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In summer of 2014 I embarked on my first journey by myself. Well I wasn’t actually by myself, I ended up meeting a group of wonderful volunteers. But it was my first time travelling without my family. It was also my first humanitarian project! I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to travel to Kenya with the Me to We program. For three weeks I, along with the other volunteers were warmly welcomed to the humble village of Enelerai. Enelerai is located just outside of Niarobi, Kenya and is inhabited by Maasai Tribe. 

I had never visited the continent of Africa. Growing up I had heard so many stories from friends and family and seen photos of their adventures. Everyone had traveled through different countries and had unique experiences. I felt ready to make my own. One of my favourite things about traveling is being able to meet new people and learn/experience different cultures. I found Kenya to be so rich in culture. When we first arrived, we were welcomed with a plentiful array of delicious traditional dishes and shortly after gifted with song and dance from the Kenyan Boys Choir. In their traditional dress they greeted us to the village and together we danced the night away.

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The mission of this volunteer trip was to help build classrooms for a high school in Enelerai. We spent many days on site, working as hard as we could to get as much done as possible. This was a ground breaking experience for me, literally. When we arrived to the build site it was a bare field with nothing but four stakes in the ground marking the 15ft x 15ft area the classroom would occupy.  To the side were a handful of pickaxes and shovels, those were the only tools we had to work with, other than our hands. The first step was to loosen up the ground with the pickaxes around the perimeter of the soon to be classroom. Then we dug a 4ft deep trench that was about the same width around the perimeter. Throughout this process we encountered many barriers… or boulders, rather. Some the size of one of us volunteers curled up into a ball! It was manageable but it took up to four people to move some of these rocks. We split up into groups and started rotating jobs. To fill the trenches we needed to make rebar reinforcements. They all needed to be measured precisely, cut, hand tied and sculpted. The foundations and cement all needed to be mixed by hand. We would eyeball the ratios of cement, sand and stones that needed to be mixed for the foundations. While some would be sorting the dry ingredients others would walk down the road to collect water to bind it all together. When it came time to mix it we needed to be very careful with the amount of water we added. We only had enough supplies to do exactly the job. There was very little space for error. We created a little bowl in the pile of cement and slowly pour water and mix it until the desired consistency. Once that was done we poured it over the reinforcements and into the trenches, filling them up. Once that dried, we were able to start building the walls. The brick laying was a cake walk compared to the work we had just finished. After building around the floors base, we were able to fill in the floor. That is everything our volunteer group was able to complete throughout our days on site! The rest would be finished for the next volunteers to come. I felt lucky to be working with such positive and hardworking individuals. It made for some very efficient and fun days on the work site. I was really impressed with what we had accomplished. It was very rewarding getting so much done with the tools we had. Although we did have a good laugh with the locals about how slow we were compared to them. I had culture shock, building the way we did. Construction in Canada is far more advanced than this. We have access to so much innovative equipment and machinery. Only then did I start to understand that was not universal. It is another overlooked reason to be grateful to live in a country with so many resources. 

Many days were spent on the worksite but we did have days off where we would go and explore and experience life in Enelerai. One of my favourite outings would be when we would go to visit the neighbouring schools to hangout and play with the kids. On the first day we showed up our trucks were surrounded by a swarm of children. They could not wait to play with us. Our days at the school were action packed. These children were so lively and energetic. We played a lot of sports, games and tried to learn how to communicate with each other. Depending on the class grade, a lot of children could speak English! It is part of their school curriculum. I was very impressed with this one young lady in particular, Sharon. I still think about her and her beautiful soul almost every day. Each time we would visit her school the two of us were inseparable.  She loved to play on the playground and jump on my back for piggyback rides. We shared so many laughs. I really enjoyed helping her practice English. She drew pictures in my journal and would write descriptive words to explain what she had drawn. Sharon is so smart and works so hard to fulfill her dream of going to high school. From the short amount of time we spent together, I know that she will achieve anything she sets her mind to. Learning about her passion for education inspired me to work as hard as I could to help build another classroom. To provide opportunity for more children like Sharon to have a chance at gaining an education. 

