By the time this story is published in the Tracy Press, seven local students will be in the middle of a 16-hour flight to Nairobi, Kenya, with hopes of making a positive difference in the lives of people 9,500 miles from their homes.

Their plane left San Francisco on Thursday afternoon, and Brianna Cariono, Nicole Brown, Makayla Koochou, Nadine Koochou, Hana Oshima, Alexandra Cruz and Cade Albracht will spend a week in Kenya building a library and another week in neighboring Zambia working with young victims of human trafficking.

“I’m a little bit nervous and I’m a little excited, too. Because it’s always the fear of the unknown, right?” Albracht, an incoming senior at Millennium High School, said during a sendoff dinner Monday at the Tracy Police Department in front of family and supporters.

Brown, an incoming West High senior, expressed a global perspective shared by the group.

“You know, we look at our world, and especially in the United States, there’s been so much hate and indifference and dividing, and I think it’s really important that we step out and we see what we can do to help people that are different from us,” she said.

Pete Butler, who works for Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Turlock, and is a veteran who has been deployed abroad, underscored the importance of the work the teens will do.

“When you guys go there, definitely show them what Americans are,” he told them.

Drug Abuse Resistance Education officer Steve Abercrombie began planning the trip back in August with Tracy police officer Troy Silcox after D.A.R.E. students donated more than 3,000 books to libraries in Africa, including the one to be built this trip. They call the effort Tracy Ambassadors to Africa, but Abercrombie said the advocacy the seven Tracy teens will take up is not just international.

“They’ll definitely be doing some ambassador-type work for the next year,” he said, explaining that they were already set up to speak to community groups, service clubs and faith-based organizations when they return — including a presentation to the City Council on July 17.

For University of San Francisco freshman and recent Tracy High graduate Makayla Koochou, the lessons she will bring back will be the most important of all.

“I’m really excited to witness a new culture that I haven’t seen before, and I’m really excited to meet the indigenous people there and talk to them about their daily lives, gain a new perspective by going there and come back and share it with you guys,” she said.

Brown agreed.

“In America we have a lot of different cultures, but there’re kind of becoming more divisions than unities,” she said. “I think it’s important to realize that different is good. Seeing these people and the way they do their lives is good and then we can bring it back here. I think that’s important. Yeah, we’re going to Africa to do big things, but I think bringing it back is the most important thing.”

The entire group, including incoming Tracy High senior Alexandra Cruz, said faith in God was a big part of their desire to serve.

“I’m really excited to get to connect with the people there in Africa,” she said. “I’m not really afraid because I feel like my faith is bigger than my fear. My faith in everything — that this is his plan and he gave me this opportunity, so of course I’m going to pursue it.”

Hana Oshima, an incoming senior at St. Mary’s High School in Stockton, said that God brought the group together for a reason.

“He has a plan and I wouldn’t have met these people and created really awesome relationships with these people without him. This is just everything,” she said.

Albracht believes their experience will help shape their lives and their community in new ways.

“What could we change and what could we do differently?” he said, adding that he and the other students were all grateful for what they had in their lives. “We’re grateful before, but now what can we do differently to help people who don’t have what we have?”

Abercrombie said he raised $40,000 from within the community — including complete sponsorship for one person by Prologis International — to send the group, with an adult chaperone, on the two-week trip. Businesses or organizations interested in donating to Tracy Ambassadors to Africa can contact Abercrombie at officerabs@yahoo.com or at the Tracy Police Department, 831-6647.

Contact Michael Ellis Langley at mlangley@tracypress.com or 830-4231.

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