Reflections on an incredible experience in Kenya



A week ago today, the Seven Sisters touched down at Heathrow after what I think we would all agree was a wonderful, challenging, intense, colourful, thought-provoking, humbling 16 days in Kenya. The main aim of the trip was always to raise as much money as possible for Team Kenya, a small but extremely hard-working charity who have been based in Ndhiwa, a small community in Western Kenya since 2007. The work they have already done and that they continue to do has been nothing short of transformative within this community, although there is still so much to be done. This was made clear to all of us when we went to Ndhiwa and visited some of the community projects and met some of the people whose lives have been changed by the work that Team Kenya are doing.

Our home for the week in Ndhiwa were the Karibuni Eco-cottages, a beautiful little haven in the middle of the countryside, built by Team Kenya, designed to provide work opportunities for local people as well as a sustainable income for the charity (and a home for some unbelievably cute baby chicks!). Staying there gave us all the chance to live in our very own authentic Kenyan huts and more importantly, to get to know the lovely people who work there. I know none of us will forget the incredible Millicent, who fed us the best food we had in Kenya (I still think about her delicious eggy bread!), as well as washing our clothes, keeping everything clean and making some of us beautiful clothes using her sewing machine powered by solar power in the hut at the bottom of the garden. As well as employing her, Team Kenya have also sponsored one of Millicent's daughters through high school, and she has recently finished, achieving grades in the top 20% of all students in Kenya. This family are a brilliant example of how the work Team Kenya do is genuinely transforming people's lives and lifting them out of poverty. As long as we don't mention the drop toilets (!), I think I speak for all 7 of us when I say that the few days we spent here were incredibly special, and incredibly moving due to the things that we saw out in the local community.

On our second day in Ndhiwa, we visited Bongu Primary School, one of the 6 local schools that Team Kenya have created partnerships with. In all of their partnership schools, as well as giving agricultural and financial training to parents in order to give them the means to pay their children's school fees, they run the Brighter Futures programme. As well as providing training to teachers and community members on things like positive behaviour management, the programme identifies girls in the partnership schools who are considered to be particularly vulnerable and provides them with mentoring. These training and mentoring sessions are intended to help challenge attitiudes and behaviour in the wider community and to try and reduce the amount of violence directed towards women and girls. After each of their mentoring sessions, these girls are given the chance to play football, which is designed to strengthen friendships and foster a culture of co-operation and mutual respect. One member of our group, Halima, who apparently was the best footballer in her primary school, took part in one of these football sessions and was so impressed by how enthusiastic and skillful these girls were, despite the fact that some of them turned up to play without shoes, an apparent luxury that some families simply can't afford.

Visiting Bongu really highlighted just how little most families and indeed schools have in terms of the sorts of material possessions that we take for granted. It was shocking to learn that before the school was supported by Team Kenya, there were no toilets, nowhere for children to wash their hands and a shortage of classrooms meaning that some children were taught in the open air, under trees. Despite all of the things that Team Kenya have helped provide, we were all still so shocked by how crowded the classrooms were, meaning that 4 or 5 children were crammed onto benches that were designed for 2, some children didn't have their own school bag, pen or exercise book. In the middle of what was a very sunny day, children were learning in almost darkness due to how small the windows were, and those children who didn't have shoes were walking around on an uneven dirt floor. Another striking feature of this school was the lack of colour on the walls and around the building generally. The mud walls of the classrooms were noticeably lacking in pictures, posters or anything in fact to make learning come to life. We were introduced as the "special visitors from the United Kingdom", but it was difficult to imagine how these children could have any conception of the world outside their village, never mind a country that's thousands of miles away.

I know that all of us left Bongu wishing that we could stay longer and spend more time with these kids, who seemed so eager to learn and to eventually make something of their lives. We met some of the older girls in the school who attend the Brighter Futures programme and had ambitions to become journalists, teachers and doctors. We can only hope that with the continued support of Team Kenya, these girls might just achieve their goals, just like some of the Brighter Futures mentors we met have already done.

Some of these mentors came along to the Fun Day on our last day in Ndhiwa. These fun days are organised by Team Kenya every few weeks at Karibuni cottages and give some of the girls who are part of the Brighter Futures programme a day playing games, watching and taking part in performances, a hot lunch and presents and prizes from the volunteers who are visiting at the time. It was wonderful to be able to have fun with these girls and watch how excited they were to be together. Their talent for singing, dancing and performing poetry was so impressive. Particularly captivating were the performances from girls who stood up and passionately recited poems that acted as open letters to AIDs, describing how the disease had destroyed their families and communities.

Before the girls left Karibuni, all of us emptied our bags of the numerous uneaten snacks that we'd packed and carried around Kenya and the girls were told they could help themselves, which resulted in incredibly unsure, curious reactions that were fascinating to watch. Another example of how things that we take for granted, like energy bars are to people in Ndhiwa, a luxury that they couldn't even contemplate being able to afford.

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As well as wanting to stay longer in Ndhiwa, I know that we all came away with a real burning desire to keep doing as much as we can to help this amazing charity continue building on the vital work that they're already doing. Visiting Bongu in particular made us realise what a massive difference seemingly basic things like text books and toilets have already made to the children in the partnership schools, but also made it clear how much there is still to do in order for every child in Ndhiwa to receive the education they deserve. The thought of a Ndhiwa without Team Kenya is just too dreadful to contemplate, and the fact that they are doing what they're doing means that children, particularly girls, and families have hope of a better future.

I just hope that our visit to Ndhiwa is the start of a strong link between Sussex and Team Kenya and that together, we can try to do whatever we can to improve the lives of the amazing people we met and the entire community in Ndhiwa.

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