Masai Boy

I am riding a bus from Arusha, Tanzania to Nairobi, Kenya and having a moment I wish would last forever. When I think about it, it seems foolish to travel 9,500 miles not once, but three times to volunteer when there are so many opportunities to help in America. But what can you do?

I love Africa foolishly.

Elephant Safari Picture

My first trip to Kenya was in 2009 and each time I am overwhelmed at how much I grow from the experience; I smile at how much Africa surprises me each time. When I am here, I don’t have to think about what I am wearing, I don’t need to worry about who I may or may not run in to, heck, I don’t even have to shower!

I cannot live without Africa.

I met the Baird Family on my first trip to Kenya & Tanzania via a friend from high school. She posted photos of her mission trip on Facebook and as I sat up past 2am flipping through her experience, I felt a strong tug on my heart telling me that I needed to go. Around 2 months later I found myself traveling across the world to join a mission trip filled with people I’d never met. The trip was life changing, and now I consider myself an aspiring bi-annual regular in joining the New Hope Initiative {the organization that the Baird family founded} in their volunteer efforts.

Project Biashara Woman

After months of planning, followed by a 24-hour travel day welcomed by lost bags and a stolen camera lens, we were on Kenyan soil. Funny how Africa always seems to greet me with some sort of immediate challenge, as if to set the tone of “Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore.”

A few days after wearing nothing but sweats, a tank and sweater, my bags finally showed up on my doorstep along with a vicious head cold I adopted from one of the kiddo’s in Kibera. ‘I just can’t catch a break,’ I thought. If this had all played out in the states you can guarantee that I would be viciously pissed off with a grungy attitude about how life just isn’t fair. However, when it happened in Africa, it all simply brushed off my shoulders just as readily as the never-ending orange Kenyan dust in the air.

Damsel in Africa

Here is what isn’t fair: Kibera, considered the largest slum in the world. What makes a slum the largest in the world I am not completely sure, but this one is home to 1 million people living within a 1 – mile square foot radius. This trip I have found it hard to write about my experience. It’s not that I have become numb to the shock of how much poverty exists in this slum, but I have come to unexpectedly fall in love with the people who live within in it. And just like I wrote about my first love, here is a journal entry I wrote about my first trip to Kibera:

The sounds of the 500 children playing at the school slowly fade away with each step as we weave around “poop river”. I stop at the top of a hill composed of plastic, paper & waste to find a young boy who is standing barefoot wearing a mangled shirt and ripped shorts. His yellow eyes meet with mine and he flashes a bright smile which suddenly shields me of our surroundings. I am no longer standing in Kibera, but I am standing in his world. He reaches up to me and happily asks with a Kenyan accent, “How areeeee you!” A tear comes to my eye as I think “How am I?”

Little boy in Purple Sweater

When the Baird family came to Kibera they found children just like this little boy who attended a small Baptist church school at the edge of the slum. At the school you could find children who would not wear their uniforms, boys getting into regular fights and education being undervalued. The school had lost all faith and faced extinction when the Baird family came to town and renamed the school, appropriately, “New Hope.”

New Hope

The “New Hope School” provides education for over 500 children living in Kibera. The children are fed two meals a day, 6 days a week and the goal of New Hope is to send each and every one of the students to secondary school {funded by New Hope & sponsors}, helping some reach a college education level. Not only does the New Hope Initiative provide education for the children, they have extended their efforts in Kibera with other projects such as Project Biashara & Penda Project.

Masai Women Dancing

When I think about traveling 9,500 miles to volunteer I think about the Baird family. I think about how they have extended their family to reach hundreds of lives in not only Kibera but around the world. They have opened their hearts and lives to helping, to serving. So, when I find myself 9,500 miles away from home, sitting on a 5-hour bus ride, cruising down a dusty road from Tanzania to Kenya with a Baird family member on board, I find myself very, very blessed.

These are the people who make our world a better place. This is the type of organization you act foolishly to support.

Click here, if you’d like to learn more about the New Hope Initiative or add them to your wedding registry.

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