“Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul – and sings the tunes without the words – and never stops at all.” -Emily Dickinson
In 2010, Rachel Smylie joined The Road Less Traveled as a high school student on our trip to Tanzania. She was our hopeful bird—ever-positive and always bringing joy to those around her.
Her energy was contagious, and she filled every room she entered with happiness and light. One of our favorite photos of her showcases that beaming smile as she laughs, arms wrapped around the wrinkly trunk of an elephant, while in Africa. Her adventurous and hopeful spirit pulled her to see the world and help others, and her beaming, joyous smile accompanied her along the way.
During her time in Tanzania, Rachel not only hugged elephants, but also worked with children touched by HIV/AIDS, helped build a new dormitory for local villagers, and got to experience a world completely different from her own.
Entering the trip, Rachel didn’t know any of her fellow travelers, but by the end of her journey she had formed many close friendships. She also realized her passion for the people of Africa, and planned to return again. She wanted to continue investing her time and energy in the place she had grown to know and love.
Here’s what Whitney Hall, one of our trip leaders from Rachel’s time in Tanzania, had to say about Rachel:
“In the summer of 2010, Rachel was a participant on my program with the Road Less Traveled… Rachel emerged suddenly and unexpectedly as a leader… Even in the airport in Newark, I remember Rachel was leading ice-breaker games that I had only just learned at training. I remember so clearly that she had brought cards and candy to share with other students, and she genuinely just wanted to bond with the group. She was someone who brought people together out of good will and with best intentions, and she was so good at making everything exciting and possible… Many people live their whole lives afraid to take advantage of an opportunity or chase an adventure out of fear of the unknown or straying from what is the norm. Rachel was not one of those people. Her spirit will live on always, and the world is a better place having had her in it.”
Rachel’s time in Tanzania was a life-changing experience. After her trip, Rachel went on to the University of Michigan and continued her work with HIV/AIDS patients at a local clinic, where she used her experience with The Road Less Traveled to help those struggling with the disease. When the opportunity to study abroad arose, she knew she wanted to return to Africa. She headed off to the University of Cape Town in South Africa, where she happily spent two months studying and was slated to begin working at a local South African HIV/AIDS clinic. Sadly, her life was unexpectedly cut short on April 7, 2014.
We will carry the loss of this wonderful young woman we loved and respected in our hearts for years to come. Her life, as well as her passion for Africa, will be honored with her family’s establishment of the Rachel G. Smylie Memorial Scholarship through Geography of Hope. Through this scholarship, other students interested in traveling to Tanzania with The Road Less Traveled will have the same wonderful opportunity she did.
Her life will continue to positively impact the world through this scholarship and the opportunities it will provide for others. To learn more about how you can contribute to this scholarship fund, find details on the memorial service, or see photos from Rachel’s first trip to Africa, visit the Rachel G. Smylie Memorial Scholarship page.