(This article will be printed in local papers soon, which is why it sounds like someone else wrote it…)
Autumn Benjamin from Waitsfield, VT has wanted to travel to Africa since she was five years old. That was in 1998. That year her preschool teacher, Ruth Young went on a mission trip to Kenya and brought back small wooden animals for each of her preschool children. “Sr. Ruth gave me a little wooden zebra, and ever since then, I’ve wanted to go to Kenya,” says the Harwood Union high school senior. Autumn has been on several mission trips herself, mainly to Jamaica where members of her youth group at the Church of the Crucified One in Moretown conduct an annual Vacation Bible School. They bypass the resort areas and go to Portland, where the hum of air conditioners is replaced by the beat of reggae music, and the sound of crowing roosters is as common as cicadas on a summer’s day in Vermont. Last month Autumn’s wish came true as she boarded a plane to Nairobi on the first day of February break.
Six other women also made the journey to Kenya during the recent February school break. Pam Dow of Moretown, Sara Baker of Montpelier, and Joni Clemons of East Montpelier are all teachers at Moretown Elementary School (MES). Nancy Chase is the program director for several afterschool programs in Williamstown, and Lynn Mason works for Jamieson Insurance in Waterbury and is the incoming president of the Waterbury Rotary Club. Ruth Young of Moretown led the tour for Everyone’s Child, Inc. (EC); she is the director of this organization that currently fundraises to builds schools, dig wells and feed close to 500 orphaned students a day in Kenya. Young’s pastor, Rev. William Stewart met them in Kenya where he was conducting church business with sister churches.
The primary purpose of the trip was to introduce American educators to several schools that have been sponsored and built by members of the Church of the Crucified One (CCO) in Moretown. Young has been traveling to Kenya since 1996 with members of her church to help build what has become a thriving community in the outskirts of Nakuru, approximately 300 km. northwest of Nairobi. She has wanted to bring teachers to Kenya since 2007 when she carried out her doctoral research in the first primary school built by the CCO. That school was completed in 1999, and a second one was built just three years later. The teachers there discovered that the students were unable to concentrate due to lack of proper nutrition, so an orphan-feeding program was started. The program still exists today, now feeding orphaned students daily meals of porridge, rice and beans in three different locations. Those who made the trip this past February had an opportunity to experience the orphan-feeding program first-hand, serving the children who receive these meals each day.
When asked by her 3rd and 4th grade students at MES why she wanted to travel to Kenya, Joni Clemons said that she was always asking them to stretch or go beyond in their thinking when it came to writing. She realized that she too needed to stretch herself and try something new and exciting. Pam Dow had a similar response, saying that she was interested in learning about a different culture and meeting people that she had been connected with through “Messages of Mercy”, the writing program that Young set up between orphaned students in Kenya and students at MES in 2008. Her daughters have been writing letters for several years, so she looked forward to meeting students who have been connected with her children. Students in Victoria Smith’s classroom at Crossett Brook Middle School are also involved in this letter exchange.
Nancy Chase of Williamstown was having a significant birthday this year and wanted to celebrate in a memorable way. Her daughter Kelly Poulin, a speech and language specialist at MES, suggested she join the school tour. She hesitated at first, but at the close of the trip she declared: “Doing this sure beat sitting on a beach somewhere for five days!”
Sara Baker and Lynn Mason both love to travel, so when the opportunity to go to Kenya to visit schools and experience the wildlife opened up they both jumped at the chance to go. Mason was very happy with the tour, saying that the trip was “very well rounded with playtime, touring and visits to the schools”. She also had an opportunity to attend a Rotary Club meeting during the trip, exchanging Rotary flags and the hand of fellowship with fellow Rotarians across the world.
Before leaving Vermont, Baker, a special educator at MES, found a wheelchair and two Convaid strollers to bring for students in need. One recipient was a nine-year old boy with cerebral palsy who was identified by Dr. Beth Ann Maier of Waterbury during a medical clinic conducted by EC in 2010. The family had just moved to Nairobi but on learning that the chair was in Kenya, made the trip to Nakuru to pick it up. An interpreter bridged the communication gap between Baker and the mother as the chair was being given to the boy, but the smile on the mother’s face sent a clear message of gratitude and relief.
In an effort to connect her kindergarten students with children in Kenya, Dow came up with the idea of bringing t-shirts with handprints from MES students. 100 t-shirts were purchased for $1 apiece from the t-shirt factory in Northfield and brought to give to the orphaned children at Kampi ya moto. In exchange, students at Kampi ya moto traced and colored their handprints to send back to MES. These handprints will adorn the hallways and classrooms in Moretown, each one carrying a message of friendship from someone living thousands of miles away.
The trip culminated with a safari in Lake Nakuru Game Park. Everyone was overjoyed at the sighting of a zebra colt and a baby giraffe, along with multitudes of Thompson gazelles, water buffalo, birds and monkeys. On the last day of the trip the travelers visited the Elephant Centre in Nairobi, home to orphaned elephants who otherwise wouldn’t survive in the wild. They also had an opportunity to visit the Karen Blixen Museum, a must see for “Out of Africa” fans.
Everyone’s Child will be visiting schools in Kenya again during the February break in 2013. If you are interested in going, please contact me (Ruth Young) at email@example.com.