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We were able to experience “a day in a life” where we were able to participate and learn about the lifestyle in Enelerai. We were visited by some Maasai warriors who showed us how to use some of the weapons they hunt with. All hand made and customized to their liking. We didn’t actually go hunting they just shared their methods.  We got to stay a few nights in a traditional home. The walls made of mud, cow dung and sticks. Roofs structured with sticks and straw. The bedframes inside were built with sticks and straw for padding. Small windows the size of your hand, barred and lined with rat poison to prevent rodents. It wasn’t super effective, as I had been visited by a rat in the midnight hour, probably trying to take some of my warmth. I don’t actually know but I was not so keen to share. I was sure to keep it a secret until the end of our stay because I knew some of my friends would freak out, which they did when I shared. Maasai mamas spent the morning with us teaching us how to bead. Later we went on a walk and were shown some plants that people use for cooking, medicine and other uses. My favourite was the miswak, a chewing twig from the salvadora persica tree, used as a natural toothbrush! It kind of had a spicy taste to it. It was interesting to try but I don’t think I will be converting! Another activity we did involved going to the market in the city of Nairobi. We split into groups and were given a scenario and a budget that was equivalent to $5. My group had a family scenario where one of the children was going to school. We needed to buy basic supplies and a pair of shoes, as they are required for school. We also needed to buy new rope to collect water (I will touch more on this in the next paragraph), enough rice for a couple of weeks and some fresh produce. The market was flooded with vendors selling everything from bananas to machetes.  Hundreds of people flowing through the streets trying to bargain for some goods. After our outing at the market we shared our scenarios, any troubles we faced with budgeting, bargaining and reflected on differences we noticed when we go shopping at home. It was a surprise to us that the scenarios given were from real families in the community and we were able to donate what we managed to get for them! 

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Another eye opening experience I had was participating in a water walk. I learned that having access to water by the turn of a tap is a luxury that hundreds of millions of people do not have. It is a basic human right that too many people live without. Our group was fortunate to be educated by some wonderful Maasai women who showed us their ways of collecting water. They welcomed us to their homes where we picked up tens of water barrels and followed them down a path to their nearest water source. Depending on how far someone lives from a water source they may have to walk several kilometers each and every day, multiple times a day to collect a sufficient amount of water. These sources of water range depending on the area, it could be a river, a lake etc. and best-case scenario a well. For these women the walk is about 2km each way from their homes. At the end of the path was a water smaller than a football field. The water was opaque and brown and home to many waterborne diseases including but not limited to typhoid and cholera. Looking around the water source was cattle and people bathing, doing laundry and hydrating. Can you imagine drinking your bath water? How about somebody else’s bath water? While filling up the jugs I was shocked thinking about how this is reality for everyone I had met and most of their community. This is what they use for everything, drinking, cooking, bathing, cleaning etc. That being said, a lot of water is needed to enable all of these doings. These women would make this walk at least twice a day to provide a sufficient amount of water for their families. Young girls are also expected to participate. As soon as a child is strong enough, they join their mamas for the collection, often missing the opportunity to go to school. To carry the jugs, a rope is strategically tied around both ends. The jug is placed on your back and the rope goes across the front of your head to keep it stable. The women I met had dents on their heads from decades of ropes and weight of the water. I had never experienced anything like this, it had a huge impact on me. Not only is this a reality for these women but their community, surrounding area, and people in many countries across the world. Fresh water is a luxury that I previously and guiltily still take for granted. 

On one of the last days we went on a safari in the Maasai Mara. We woke up at around 2a.m. to start driving to be in the reserve. On the drive there most people were sleeping on the bus, which is understandable. However I could not sleep. I was way to excited to be able to observe some of the worlds (in my opinion) coolest animals. Around 4 a.m. struck one of the most beautiful lightening storms I have ever seen. It was so beautiful, bolts of fork lighting would appear across the savannah, only seconds apart. The sun began to rise around 6 a.m. and the sky was painted with warm colours of the morning. We could start to see movement near and far, miles down the plain. Throughout the day we saw zebras, giraffes, lions, cheetahs, ostriches, buffalo and many more amazing beings. We stopped to have lunch with some hippos occupying a water hole in the middle of the savannah.  

I took a lot away from this experience. I learned more than I could put into words. I am so grateful to have had this opportunity, to travel, learn and connect with such inspirational people. I am afraid the challenges and issues we learned of go far beyond what we saw. There is much more going on in the world than I know. As an individual it is easy to feel powerless by the weight of the world, yet I feel inspired to spread awareness about what I have learned and to continue to volunteer to help individuals and communities as much as I can. 

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