Sarah Duff rediscovers her sense of adventure as she travels to Kenya to discover more about life as a child in Mama Kerry School and the difficulties of living in Hilton Dump
There’s nothing that comes close to the emotions inspired by travel in Kenya. Strolling through the centre of Nakuru at midday, eyes ahead and worries behind, greeted by smiles and waves. Crouching in the red hot dust of the Mama Kerry School playground, holding a toddler who is taking a much needed nap. Driving through the Rift Valley on the other side of sundown, gazing at the stars, thinking about everything and nothing.
I left Dublin airport on 11 March 2016 with a group of fellow students, on a mission to change the world. I didn’t know what to expect. We were all overwhelmed by the adventure in front of us and the world that was opening up around us. After a long and eventful journey, we stepped out of Nairobi airport into the light. The heat lingered upon our skin, and our eyes were met by scenery so extravagant that it has to be seen to be believed. A 5-hour bumpy bus ride to Nakuru took no time at all as we gazed at the landscape beyond our windows. Kivu Resort felt like home from the moment we tucked ourselves into the safety of our mosquito nets. It was the perfect mixture of practical and luxurious. We settled quickly and, after a reflection of how far we’d already come, both in miles and in mental growth, we drifted into the realm of dreams.
On Sunday, we used the day to adjust and relax. We mingled with local teenagers by the pool; both nationalities were excited to get to know each other. We discovered Kenyan cuisine, and particularly enjoyed the chapatis, served with mixed beans and rice.
After our relaxing weekend, Monday was certainly a shock to the system. We took buses to our projects, knowing only that there would be a lot of children. During the welcoming ceremony, all of the pupils sang and danced. Overwhelmed by the happiness of the children, we joined in with the celebrations. It was only when I started to look closer that I noticed the torn clothes, shoeless feet and longing eyes. In that moment the world stood still and all that I could see was a country overflowing with love. The first day at Mama Kerry was completely exhausting. It was a culture shock to suddenly be so intertwined with the daily lives of the children. It was amazing to sit in a classroom so different to our own and witness the children’s eagerness to learn. It inspired me to work harder, to use the resources and opportunities that are so readily available in Northern Ireland in order to gain skills that I can someday bring back to Kenya. Lessons were relatively short and breaks surprisingly long. First and foremost, the school aimed to provide the kids with a place to go, hot meals and an understanding of God. Leaving Mama Kerry on the first day, I was heavy with fatigue but excited for what was to come.
The rest of the week spent in Mama Kerry was an experience I struggle to put into words. Thought-provoking and character-adjusting, I became totally immersed in the children’s way of life. My last day at Mama Kerry was a tough yet joyful experience. I was so thrilled to have been a small part of the kids’ lives but I was concerned about their future and I knew that I was going to miss them terribly. As a team we’d taught lessons, helped with the construction of a classroom and delivered food parcels during house visits but I can wholeheartedly say that what the children taught us was ten times greater than anything we gave them. While we provided material goods and education, which, don’t get me wrong, are desperately needed, they gave us love, perspective and life lessons that will forever be priceless to me. They taught me how to be grateful, how to have an honest heart, how to love God more. They taught me the value of a smile.
On Friday we went to Hilton Dump. I think it’s fair to say that I’ve never seen anything quite like it. At first glance I could see massive piles of rubbish that appeared to go on for miles. Pigs and goats roamed about, scavenging for food. People worked alongside the animals, looking for food, materials to help make shelters and things they could craft or sell. The atmosphere among the group was one of sympathy and thankfulness. The kids I met in the dump were truly amazing. I got to spend about 45 minutes playing with them and getting to know them. The reality facing the children was hard to stomach. I knew they didn’t go to school and probably would never get out of the dump, unlike the kids at Mama Kerry who had better opportunities. I pray that someday they will get a better standard of living.
We spent the remainder of our trip exploring Kenya and getting to experience the culture, with an incredible safari, a trip to Baboon Cliff and a hike down Thomson’s Falls. Like all the best things in life, it was a tough journey but it was worth it. On the bus journey back from the waterfall, daylight turned to dusk but the streets stayed alive with children laughing. It’s near impossible to fit in as a mzungu in Nakuru but in the night I could go unnoticed and observe the local way of life from a distance, appreciating and learning from it without intruding. I put my headphones in and turned on my music. A song called ‘Simple Gospel’ by United Pursuit came on and it has a line that says ‘I reach out and You find me in the dust.’ I got to thinking about how so many times on my trip, that is exactly what God had done. He’d reached out to me in the dust of Mama Kerry playground and Lake Nakuru National Park.
As my journey in Kenya came to an end, I finally managed to put my finger on what had made me feel so at home from that first night and what was so special about the community of Nakuru. They know how to love.
On the Monday, we began our long trip home. Settling in when we arrived home again was, and still is, very hard. I’m homesick for Kenya, its children, the culture and the community love. I am so grateful for my travels with African Adventures and will always be thankful to them. Although my African adventure has come to an end, I am sure that there are lots of other exciting adventures just around the corner…
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