now be "going to another country, a different city, staying with people we'd never heard of or met. I had a lot of concerns," she says.
    Becky moved quickly to construct a safety net for her daughter. She contacted her youngest brother and another friend, both pilots working in Kenya. Each agreed he could fly to Kampala in hours, and do whatever was needed to help. "In an emergency," she says, "I had people who could grab her."
    After the destination had changed from Kenya to Uganda, "I had no idea what I was getting myself into," Aurora says. "I had to become very self-reliant, very independent."
    Near the end of her six-week stay, she was able to visit several schools in the smaller town of Jinja, at the fabled source of the Nile River, again traveling alone. And, being in Africa, she decided to sign onto a three-day safari, where "I had a blast," she says.
    "It was so hard to leave," she says. Although Aurora had been homesick at first, she had become close to her new friends. On the last day they took her to Lake Victoria for a day at the beach, and then went to see her off at the airport.
    "I think I'm a pretty typical student," she says, and notes that quite a few others at AHS have done international work projects. "But I think I'm the only one who had no problem going alone."
    David Chuse is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach him at dgchuse@gmail.com.
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