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Viking Fest ambassador is widening her reach
POULSBO — As Miss Viking Fest, Rachel Daniels has traveled much of Washington, touting a sash and bounad in representation of Little Norway. Not long after she passes her crown this April, she’ll take her ambassadorial skills much farther.
Daniels, 17, is preparing for a month-long trip to Swaziland, a country situated between South Africa and Mozambique.
It’s the country with the highest known HIV/AIDS prevalence rate in the world.
There, she’ll spread disease prevention education to kids, along with a message of hope to inflicted adults.
At ease in a purple peace sign T-shirt, Daniels lets her grin grow wide as she explains Georgia-based Adventures in Missions (AIM), the group she’ll travel with come June 19 — just days after she’ll hang her cap as a Kingston High senior.
“I don’t even know what to expect,” she says, “but I know it’s going to be life changing.”
You could argue the life changing experience has already begun: Last year youth group leader Jessica Young screened “Dear Francis,” a film chronicle of Swaziland AIDS victims, which ignited Daniels’ journey.
The movie depicts a country where polygamy is legalized and homosexuality is not; where sex is viewed as a sport and incest is popular; where nearly 50 percent of 25- to 29-year-olds carry HIV; where hungry young girls trade sex for food and women have an economical value of 15 cows.
A place where any person has a one in 10 chance of reaching age 35.
“I couldn’t get it out of my head,” Daniels said.
It brought her youth group to tears, and brought Swaziland into the crosshairs of Daniels’ capable focus.
Young didn’t waste a minute thinking the film wouldn’t incite action.
“I didn’t really speculate whether it wouldn’t, I just assumed it would,” she said. “I didn’t really see how it couldn’t.”
Young first showed the movie to her all-girls group, which then decided to show the film to the whole of Poulsbo’s First Lutheran Church congregation.
“The teenagers that live here don’t realize how protected they are,” Young explained. “We take our choices for granted. The ability to have sex or not to have sex. (In Swaziland) they don’t realize that choice, and it’s killing them at a very rapid rate.”
As far as Daniels, Young said she’s a role model in following the heart.
“She’s dedicated, she’s hardworking, she’s driven. She doesn’t settle for ‘less than.’ She sets goals and she achieves them,” Young said. “She’s always keeping in mind what she sees God putting in front of her. She didn’t in any way plan to go to Swaziland the summer after she graduated from high school. It just set on her heart as something she had to do and she did the research and she did it.”
In Swaziland, Daniels said she and her fellow teen ambassadors, of which there will be 10 to 15, will be “roughing it,” sleeping on floors and chowing on peanut butter sandwiches daily for lunch.
She’ll need eight different medical shots before she leaves, and — the kicker: $4,500.
She’s made progress to that end — thanks in large part, she says, to her family — and is hosting two car washes to earn more. On Jan. 24 Daniels will host a car wash at the Kingston Thriftway from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., and on Feb. 21 she’ll hold another at the Albertsons in Poulsbo from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
She’s also taking donations, and has saved more than $1,600 in her own earnings.
While Daniels admitted times are tough, making it even tougher to ask for financial support, she also wants to shed light on the existence of mission opportunities.
To those who question why she’d want to travel to Africa, why she’d put herself on the line to help those so far from home, all she needs is to quote the statistics. The need is there, she says, and she’s ready to meet it.
This fall, Daniels will transition to Pacific Lutheran University, where she’ll study to be an elementary school teacher.
To learn more, contact Daniels at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit her blog at http://09sw0619amb1.myadventures.org.