Sarah Duff - 2016 Program Participant 

What inspired you to start traveling?

I have always had a longing for places I'd never been to. The way I see it, the world is my oyster and it's just waiting to be explored. Life is one big adventure and travelling abroad is one of many ways of furthering that adventure! I don't think that distance is necessarily the biggest factor in having the best adventure, but once I got a notion for Africa in my head, there was nothing I wanted to do more than throw myself into the deep end and travel halfway across the world to seek adventure! I really wanted to explore the world and see what there is to see, do what there is to do. For this particular trip, I wanted to help people. I wanted to experience life in Kenya and see what it's like compared to what I've heard it's like. I wanted to help bring education to the children and do everything I could to give them a better life- even if it was just for a week.

Kenyan boy

“The Boy In The Yellow Hood” has a thousand stories hidden in those brown eyes.

Why did you sign up with African Adventures?

Our team chose African Adventures to travel with because they seemed to have a genuine passion for change. They provided different opportunities from the rest; a more rounded trip that gave us the chance to truly experience the Kenyan culture.

What was your favorite part about living in Kenya?

The love. Definitely the love. Everyone was so friendly and welcoming; they knew how to love each other and strangers equally. There were moments when we were driving down the narrow streets, and, when peering out of the bus windows, we saw that strangers and families alike were gathered around a campfire, simply being outdoors, simply being alive.

There was a moment, when I first encountered the Kenyan kids, when the world stood still and all that I could see was the brokenness and overflowing love of Kenya. The love was by far my favourite part.

Another of my favourite things was the Kenyan culture. It has honestly been the most amazing culture I've ever been a part of! Initially, it was a very big culture shock, with the different food, atmosphere, music, and everything else, but it was so welcoming. We were all quick to adjust, and, once immersed in it, you couldn't help but love it!

Children at the Hilton Dump in Kenya hugging an international volunteer

Kids from Hilton Dump taught me what joy and laughter truly meant.

What made your volunteer experience abroad unique?

To be honest, I think that God did. Religion aside, I saw God's love and joy flow in abundance from nearly every person I met. I've been on many holidays and I've met many people, but there was certainly something different about this trip. Perhaps it was because I was serving, perhaps it was because the more we gave up to God, the more He revealed himself to us. He was there, and I feel like the experience would never have been quite as outstanding if we didn't appreciate God's presence in it.

Something else that made the experience unique from anything I've done before were the children. The children were an absolute dream. They had full hearts and open minds. They were enthusiastic about learning and had big dreams for their lives and their world! My fondest memories of Kenya almost all include a child in my arms and a smile on my face. I don't want to use too many words because words could never do them justice. It's almost as if the kids are something you feel deep inside, more than anything else. The children are incredible.

How helpful was the local African Adventures staff?

I cannot give high enough praise and respect to all the African Adventures staff I met on my journey. Our trip co-ordinators and hands-on staff were so supportive in everything that we did, and were always so happy to help! All the teachers, the principal, and the founder, Pastor William of Mama Kerry Primary School, were absolutely amazing and had such a passion for the children; love shone from them all.

What's one thing you wish you would have done differently?

That's an extremely hard question. Would it be cheesy if I said: To stay longer? Honestly, that's all I wanted to do.

If I had to choose something else, it would be to be more aware of how the currency and shops work. I think that it's important to know that the locals deserve way more than they ask for their products…after all, that's what funds their livelihoods,so it's good to give them a bit of extra cash. However, gift shops and such places have a certain 'mzungu price' we found; they massively overcharge you for items that can be bought elsewhere for a lower amount. I was very naïve at first, and spent a lot of my money on products that were not worth what I was charged for them, and ended up low on money to buy resources that I wanted to get for the kids in Mama Kerry school. I think that the key thing is to consider what you would be willing to pay normally in our culture for something, and don't stray too far from that.

Describe a typical day in the life of your volunteer program.

We were bused off to our projects, knowing only that there would be children. Lots of children. My team departed from the others at the gate of Mama Kerry and were greeted by an abundance of joy. The welcoming ceremony consisted of all the pupils singing and dancing, followed by speeches and introductions. Overwhelmed by the happiness of these kids, we joined in the celebrations. It  was only when I started to look closer at the children that I noticed the torn clothes, shoeless feet, and longing eyes.

Volunteer playing with a child in Kenya

Lunchtime was my favourite part of the day; the kids were amazing!

