Hamjambo wanamapinduzi wenzangu! In Swahili, this means “hello fellow changemakers”!
Last June, I had the opportunity to travel to Kenya for the first time with my mom to experience first hand the issues and impacts that I have been focused on throughout my journey with WE. I came home filled with inspiration and so proud to be part of a movement creating such powerful and meaningful change. As we shared every detail with my dad, we told him “someday we’ll go back and you’ll come too.”
We could not have imagined that our someday would come so soon and 6 months after we left, we travelled back to the Maasai Mara as a family for a trip that celebrated some of the biggest milestones for WE. I need to tell you that when I talk about WE, it includes the people in the community in the Maasai Mara.
It is customary on Me to WE trips that each night after dinner, we go around the table and share a personal highlight from the day. It’s always a really special part of the day – to take the time to reflect on what impacted you the most and to hear what meant the most to the others in your group. In honour of that tradition, I’m excited to share a few of my highlights.
The Kisaruni All Girls Secondary School Graduation – Milimani and Oleleshwa Campuses
When I returned from Kenya in June and was asked what my favourite experience was – my answer came fast and easy – Kisaruni. I spent a lot of time with the learners and teachers at each of the 2 campuses of Kisaruni and was so inspired by their passion and commitment to their education. I remember thinking that this was exactly the kind of school that I would love to go to – they value not only their education, but also leadership and community.
Attending the Kisaruni Graduation was a highlight for me and a milestone moment for the learners and facilitators and also for WE because it was the first group of graduates from the 2nd campus, Oleleshwa. It was an incredible day. We joined the families and so many community members to celebrate. It is important to note that most of these girls are the first girls in their family to graduate from high school. My favourite part of the graduation ceremony was when the girls were each called to receive their diploma, their facilitator announced what they wanted to pursue. They wanted to be doctors, journalists, teachers, and for one – the President of Kenya. We cheered for them all. Many of them will go to university and return as teachers at WE schools or doctors at Baraka. They WILL be great leaders and role models in their community and beyond. If it weren’t for Kisaruni, none of them would imagine these things were within their reach.
One of the graduates was my friend, Purity. I met Purity several years ago when she came to speak at WE Day along with Carol, the Headmaster of Kisaruni. When I was in Kenya in June, Purity spent the day with me and gave me a tour of the Oleleshwa. We had an instant connection. Purity was the leader of the Journalism Club and wants to be a news reporter. I was unaware that she was in the graduating class and when I saw her walk out in her cap and gown, I was so excited to see her. Being with her on her graduation day was so amazing.
If there is one thing that stands out to me about Kenya, it is singing. There is always singing. The Kenyan Boys Choir opened the graduation ceremony by singing the national anthems of Kenya and Canada. To end the celebration, we all joined them and the graduates in a half circle on the field and to sing together.
2. Ngulot All Boys Secondary School Opening
This particular trip was focused on 2 milestone celebrations and the opening of Ngulot, All Boys Secondary School was a huge highlight for all of us. I was so honoured and proud to be there on this day with my friend Mitch Kurylowicz and his family and friends. In 2011, Mitch was 13 and was in Kenya with his parents. After seeing Kisaruni All Girls Secondary School, he asked “where do the boys go to school?” There wasn’t a high school for the boys because no one had built one…yet. When he returned home to Ottawa, he founded Project Jenga (which means “build” is Swahili) and Mitch has been on a mission, reaching out to many people and businesses to donate to be a part of helping boys in the Maasai Mara reach the fullest potential they have.
When I travelled to Kenya in June, I helped build a classroom at the school. We laid bricks for each of the 4 walls. Over the summer my friends sent me photos as it was completed.
On the morning of the opening, we were invited to visit with one of the new learners and his family at their home. Hazard’s father and entire family welcomed us into their home and shared their story with us. Like so many of the boys, Hazard has faced many challenges. His mother died when he was 2 years old and his father was alone in supporting and raising his family. He collected coal to sell in order to provide for his family. Hazard has an older brother who is in grade 12, but there was not enough money for both boys to go to high school (in Kenya there are fees for secondary school). Knowing that Ngulot would be opening soon, Hazard did Grade 8 twice, waiting for the opportunity to apply. I was later told that many of the boys did this.
Being at the opening of Ngulot, together with Mitch and his family and Hazard and his family, was a day that I will never forget. Like the graduation for the Kisaruni girls, hundreds of people from the community came. One of the elders spoke and I will never forget what he said – “with the opening of Ngulot, our community is complete.”
These are only 2 of my highlights from the 8 days that were filled with special moments, memories and people that I will always remember. Being in Kenya with my family – my ‘real’ family and my WE family – was an overall highlight. Throughout the last 4 years, from WE Days to the WE Create Change Tour and from Take Action Camp to my first trip to Kenya, I consider so many of my friends from WE part of my extended family and am so happy that I was able to share in this very special trip with them as we celebrated so many incredible moments and brought in the New Year together.
Wishing you a happy new year filled with love, laughter and inspiration.