As this 5 week journey is coming to a close, I find myself reflecting back on my time here in Kenya and how drastically it has changed many aspects of my life. Growing up as a white female in a financially stable household, living in towns where poverty doesn’t exist, in a developed country based on democracy, I have never come face-to-face with the hardships experienced by the vast majority of people living in developing or third world countries. I was ignorant of the issues of extreme poverty, trash and garbage buildup causing extreme air pollution and other negative environmental effects, and the lowered quality of life that exists in many places outside the US. Traveling to Kenya has been the most life-changing, perspective-gaining, and eye-opening experience I have ever had. This journey has washed away all my previous ignorance of these issues and replaced it with empathy for those who face significantly more hardships on a daily basis than me or most other people from my country.
Our journey began back in January when we all decided to submit an application to be a participant in the 2017 CHI summer abroad. After interviews, meetings, and team bonding exercises our departure date fast approached. Then the real journey across the world began. After twenty hours in the air and a night in Dubai, we finally arrived in Nairobi. We were greeted by James and Joan, the family that we would be living with for five weeks. On our drive to the house we were quickly introduced to the style of driving in Kenya, the roadside shops, and the constant stares from locals, but that was just the beginning. After a few days of adjustment we got to see the CHI Academy, the kids – and then we were packing for our first weekend excursion to Mombasa and in an instant our first week was over.
We are now a little more than halfway done with this trip/experience/journey. And I can officially say that this is probably the coolest and most eye opening adventure I could have experienced over the course of a month. There are so many amazing things, like the joy of the people we meet, the waves and smiles we receive. Yet at the same time on the same streets we see heartbreaking issues every day.
Four weeks ago, I knew almost nothing about Kenya, its culture, or its people. As I sit and reflect on my time here so far, I realize how truly shocked I am every day. No one could have prepared me for everything I’ve seen, done, smelled, and experienced. On our first day in Kenya all of the participants clamored with confusion and excitement as we drove through the cities, pointing out every difference from back home. The roads have no lanes, they drive on the opposite side of the road, piles of burning trash are never out of sight, and a bus full of white people is quite a spectacle. Although the differences may seem minute and insignificant, we were all awed at them the whole way to our new, month-long home. No amount of informational meetings could have prepared me for this.
My name is Jesus (Jesse) Ceballos and we are now one week away from leaving Kenya, and this experience is the most amazing thing I have ever done and has completely changed my life.
I come from a family that struggles to get by and lives in poverty in Southwest Santa Rosa which is a pretty bad part of town with gang activity and car accidents every couple of days. I have always been appreciative of everything in my life, but this trip showed me I have way more than I believed I did. The things I have witnessed, whether it was visiting the homes of the children at CHI, or just driving down the street, show me that the poverty and problems that we have back home are nothing compared to the things that go on in Kenya.
Throughout the past four weeks of our stay in Kenya, we have worked closely with both the students and staff of CHI Academy. Recently, on Wednesday, we were given the opportunity to visit a local public school. Despite being so involved at CHI, we had no idea what educational barriers and obstacles public schools face in Kenya.
The first thing that surprised me when I got to Kenya was the amount of trash lying around. You couldn’t look at a patch of grass without spotting something littered there. The water smells rancid because of all of the plastic that soaks in it. I’ve seen two or three Kenyans walking around with gloves picking up some trash, but it doesn’t put a dent in the piles of garbage that sit around getting bigger. Every time our bus drives by all the trash scattered around, it makes me feel depressed that no one seems to care. One thing I won’t take for granted when I get back to the States is the garbage trucks.
As we wrap up the final week here in Ruiru, I reflect on the food we have been provided throughout this trip. Before we had even embarked on our journey, I was trying to imagine how the food was going to be and how I was going to react. I was anxious to try new foods, and I knew this was all part of the experience.
I just want to tell you a couple of things before I start my story. My name is Jazlin Montgomery and I can freely say I am the most spoiled, privileged kid on this trip. When I signed up for this trip, I thought I was a good person. Now I know how to become one. My first two weeks here were hard, but only because I made it hard on myself. I was completely negative and I acted like a spoiled brat.
As I sit on the porch here in Ruiru, Kenya, I watch the sun slowly slip behind the clouds, creating a light blue hue dripping into a pink horizon. I know that typing out this brief message will never begin to encompass my experiences here in Africa, but I will attempt to express the way that this place has touched my life.
One of the most potent and memorable things that I have done so far is visit the homes of a few of the students who attend Children’s Humanitarian International Academy. The first home we visited belonged to a young boy, his mother, and his little brother. The mother greeted us with hugs and led us into her miniscule apartment, one unit in a complex of dozens. She was very hospitable as she allowed our group of ten to sit down, but beneath her kindness, one could see she was embarrassed by the visit of a group of white people who wanted to see her standard of living.
Today, we had a very typical day in school. We were there by nine, just in time for our daily Kiswahili class. We learned the names of various body parts, proper nouns, greetings and numbers. An hour later, our guest speaker, Teacher James, came in to teach us some Kenyan history. After an hour of his frantic scrawling on the board, we had lunch. The time between classes when we get to spend time with the kids is always the best. All of them are shy, and the little English they know is hardly enough to communicate with us, creating a confusing ball of energy, the two groups trying to communicate with one another. Fortunately we can make do. Lunch was followed by an hour of work time. We are still in the beginning stages of our planning, arguing about which projects to do and how to do them. The best part of the day, however, was the last hour and a half. From 3:30 to 5:00, we went to the soccer field behind the school to play with the kids. I taught them how to play badminton, and they caught on incredibly quickly.
One of the main reasons I came to Kenya was to help out and be with kids. Being around kids and being able to fill them with knowledge has always warmed my heart. So getting to meet the kids today was amazing. Something that I also always had in mind was to come to Kenya. I now realize that I actually want to be a teacher and spend the rest of my life around kids. Today was the first day meeting the kids and I already know that this is what I want. I want to always be happy with what I want to do, and deep down I know this is right for me. The kids are so inspiring and inspired! I fell in love.