Sharing lessons learned from afar
Mary Beth Hartill
TRIP OF A LIFETIME:.
AHSS student Marla Brown travelled to Kenya where she helped build a school for impoverished children.
May 17, 2012
KEARNEY – Marla Brown took her adventure in Kenya to the students at Almaguin Highlands Secondary School.
Brown, who is in her returning year of Grade 12, travelled to Africa in March of 2011 as part of a group through Me To We, who were setting off to help build a school in an impoverished area.
She was in Grade 12 in Huntsville at the time of her trip during the March break.
“I heard about the trip in Grade 11 and I thought it would be a good opportunity to do something special for my Grade 12 year,” she said. “I had wanted to do something different and something big and this looked like the perfect opportunity.”
Brown had always dreamt of travel and decided that this would be the ideal way to start.
She brought the lessons that she learned to AHSS by introducing the 30-hour famine, a fundraising mission for World Vision Canada.
“I had a set of goals that I had for this year and one of them was to share my experiences from Africa,” she said. “When World Vision called me asking if I wanted to host it, I thought it would be a perfect opportunity.”
Brown heard about the 30-hour famine through a scholarship website and made the application, telling her story of her trip to Africa and highlighting the opportunity to share what she had learned.
“The contacted me a couple of weeks later saying that they loved my story,” she said.
About 20 students participated in the famine, and she says it went well and the participants understood the message she was trying to convey.
Thus far the group has raised more than $700 and the students have until the end of the month to continue with their fundraising efforts.
“I focused a lot on the educational aspect of it,” she said. “The main message of the famine, the 30-hour fasting portion of it, is for kids to experience what less fortunate kids go through regularly.”
She says she incorporated some of the more important lessons she learned while she was in Kenya.
“The community I visited was very malnourished and very impoverished. They weren’t starving though,” she said. “I explained to the kids during my presentation how malnutrition affects the body and how it can be just as deadly.”
Brown’s trip to Kenya took her away for 11 days.
“I had no idea what to expect,” she said.
She knew of other students who travelled with Me To We to other destinations, and knew that they had life-changing experiences.
They first arrived in bustling Nairobi.
“When we first arrived we didn’t really get the feel of it because it was just like a busy city scene,” she said.
They left Nairobi, travelling in a lorry for hours into the Masai. That’s when the landscape changed.
“It was when we got to the small communities that we started to take in the atmosphere,” she said. “The children were running up to the trucks and were really excited.”
The children running forward, recognizing the vehicles as those carrying strangers from afar, wore tattered clothing, but their excitement toward the visitors made a far more lasting impression on Brown than their apparel.
“We stayed in the community of Sikirar. It’s very small. We had our own tented area and down a pathway was the school and a soccer field,” she said.
Each day Brown and the other students spent time on the worksite building the school.
“On the first day it was crazy. We went to the school grounds and all the kids crowded around before class to see us and meet us,” she said.
She says when children first enter the school, the first language they are taught to speak is Swahili. The children, who come from different communities, all speak different languages. As they get older, in about Grade 4, they begin to speak English.
“Some of the older kids could speak English,” she said. “We were taught Swahili as well so we could carry basic conversations.”
She says Swahili is an easy language to learn and she was able to teach the students participating in the 30-hour famine a few basic phrases.
Brown says the biggest thing she took from her trip to Kenya was an appreciation for education.
“It’s sad how many kids miss out on the opportunity of receiving an education in Africa due to lack of money with their family,” she said. “Sending their kids off to school, not so much elementary school, but the older grades, is very difficult for the families to support that.”
She says witnessing mothers work so hard for so little also made an impression.
“They spend hours crafting and making these materials and these objects and in the markets they sell for what seems to be so cheap,” she said.
Brown says the biggest difference between there and home is the attitude of those around her.
“In those communities in Africa people are just so positive and so happy with what little they had,” she said. “You witness people here and there is so much negativity and so much complaining and not taking advantage of what is available to us.”
Brown returned looking at life through a more positive lens.
Brown’s career aspiration in the arts will not likely take her abroad, however, that doesn’t mean her dreams of travelling are over.
“With travelling I hate the idea of being a tourist so I definitely want to go on more trips where I will take something from it and I’ll learn and connect with the community rather than just observe,” she said. “Life is just so simple here compared to other areas in the world.”
Brown says even something as simple as the rain is celebrated with great fanfare in Kenya.
“We got to witness a rainfall when we were there. It was very exciting,” she said. “It rained during the community’s performance that they did for us when we were leaving.”
A ceremony with an elaborate dance was held in their honour.
“It just started raining and it was crazy – magical,” she said. “They were just celebrating because it had been so dry and they were worried about their crops.”
She says if she could just pass on one lesson from her experience in Kenya it would be to appreciate what we have here.
This article is for personal use only courtesy of cottagecountrynow.ca - a division of Metroland Media Group Ltd.