If I’m completely honest, the first day at Mama Kerry was one of the most tiring days I have lived. Coming from a country where everyone lives their own life and focuses on where they are going and how they are getting there, it was a bit of a culture shock to suddenly be so intertwined with the children of Africa. It was amazing to be sitting in a classroom so different from our own and witness the eagerness to learn. Education was essential to them. It inspired me to work harder, to use the resources and opportunities that are so readily available in Northern Ireland, in order to gain skills and intelligence that I could someday pass on to the children that sat around me in Kenya.

Lessons were relatively short and breaks were relatively long. I got the feeling that the school aimed to provide the kids with a place to go, hot meals, and an understanding of God. First and foremost, they gave them a chance of freedom, a chance to be kids. Break and lunchtime were crazy. There were children everywhere and they craved the attention of the ‘mzungus.’ I have to admit, at first it was all a bit overwhelming, but after realising that all the children wanted was love, I was incapable of resisting their beaming smiles.

Leaving Mama Kerry on the first day, I was burdened with fatigue, but exhilarated about what was to come. The rest of the week spent in Mama Kerry was an experience I struggle to get into words. My feeble attempt to describe it in a sentence would be… truly amazing, thought-provoking, and character-adjusting. As a team, we taught lessons, helped with construction of a classroom, and did house visits to deliver food parcels.

I can wholeheartedly say that we didn’t come remotely close to giving those children anywhere near as much as they gave us. While we gave them material goods and education (which, don’t get me wrong, are so desperately needed), they gave us love, perspective, and life lessons that will forever be priceless to me. They taught me how to be grateful, how to have a childlike heart, and how to love God more. They taught me the value of a smile.

What did you enjoy doing in your free time?

Chips, cards and chilling took up the bulk of our free time. The evenings allowed us to explore the resort and come a lot closer as a team. The resort’s pool was soon discovered, and the group mingled with local teenagers; both nationalities were excited to get to know each other.

Hours were spent wide-eyed, taking in everything. Many laughter filled nights were spent at the bar, indulging in the many foreign Kenyan flavours of Fanta (the blackcurrant flavour was a delight beyond measure, I highly recommend it!). Trips along Nakuru's narrow streets into the centre of the town, heading for the local supermarket, were a regular occurrence and were very enjoyable. It was really cool to see where the middle class people of Kenya shopped and how the products available differed from our own.

Sporting spirit often brings unity around the world, and, with rugby fanatics among the team, Nakuru's rugby club was naturally our next stop, where we fell in love with the passion that shines from every kick and catch.

The beautiful African wildlife and vast plains were new surroundings for our eyes to adjust to. The safari around Lake Nakuru National Park stood out above almost every other experience in my 16 years of living. It was four hours of mind, soul, and body bliss; relaxation at its finest, meditating upon the beauty of creation. Another one of God's handiwork that we were able to explore was Thomson Falls, a challenging and exhausting hike resulting in magnificent views and unforgettable memories.

Young Kenyan girl with an international volunteer

Grace is beautiful.

What was your accommodation like? What did you like best about it?

Kivu Resort felt like home from the moment we tucked ourselves into the safety of our mosquito nets. It was the perfect mixture of basic, yet luxurious. The rooms were spacious and comfortable. The shower was certainly a different cleansing experience to what we were used to!

A lost ball led to a game of football with some enthusiastic staff, proving that sport and fun are an internationally-known language. All the staff were more than willing to let us into their stories and interests, into their hopes and dreams, all while providing first-class customer service and excellent food. The swimming pool and gardens along with the football pitch were the setting for many days and nights of togetherness.

What advice do you have for future African Adventures volunteers?

Come with an open heart. There is nothing that can prepare you for Kenya and its amazing people. Be ready for anything and give up all you can in order to learn. There's both lessons and love in every experience. You should know to smile. Smile as much as you can and don't let anything get in your way of loving every minute of it. Make the most of it while you can; you'll miss it when you're home!

What lessons did you take away from your time in Africa?

I cannot put into words how my trip has affected me. Every day, I think about it and miss the kids. It made me so grateful for everyday things, such as clean water. My trip has taught me the importance of education. It inspired me to work harder. It's taught me to live in the moment. It taught me to smile, laugh, and play like those kids.

Would you recommend African Adventures to others? Why?

I would absolutely recommend African Adventures to anyone! The trip involved many aspects of the Kenyan lifestyle, so we got to thoroughly experience the culture while enjoying the opportunity to make a change and be changed!