Sandy Bartz and her husband Greg recently returned from their first visit to Kenya. They were traveling with a team led by H2O for Life founder Patty Hall. Others along for the adventure were Jim Hunt, Deb Lauer, Pam Tschida and Deb Neukens. Here is Sandy’s story:
My husband and I have been lucky enough to travel to many different parts of the US and the World. Internationally, we have been to England, Czech Republic, Canada, Germany, Norway, Russia, Netherlands, Turkey, Morocco, South Korea, Japan, Australia, and Jamaica. Not a bad list! Always learning about new cultures, new languages, and meeting new people. Each trip was unique in its own way and we loved every one of them. When we learned of the opportunity to travel with Patty Hall to Kenya we jumped on board. I will admit that one of the strong selling points was that she had been there many times and was arranging the whole itinerary. Not much to think about on our part! When I returned home people would ask “what was the highlight?” Sounds like an easy question but I had such a difficult time answering. I couldn’t narrow it down to one thing. The animals, of course, were awesome! But, the people, the schools, the land were all incredible too.
On this trip to Kenya, we visited Kathungu Primary School, Iliwani Nursery School and Nasaruni School for Masaii Girls. All have received access to clean water and sanitation through H2O for Life’s school to school service-learning program. SHOFCO, in Kibera, has also received a water kiosk due to the efforts of youth in the United States. We invite you to join us to visit projects in Kenya.
Brydges Center – Our first school stop. The kids were singing as we exited our vehicle (and really were singing the whole time we were there). These children are all orphaned or street kids. Brydges offers them a place to live, eat, and go to school. But also, a place to be loved. Some of the stories are sad; like the girl who was abandoned near a crocodile infested river when she was a baby, but the kids smiling faces exhibited so much joy. If you go, let them know you are coming and consider giving them a cash donation. They will greet you with song after beautiful song and remember to video them singing and dancing. My one regret is that I should have taken more video. If I’m feeling down, I play my little snippets and it brings a smile to my lips every time.
Kathungu Village – Now this stop will probably not be on everyone’s itinerary. Our driver Christopher (who was awesome by the way) lives in this village and because he knew our leader, Patty, so well we were invited for a homestay. One of my interests on every trip we have taken is the people and how they live. Is it similar to us? What’s different? Well, we found out that many things are the same and many things are different. Housing, bathrooms, kitchen facilities are quite a bit more rustic so if you can’t handle that then this stop might not be for you. Christopher’s family and friends were amazing. The women came together in a kitchen without electricity and cooked a wonderful traditional meal. We hiked on their land and saw how they were quite self sufficient with food needs. They grew corn, beans, pumpkins, mangos, bananas, greens and so much more to sustain them. We learned how they dealt with water issues, droughts and rainy seasons. We also visited the local schools and again were surrounded by children that didn’t have much in the way of “things” but had so much joy. They played with happy hearts on the tiny playground and one slide. They hammed it up when we took pictures just like a group of kids in the US would. If you go, women should wear a long skirt as it aligns more with their traditions than pants and don’t be shy about asking questions and learning about their culture.
Kibera – If you go, read the book “Call Me Unafraid: Love, Loss, and Hope in an African Slum” prior to the visit. It will allow you to understand the magnitude of this immense slum, the people in it and the amazing programs that have been started. I wouldn’t go without a guide. We had a gentleman from SHOFCO who gave us a tour of the streets and the SHOFCO buildings. It’s difficult to describe this place. It’s sad and optimistic all in one. Even if you don’t go, read the book!
Nasaruni Academy for Maasai Girls-Another school stop! I loved all of our school stops. I previously said that I couldn’t name a “highlight” but honestly, hanging out with the kids was probably it. Keep in mind that Maasai girls are often not educated at all, these students were amazing. We visited classrooms where they told us what they hoped for their future. They wanted to be pilots, doctors, nurses, teachers, and even President. I was able to spend some time alone with the 4th grade class and we learned about each other. A highlight for them may have been touching my skin and hair but we also talked about snow, animals we see in MN, and my job. In the evening, they danced for us and even taught us a traditional Maasai dance. My heart was full after one day with them. Skirts for women is recommended again at this stop.
I was lucky enough to go with a great group of travelers so thank you to each of them. I think I can safely say that we all had an amazing, incredible adventure in beautiful Kenya. As one of our friends put it so succinctly; “exceeded expectations”. My husband and I have independently rated this trip as #1 out of all our international travels and though we don’t know exactly when it will happen, we do know that we will go back.