Anna Shchelokova probably couldn't imagine, growing up in Russia, that she would one day be an American high school student repairing bicycles on a summer trip to Zambia and preparing to use a $1,000 award to start her own teen fitness business venture.
But that's just what has happened to Shchelokova, who will enter her junior year at this fall, where she is a student in the bio-science academy. Her summer work in Africa - and upcoming business venture - have both come about through her participation with LearnServe International. This nonprofit group instructs high school students from the greater Washington, DC region about ways they can help local and global communities contend with the challenges of hunger, poverty, climate change, economic downturns, and more.
During the school year, students participating in LearnServe work on local issues, but over the summer there are opportunities to take trips overseas, including Paraguay and Zambia, where Shchelokova spent two and a half weeks doing community service work.
Her days consisted of teaching and leading activities in the Malambo and Chickumbuso schools, assembling and distributing bicycles to help children get to school and meeting with members of Africa Directions - a youth-led nonprofit group that strives to address the needs of youth in Zambia. The DC-area group took time out to enjoy a safari and an excursion to Victoria Falls.
Shchelokova said the trip offered a unique opportunity to compare the lifestyle and culture of people in Zambia with that of Americans.
"It helped me to realize that people on the other side of world are not very different from people that we see every day, and that we are very lucky to live in such good conditions and have a lot of opportunities," Shchelokova said.
She said she had little adjustment in Africa, as she found the Zambian people to be friendly and welcoming. The only issue was getting accustomed to different accents and speech patterns.
"It took some time to get used to it and start understanding what they are saying," Shchelokova said. "We got an opportunity to teach in school, which I also liked. Now I understand how hard it is to be a teacher."
This fall, Shchelokova is continuing with the work of trying to improve communities through a $1,000 award she received from LearnServe to put a business plan she developed into play. Shchelokova, whose parents frequently take her and her brother on hiking, camping and other excursions around the Washington, DC, area, wanted to start a program to get kids more active, out of the house and away from the computer. She plans to use the money to organize youth hikes, museum outings and other trips beginning this fall.
"The idea is just getting up and going, as opposed to sitting around the house," said Catherine Sobieszczyk, a Wheaton High School teacher in the bio-science academy who taught Shchelokova during her freshman and sophomore years.
"She is so incredibly driven," Sobieszczyk said. "She pushes herself to do things of top-notch quality."
As for Shchelokova, she plans to attend college in the United States and is considering continuing studies in biology or chemistry. Inspired by her trip to Zambia, she hopes to raise funding for some African organizations she's gotten to know, and to see more of the world.
""Maybe I will look for a job which will involve traveling," she said.