Last summer I went to Kenya for one month with the organization Free The Children, an organization that works on education projects in over 25 countries. On my trip, there were 25 participants including 2 Free the Children leaders. We spent most of our time in 2 villages in the Massai Mara. In each village we helped build a classroom for a school that Free the Children was building (most schools in Kenya consist of many classrooms, not one building.) A big part of the trip involved getting to know the children, the teachers and the locals of the villages. We actually taught a few classes at the schools. This was a great experience for me because I am currently studying Elementary Education at McGill University to become an elementary school teacher. I was pleasantly surprised that even though the kids in Kenya and at home seem different on the surface they are very similar in many ways. I realized that kids are kids everywhere. They talk, they are loud, and there is always the big shot in the class who answers every question.
One of the things that I learned from being in these schools and interacting with the students is that they are much more appreciative of their education then we are in the west. They love school so much that they asked to make their days 2 hours longer. In Canada and the States kids complain about school. During the trip I continuously asked myself: Why are these people so much more appreciative then we are in Canada? I began to feel a lot of guilt for the way we lived and our lack of gratefulness. When people go to poor countries for the first time this is often a common feeling; guilt. Throughout the trip I began to realize that as Louise, one of my amazing leaders, told me, “This is just the way it is”. It is not our fault we were born in the country we were born in, and it is not our fault we have what we have. What we can do is choose to use want we have to help other’s who don’t. We can also choose to be grateful for what we have, which I have started to do everyday since the trip. I learned that one cannot feel guilt, if anything we should feel more appreciative and embrace what we have.
The people I met in Kenya embrace everything that they have. Because they don’t have many possessions they embrace their spirit and the simple things in life. Their spirits and energies were something I have never been exposed to. It goes beyond that they are grateful individuals. The fact is that most of the people have AIDS or malaria, share a house the size of a bathroom with 8 other people, walk 2 hours to school or 2 hours to fetch water and 2 hours back, use rolled up tape as a soccer ball, and yet they still the happiest people I have ever met. I still wonder why it is that these people are so pure and satisfied. Is it because they have less? Is it because they are spiritual Christians? For whatever reason, it is the reality of it and I aspire to be more like them.
When I speak to people about my trip the one point I want to express about the people I met in Kenya are that these individuals are not the victims the commercials make them out to be. These people, though poor and sick, are happy. They are like us, they have good days and bad days. There are the cool kids in the school yard and the loners. A mother loves their child the same way a mother loves their child here. People laugh and people cry in identical manners. Circumstances are different, life is different, but at the same time life is life. People struggle, people celebrate, and people are people everywhere. We must realize this because the reason there are wars and racism is because we don’ts see how we are all essentially the same. My experience in Kenya taught me how alike all humans are.
My life philosophy, as cheesy as it may sound, has become:
I will work for myself and I will work for others, in Canada and around the world. If we want to make this world more peaceful and equal we must work together. We must see beyond the differences of one another, whether it be religion, physical health, culture and so on. We must see our similarities and see that it is our duty to try to improve the state of this fragile, tough world. You will always encounter the people who say, “What can I do? How did going to Kenya for a few weeks change anything?” There will always be skeptics like this who don’t see the bigger picture. They don’t realize that by simply befriending people, and creating bonds with individuals who are “different” then you, we are filling this gap that has been created and we are changing things. The problems of our world won’t disappear, but with every little thing that you and I choose to do, whether it be fundraising to build a school, traveling to Kenya or simply being kind to a fellow human being; we are doing something.
After I came back from Kenya I became involved in Free The Children at McGill. Through fundraising and awareness projects we raised $7000 to build a school in Sierra Leone. I also have my own jewelry line called “Phoebe’s Gems” for which I donate a percentage of my sales to Free The Children. This year I will donate $1000.
I strongly and passionately believe in what the organization stands for, which is the importance of education for youth everywhere and the importance of people working together to help create a better world.