Author Pat Conroy wrote: “Once you have traveled, the voyage never ends, but is played out over and over again in the quietest chambers. The mind can never break off from the journey.” I found this to be true after I had the opportunity to spend two weeks volunteering in Kenya over Spring Break.
On March 13, we began our long journey to Africa. After roughly 40 hours of flying along with a 6-hour lorrie ride we finally made it to camp. When we saw where we would spend the next two weeks for the first time, we were all in awe. The land was so different than Canadian soil, but so beautiful nonetheless. We had some time to settle in and unpack. Together, we shared five tents and everyone had their own cot to sleep on. We quickly then headed to Ngosuani Primary School, where we would be spending a lot of our time over the coming weeks.
One of the teachers gave us a tour and taught us about the school. We saw the newer schools and where we would be building one, but then we were also shown the old schools. After stepping inside, we were immediately struck with shock. We were only there for a short period of time and all eight of us, a group of high school students, could not even focus in this classroom. The desks were so small and falling apart. The tin roof would bang and clash loudly against the bricks. This was one of the first times we all began to understand the meaning of this trip.
The next morning before breakfast, we took a hike just outside of camp. Within a few minutes of walking we were face-to-face with a herd of giraffes. We ate breakfast and then had our first Kiswahili lesson taught by two Maasai warriors. They were patient as we struggled to pronounce words from their native language. After lunch we had our first interaction with the kids. The Kiswahili we learned in the morning was not much help, but the need for a common language faded as we all began to play together. The kids would run all the way to you just to hold your hand. The excitement on their faces was contagious, as they would bring you to meet their friends or play a game with them. That afternoon, we began to understand that our work would benefit our new friends and it drove us to work that much harder.
The next big event for us was the water walk. We woke up early and walked about one kilometre to a mama’s house. (Mama is a title of respect and endearment for African women.) There, the mama helped us carry jerrycans to a nearby borehole to fill up and carry them back to her house. The walk there was challenging, only to arrive to find a small, muddy puddle where she bent down and began to fill her container. After they were all filled we began our walk back home. Tying them around our heads and on our backs, the 25-litre containers felt nearly impossible to bring all the way back. We each carried one for half of the time, and we were all so sore once we returned. I can’t imagine carrying one of those heavy containers for the full walk, but the mamas do the full walk up to four times a day. The mama returned to camp with us and we shared a great afternoon asking her questions and learning about her daily life.
After lunch we did a module to help us understand some of the issues in Kenya at a deeper level. We discussed the amount of water used in different places in the world and it became obvious how much water Africa lacked. As Victorians we have always had an abundance of clean water. After the water walk and the group discussion, we had a real understanding of the suffering that we were witnessing firsthand.
We studied these modules most nights and they really helped our understanding of the issues facing people living in Africa. They also helped us get a better understanding of ourselves as leaders and students. The modules varied from the water issue, to global simulations where we were given a certain amount of food and a language, and had to trade and buy what we needed with a language barrier. That particular simulation really highlighted, once again, how much Kenya lacks in resources.
That afternoon, we began to understand that our work would benefit our new friends and it drove us to work that much harder.
During our Service Trip we travelled to other villages to look at their schools. We even saw a farm that Free the Children built. It now provides food to local primary schools, which increases the children’s probability of going to school. It was inspiring to see places like the farm, which was now sustained entirely by local people and was very successful. We began to fall into a new normal routine and, during the next 11 days, it felt natural to get up, have breakfast and then work on the school. We’d also drive to other facilities that Free the Children built so we could play with the children and see the impact the organization is having on the people of Kenya.
The most impactful aspect for me was the time spent with the children. It was so moving to watch these kids walk so far to get to school and participate until late in the day just trying to get an education. They had this inspiring love for education and a beautiful joy about them. They taught me to live in the now and not worry about the future. Most of all, they made me really appreciate the little things in life, moments that I otherwise might not have noticed.
When it was time to leave, we all felt as though we were leaving what was our new home, our new friends. We finished the school but it did not feel like the trip was supposed to be over. We struggled to leave, as we hugged our friends for what very well could be the last time.
Even after returning home, Kenya is and will be so prominent in our minds. What we learned from the trip will stay with us as we live our daily lives, and the memories we made, halfway across the world, will last us a lifetime.
Keep an eye on the SMUS Review blog in the coming weeks for more posts from students who participated in Spring Break Service Trips.