MTWAPA, Kenya - It is hard to put into words all that we have experienced for the past week. Most of what we have come into contact with is completely different, even in this short amount of time.
We did not expect the pollution. There is a plethora of trash strewn everywhere. Literally everywhere. It is completely acceptable to finish a water bottle and throw it out of the van window as you are driving, as we saw a public transportation driver do. There aren't any trash cans or landfills. Just piles on the side of the road - some are even right next to the street food markets. To get rid of the rubbish, sometimes they burn it. The smell of burning garbage is a familiar scent now.
The streets are unbelievable. The dirt "streets" look like a war zone with all the trash and the potholes, and they make a truck trail into the backcountry woods look like highway. They give Adirondack potholes a run for their money and would make most SUV drivers second-guess whether or not to drive it. Since we are here during rainy season, they fill with water rapidly and drivers don't flinch while going straight through the puddles (much like small ponds). We have felt the water on the bottom of the car several times.
After school gets out at 5 p.m., the volunteers enjoy spending a couple of hours with the children who live at Jambo Jipya Children's Home. Here they are pictured with a number of the girls who live there. Back row, from left: Rasoe and Ashora. Front row, from left: Tricia Garrett, Ritah, Faith, Mary Kate Graham, Carleigh Garrett, Grace, Irine and Neema.
They use cell phones as frequently as we do. Neither of us expected it to be so ordinary and commonplace. Most of the adults that we have run into have a cell phone. Like at home, we have seen people using them walking down the streets. However, here there are dozens of places to buy phones and put money on them, unlike at home. It seems as though every other store you walk by sells phones. Not many of them are smart phones; they are generally trac-phones and are apparently affordable for many people.
It has also amazed us that there are dozens of the same kind of shops all over town, many of which are no more than shacks. There are numerous cell phone shops, clothing (all second hand), fresh produce and quick-marts. Regular grocery stores are few and far between.
The highlight of our trip has definitely been the children at Jambo Jipya School and Children's Home - they are bundles of joy. Once you step inside either place, they rush toward you and shower you with love, smiles and laughter. It has been magical to form a connection so quickly with the kids living in the Children's Home, since they are the ones that we can spend the most time with. They have taught us dances, games, some Swahili and have even rapped for us. They are all incredibly talented, whether it is drawing, dancing or rapping they are eager to show us. All of the children are very bright and are excited to learn. Everyone we have talked to loves school and cannot wait to continue with their education. Both of us look forward to when we get to hang out with the kids next. We have gotten to see them everyday, so going on a safari for a couple days is unbelievably difficult.
Reason 2 Smile is a perfectly named organization. We are trying to give them a reason to smile and they are giving us a reason to smile as well. They find entertainment and fun in anything, even something as simple as toy cars. Words cannot express how wonderful they all are.
This is just a snapshot of life during the past week. There will be much more to share when we return. We have learned so much and we look forward to learning and experiencing much more this coming week!
Editor's note: Carleigh Garrett and Mary Kate Graham, students at Lake Placid High School, are in Kenya volunteering at the Jambo Jipya School and Children's Home. They traveled to Africa last week with Reason 2 Smile Executive Director Keela Grimmette, Lake Placid photographer John DiGiacomo and Garrett's mother, Tricia. They will return from their two-week trip on Monday.