I’ve just returned from an amazing trip to Kenya with Tracy Guion of Waitsfield, VT. It was a whirlwind of activity, beginning with one “value added moment” that I continue to unpack in my mind over and over again.
Harwood Students Making Change
Tracy Guion works for Project Harmony in Waitsfield, VT, implementing an exchange program for students in the USA and several eastern bloc countries. Last May she helped to restart EC’s Messages of Mercy writing program between students at Harwood Union Middle School (HUMS) in Duxbury, VT and William Aludo’s Mentorship students in Kenya. William is EC’s Program Coordinator and has been running camps for orphaned and vulnerable students for the past two years.
The response to the writing program has been tremendous, especially on the part of three HUMS girls who decided that they wanted to do more. They had learned that students in Kenya will be sent home if they can’t pay their fee of $36 per term, so they formed a group called “Harwood Students Making Change” and spent their summer vacation reaching out to family, friends, and area businesses in VT, raising funds to help orphaned Kenyan secondary students with their school fees. By the end of the summer they had raised over $2,000, enough to send 12 students to school for one year. They also made a short video introducing themselves and letting their new African friends know that they had raised these funds (see below).
We had arrived at our hotel in Nairobi at midnight and then spent the following day traveling six hours by car to Rongo. Needless to say, Tracy and I were whipped. But we had an important meeting to attend, which was to meet with the Mentorship Camp students at William Aludo’s home.
Nine students met us that evening, three of whom were students that EC currently supports. It began raining not long after we arrived, and the house had a tin roof, so the sound was deafening. Despite the storm we managed to share a meal and learn about each other.
Tracy was in her element. She sat right in the middle of the students and began asking them about their lives – what they liked to eat, how far they had to walk to get to school, and so on. Then she asked them to tell her what they had learned from their pen pals in America. The answers were interesting and revealing. Martin said, “I learned that there is not much difference between we and them.” Gordon said, “It gave me a chance to explore America”, and Brayton said, “I learned that most Americans only have two children.”
When Josephine mentioned that her pen pal was Arianna, Tracy pulled out her cell phone and showed the group the video that three Harwood Union Middle School students had made, explaining that they had spent their summer vacations raising enough money for 12 students to go to school next year. The children watching were amazed, and responded by saying, “Thank you for what you have given me”, and, “I really thank you for what you did for me, especially for motivating me.” But it was Gordon’s response that floored me. After thanking the three girls he said, “I would also like to raise funds and share it with the orphans so they can also go to school.”
I was stunned. In all the years that I have been coming to Kenya, very few people have ever suggested that they might want to look for ways to raise funds to help students in their country.
Value Added Moment
When I first began Messages of Mercy in 2007, my goal was twofold. I wanted the Kenyan children who had lost their parents to know that they were special and someone across the world was thinking of them. I also wanted children in the USA to tap into their compassionate selves and understand that there were children on the other side of the world who had the same dreams and aspirations. Over the years I have seen these goals be achieved over and over again. But sitting in William Aludo’s house in the middle of a thunderstorm and hearing this student express his desire to partner with students in America to raise funds for his fellow Kenyan students was a first, and something that I definitely saw as a “value added moment”.
Later in the week, we scheduled a meeting with 13 EC sponsored students at Bishop Donovan Secondary School in Nakuru, six hours away from Rongo. Over 100 students showed up for our meeting that day, but once again Tracy was in her element, holding their attention with stories about her life and the lives of students she knew in the USA. She also told them about the students who had raised funds to help their fellow students in Kenya, using quotes like “Be the change you wish to see in the world” to describe what these girls had achieved.
Afterward Tracy showed the video that the three Harwood students had made to students we support. They too were amazed, having no idea that this was taking place on their behalf. She asked them how this made them feel, and they responded with words like “Special”, “Loved”, Encouraged to study” and of course, “Happy!” Then she asked them what they had learned from their pen pals. One student said, “God can use anyone to help others.” Another said, “No matter where you come from, no matter your race, someone somewhere is thinking of you”. Tracy replied by saying, “I have been thinking of you 13 students since I first heard of you last March!” Once again, a value added moment was tucked away in my head and heart, showing me that the Messages of Mercy writing program had far exceeded my expectations.
We ended the meeting by going outside and taking pictures. Tracy also videoed the 13 sponsored students to show to the HUMS girls back home. Two of these are inserted below:
Being the Change
That value added moment was one of several that occurred during our Kenyan adventure, all of which will be written about in the months to come. I left Africa with the hope that EC’s work is reaching Kenya’s youth in a new way, inspiring them to also get involved and be the change that makes the difference for their country.
Next year we expect there will be 25 to 30 orphaned secondary students who will need help with their school fees. If you would like to make a difference in their lives, please click here to learn how you can make a secure donation to Everyone’s Child.
We are grateful for your help, and echo the voices you have heard and seen above: “thank you so much for what you have done for us”.