Kenya: An Exceptional Experience, Part 1
In June 2016, I went to Kenya on a trip hosted by the ME to WE organization. My first trip to Kenya was on a safari in 1987 and it was great. This latest experience included service, cultural immersion, safaris, shopping, and unexpected bonuses. It was phenomenal! This blog is a high level overview, a lot of detail will not be covered. I hope it does convey how profound an experience this was for me.
What is ME to WE?
This organization was started ten years ago as the supporting partner of Free The Children. Free The Children has been making a difference in adopted communities for 21 years. They apply their five pillars (education, water, health, food, opportunity) to their communities. ME to WE works with them to achieve those five pillars. Once the communities are self-sustaining which is usually in 5 years, they move on to the next one.
Nairobi to Maasai Mara
The first day was at the Karen Blixen Coffee Garden Restaurant & Cottages for an overnight stay, it’s in a suburb of Nairobi. The photo shows some of their staff. Grace and I realized we were both Christian women without clearly stating it, but by the words we spoke to each other. I didn’t know it then, but God was setting the stage for something uniquely special.
Eric, Agnes, Cheryl, and Grace
Our group took a regional flight to the Maasai Mara which is west of Nairobi close to the Tanzania border. The Maasai Mara National Reserve continues into Tanzania, but we stayed in Kenya. From the airstrip, we boarded a bus that took us to our accommodations, Bogani Cottages & Luxury Tented Camps. This ride was an opportunity to see some animals, people, and the beautiful Mara. We were warmly welcomed by the Camp Manager, Edith Ngulale, and her fabulous staff. The staff was attentive to our needs and remembered our names. (That was particularly impressive to me because remembering names can be personally challenging.)
Free The Children Projects (Past and Present)
The service piece consisted of working at the build site for a new boys’ high school. We worked on the foundation for one of the buildings which consisted of connecting rebar and mixing concrete. We toured the Baraka Medical Clinic and Medicinal Garden, Enelerai Primary School, and Kisaruni Girls Secondary School. We spent time at the new home of Jane Marindany (Mama Jane) where she talked about the positive economic changes and other improvements in her community.
Wilson, our Maasai warrior guide, shared stories about the Maasai community and culture. He escorted us on morning walks outside Bogani. During one morning walk, we saw a small group of zebras minding their own business. With camera in hand, I took lots of pictures of them. He, also, trained us on using Maasai weapons: bow and arrows, and the rungu. We each got a rungu to take home. We learned how to do beading from 2 Mamas and we kept our creations.
Wilson and Mama Jane
While at Mama Jane’s, she showed us her old home that she now uses to cook meals. Her favorite dish is ugali which is a Kenyan stable. We had the pleasure of getting water for her from the local river, I was looking forward to doing this. While carrying this water, I thought about my early ancestors who from somewhere on the continent had done the same thing. That was a deep connection for me.
Safari and Shopping
Yes, we saw giraffes, elephants, hippopotamus, wildebeests, ostriches, zebras, warthogs, and others. Excellent shopping was available at Karen Blixen, Bogani, and the ME to WE workshop in a suburb of Nairobi.
An acrobatic group called Zama Simba and The Kenyan Boys Choir performed at Bogani. This was not part of the itinerary, both groups were available and we were extremely fortunate to see them. On our last night at Bogani, we were served a feast that included ugali, I was thrilled to eat this Kenyan stable. It’s made with cornmeal which had a similar consistency and appearance to hot water cornbread to me, but it was not fried.
This experience totally represents my vision of the type of vacations I want to offer, Humanitarian Travel (or volunteer vacation). You can book this extraordinary vacation to Kenya, here's more information.