Last year, Chief Stew Jodi Samuel signed up for a volunteer project in Africa. She asked her 400 Facebook friends to donate money to her cause. But no one did.
“They thought it was a scam,” Samuel said, as she smiled. “People didn’t think it was me, that I had changed that much.”
The freckle-faced, 38-year-old said she wasn’t the type to volunteer for an altruistic adventure.
“She was quiet and scared,” Deckhand Darrel Waller said of the time he worked with Samuel on M/Y Camille in 2009.
“She was scared to adventure out and try things,” Waller said. “I would say she was lost.”
Not much in Samuel’s early years indicated she would volunteer to paint a women’s prison, construct communal toilets or build a playground in Africa’s largest slum. Samuel grew up in Mt. Laurel, N.J., a suburb of Philadelphia. She sailed on her family’s Beneteau and raced off Long Island, N.Y. and the U.S. East coast. She and her family were members of the Manhattan Sailing Club in New York. She worked at Barneys luxury department store in New York City. She worked at Burgess Yachts and Sparkman & Stephens.
Samuel started working on yachts in 2008 and worked on yachts including, Trading Places, Boardwalk, Camille and Dance Smartly.
Substantive changes began for Samuel when she started practicing yoga during the summer of 2010 while working a as deck/stew on a 130-foot Westport based in Norwalk, Conn.
“I started yoga to get off the boat and to help to deal,” Samuel said.
“I didn’t realize how it was affecting me, but the yoga I was doing unknowingly gave me confidence,” Samuel said. “The courage and confidence to deal with stressful situations on yachts, demanding owners, difficult crew.”
After the end of a job as chief stew, she vacationed to South Africa with a friend she met in a crew house.
“That gave me a great orientation to the location, but I experienced elite South Africa,” Samuel said of her first visit to the continent.
When Samuel returned to the United States, she more closely read the flyer in the yoga studio announcing a Seva Safari with Africa Yoga Project. This time she decided to see the non-elite part of Africa for herself.
“I realized what yoga did for me and how it helped,” she said. “And I wanted to share that.”
Yoga had help give her courage to take on something new. And seva is Sanskrit for selfless service and safari is Swahili for journey. She started to gather the $5,000 pledge to volunteer for 12 days in Nairobi, Kenya.
M/Y Enchanta allowed her to hold a donation sunset cocktail party to benefit the Africa Yoga Project onboard the 1953 Abeking & Rasmussen classic yawl.
Samuel worked as freelance crew for Capt. Craig Jones and Chef/mate Sara Ventiera on M/Y Current Issue, and they helped her raise funds, also.
“She was very focused on her upcoming trip,” Ventiera said. “Jodi raised money by charging ten dollars for the ring toss in Sampson Cay and made $200 as a bar back.”
“She did all the right things,” Jones said. “We enjoyed hearing of her aspirations.”
In March, Samuel headed to Kenya. And since that day she has been touched by what she saw there. She hopes the lives of the people she helped have been changed too.
“These people live with nothing, just mud with tin nailed to it,” she said. “But they are happy and so proud, even walking six flights up with buckets of water for an entire family in one room.”
Samuel also worked with a partner group, Shining Hope for Communities, which “combats gender inequality and extreme poverty by linking tuition free schools for girls to accessible social services for all”. Samuel joined in to build the slum’s first and only playground.
“It was wood poles with slides, tires filled with recycled flip-flops to cushion blows and an abacus made of tires.” she said.
Samuel painted tires, mixed cement, sawed wood, cut tires. They also build community toilets.
“It was tough, lifting bricks heavier than me up over piles of sewage in the middle of slum and drunk people,” Samuel said.
Everything is mud, there are few toilets and most are not safe for women to use, she said.
“We also painted a building at the Langata women’s prison where most of the prisoners have HIV/AIDS,” Samuel said. “We did yoga with the prisoners and they liked way they felt. It was amazing to see how it helped.”
After working in one of the world’s largest slums, the meaning of ‘service’ is different for Samuel.
And she wants to do more.
“After seeing and being a part of such severe poverty in Africa, working as a stew on yachts has been a difficult adjustment back,” Samuel said.
Samuel said she would love to come up with a way for people from the slums to be able to travel.
“Traveling is educational and life changing, but only really available to the wealthy,” she said.
“I love that Shining Hope is showing them the pathway out of the slum through education,” Samuel said. “But travel and experiencing other cultures first hand teaches you things you cannot learn in a classroom or from a textbook.”
“I know this may sound far fetched, but I wish I could set up a way for them to travel when they get old enough,” Samuel said of the children she met in the slums. “When you change perspective, things change.”
Aside from winning a volunteer award for adventurousness and knot skills, Samuel said yachting helped her deal with long hours, cooperating with the same people and hard work. And yachting gives her the ability to have cash and a vacation, so she will stay with it. But now, she is using her money to help others and to save for her next adventure.
Samuel is considering a degree in psychology, and wants to be a psychologist in South Africa. She’s not positive where she’s headed, but she can tell her direction is positive. Recently, she worked on a charter and the captain gave her a $1,000 tip from the guests. She told him she was going to donate half of it back to Kibera, the slum she worked in.
“He looked at me and said, “Are you kidding me?”,” Samuel said. “I wish I could have taken a photo of his expression.”
It’s not just Samuel and the people of Kibera that have been affected by her adventures. Samuel’s co-workers have taken notice of the changes.
“She really came out of her shell,” Waller said.
“If you knew her before, you would be amazed, she surprised the heck out of me,” he said. “She’s a hundred-percent different now.”
Dorie Cox is associate editor of The Triton. Comments on this story are welcome at email@example.com.