In July, my husband Michael and I had the extraordinary opportunity to travel to Kenya and represent my company RealFoundations as volunteers with Crossing Thresholds.
We had a truly life-changing trip. The experiences we had with the vibrant and smiling children, inspiring educators, resilient members of the community and the wonderful CT staff and volunteers will stay with us forever. We helped construct a fire wall at a new school, painted the interior of one of the older schools, participated in two mental health programs, visited the homes of 4 students, connected with the educators and Kenya-based CT team by learning their stories, and were greeted with the best smiles and hugs ever by the children at each school we visited.
During our trip we visited 4 schools (COPA, MOBJAP, Center of Hope, and FaFu) and each one had a different vibe and style, but the constant was how excited the children were to be there. When we arrived, we were sucked into a sea of smiling children who were as happy to see us as we were them. When order was restored, the children returned to their classes, and we visited each class. When entering the classes, we could feel the excitement and desire to learn that each student possessed. During our visits to the schools, we also met the Directors and teachers. Each one had a completely unique and inspiring story of how they came to be where they were. Their passion and enthusiasm for education, the community, and helping these children is inspiring. They were amazing visits that filled our souls with joy.
While helping build the firewall at a new school, we met a young mother with her children, who throughout the day would verbally encourage us to keep going and remind us to drink water. She was at the job site and was encouraged by the fact she saw 3 women working construction. However, she was concerned they would not hire her because she was female. But she too has children to feed. Word got to the supervisor of the job site, and Michael was lucky to overhear. The supervisor said, “if she wants to work and can do the work, she can work with us tomorrow”. We did not work at the site the next day, but we found out she did show up, was a hard worker, loved the work, and even brought a friend. We saw a heart-warming picture of her smiling from ear to ear. This was one of the many stories that touched us deeply.
On day two, we split up into separate groups to visit students' homes and by walking through Kibera and visiting their homes, we were able to get a small glimpse of how difficult it is to live in Kibera. The visits were moving, and we were humbled to be invited into their homes. I visited the home of a young girl who lived with her mom, and older brother with cerebral palsy. Their home was a 4 x 8 room with a hot plate, small light, and a bed they shared. I was in the home with the family, an educator and three other volunteers. I have claustrophobia, and typically being in such a small space with 7 other people would put me in panic mode. Instead, I was engrossed in hearing the mother’s story – she told us her background, and the challenges she faced with her son and finding work. Radical empathy took over my heart and mind instead of panic.
During Michael’s visit, the student’s father was talking to us about living in Kibera, and it came up that their daughter, who was going to another school, was not allowed back because of fees. She was doing exceptionally well and was a quarter away from finishing high school and moving on to higher learning, but she would not be able to do so because of $300. The empathy we felt for her and the other children in her situation was overwhelming.
We also had the opportunity to explore Kenya. We visited The African History Museum, Giraffe Center, Ocean Sole (a community organization using flip flops to create mattresses for those in need and cool art), a nature reserve, and went on a safari. Each of these were awe inspiring, but nothing compared to being with the children and the people of Kibera.
I love this statement from the CT website - "We are a community built on relationships of hope, potential, possibility, empowerment, engagement, and love". Michael and I felt and saw all this firsthand and feel honored and blessed that we had this opportunity.
Every day since we have been back, CT has come up in conversation, either between just the two of us or with others. We are excited to continue our support now that we are back home. Michael had his first mentor/mentee call this week, and I am looking forward to speaking with my mentee next week. We are also planning our next trip to Kibera. We hope to make it a family affair and have our 25-year-old son Jonathan accompany us.
Hope and Michael Dunleavy
CT Trip Participants