These days, it’s seems like all of the news is bad. But last week, there was a notable exception. This young Kenyan reporter was doing his best to be professional. But everyone has their limits. Seriously – can you watch this without a smiling, giggling out loud, or feeling a pure moment of joy?
There’s no caveat. I. Love. This.
It’s also a familiar and heartwarming scene, as I visited the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust Orphanage in Nairobi on my first ever trip to Africa. I had anticipated that trip for more than 20 years and it did not disappoint. The Orphanage was on my schedule for the morning after I arrived. I was suffering from severe jet lag but this was the perfect remedy. What a great way to jump into the wonders of Africa!
At the time of my visit, the Orphanage was open at set times on just a few days a week. Visitors were allowed one hour and it was magical. First, the keepers brought the elephants out in groups arranged by age.
Once they arrived in the “arena”, they did what elephants do! They ate, drank, rolled around in the dirt and had fun with their mates.
In the (many) years since I visited, this amazing non-profit organization has continued to grow, expand, and serve in new and impactful ways. Founded originally as an orphan elephant rescue and rehabilitation program, they now run anti-poaching teams, coordinate mobile veterinary units, have established rehabilitation, reintegration and wildlife recovery areas, and run low-impact tourism ecolodges with proceeds supporting their programs. They have been leaders in social movements and played a crucial role in banning all trade in ivory. The Sheldrick Trust has expanded their international reach and now also operates in the US and UK. Dame Daphne Sheldrick passed away in 2018, but her legacy lives on through this important work. Check out their Facebook page here.
Even better, plan the trip of your dreams and stop by in person. You won’t be sorry you did. <3
I was scheduled to build in Kenya in March of 2013, but unfortunately that trip was cancelled due to uncertainty around the upcoming Presidential elections. You may recall that in 2008, there were riots following the December 2007 elections, which led to a humanitarian crisis. Habitat for Humanity made the difficult decision to cancel our scheduled trip based on an analysis of safety. Thankfully, those concerns turned out to be for naught as the elections were relatively peaceful. Nevertheless, it left me without a trip!
Around this same time, the folks at Habitat for Humanity Kenya were reevaluating their program and were planning to put hosting of international volunteer programs on hold in order to focus their efforts in other ways. When I learned that it might be some time before teams would be returning to Kenya, I quickly found one of the remaining teams and joined what turned out to be the last team of the year!
This time we worked in a different area of town relative to my first two trips, so the experience was new for us all. We met Dinah John, an elderly woman who cared for her orphaned grandchildren when there were not attending boarding school. Over the course of a week, we laughed, cried, danced and sang with our new community. Simon and Stanley, with the help of occasional translation and usual jokes from Eric, taught us to mix mortar, lay bricks and plumb corners of the house. We chatted and played with the kids and ate delicious meals (ugali! chapati! mandazi!) prepared by the women of the community.
Yes, that’s right! On the way home from my first Global Village build, I immediately wanted to do it again. 🙂 I wanted to return to Kenya in order to form deeper relationships with the people there. As luck would have it, I ended up in the very same community!
Returning to Eldama Ravine was amazing. When I walked into the hotel, the friends I made just a few months ago shared huge smiles and warm hugs, welcoming me “back home”. We chatted about what had changed and what had stayed the same. We ate the same food, drank the same boxed wine, played pool to the sounds of Toto just like before… Yet this was definitely a new experience. A new group of volunteers who would become friends, a new family, and plenty of new insights.
This was also a special build because it was my first Thanksgiving volunteer trip! Although I missed being home, my new friends made this an experience to remember, and one to be shared on these pages soon. 🙂
My first trip! I decided to join this team when I was struggling to figure out what to do for my birthday. Throw a big party for myself? Spend a quiet evening with my family and close friends? Such were my first world problems… I went back and forth a thousand times. I was itching to go somewhere, and a fantastic safari in 2011 with my dad left me wanting to see more of Africa – from a more “local” view. But traveling alone over my birthday didn’t quite feel right…
Almost on a whim, I googled “volunteer” and “Kenya” and found the Habitat for Humanity Global Village program. What? I thought HFH was a US-focused organization? I couldn’t have been more wrong. It turns out, they work in over 40 countries around the globe. And the paradigm – 1 to 2 week volunteer experiences in local communities helping families in need – was just perfect for what I was looking for at that time. I contacted several team leaders to inquire about availability on their teams and hooked up with a woman whose life experiences eerily mirrored my own. How could I not join?? I paid my deposit and bought a ticket before I had time to change my mind. I’m so glad that I did!
This first trip was an eye opening experience. There are many stories that are worthy of their own blog posts – my terror upon arrival at having made a mistake in chosing to spend my birthday in Africa far from my family, meeting my “twin brother”, working with the shoeless-gloveless-shirtless stone mason named Collins, becoming friends with people who have never seen a white person in “real life”… These stories and more will come in time because they are ingrained in my soul and always make me smile. They deserve to be shared. 🙂
For now, a few photos of this wonderful community and my teammates a/k/a lifelong friends!
Exploring and learning while enjoying life and doing my part. Here, there and everywhere…