A Village Experience: Looking Through a Different Lens
Many years ago, a great friend and humanitarian introduced our family to the notion of traveling with purpose as opposed to conventional tourism. Last year, we decided to take our friends up on the idea of traveling with purpose and signed up for the CHOICE Kenya Expedition during the summer of 2022 to help build a school. What we saw would change our lives forever.
In a rural Kenyan village, far from the paved highway, we were met by schoolchildren dressed in uniform holding handmade signs with each of our names. They escorted us to the schoolyard where they welcomed us with song and dance. Members of the village were dressed in their finest traditional attire, helping to round out a rich and beautiful cultural welcome. It was an unforgettable greeting.
Our living quarters for the duration of the expedition were on the school property in the rural village of Kanjaocha. A tent city had been created for us with tents, cots, latrines, showers, and fantastic local fresh food. Early in the week, the kids at Kanjaocha school were shy but curious about their foreign guests. As the week progressed, they became more familiar with us, trusted us more, and by the end of the week, a very special kindred connection had developed.
The work we did for the school was tangible and meaningful. Some of the men and older boys from the village teamed up with members of our group to collect slabs of rock destined to become the floors of the school we were constructing. Other expeditioners were tasked with making school visual aids with teachers and schoolchildren, and others were trained by villagers to wield machetes to clear cactus and thorny bushes from the schoolyard. This was so we could create a barbed barrier around the property to protect the children from dangerous animals as they played.
When Clean Water is Not a Reality
Each afternoon, cumulus clouds littered a vast African sky, but not a drop of rain was shed. This community has not had measurable rain in over two years. Still not comprehending the gravity of the situation, we interacted, worked, played, and read.
Morning and evening, we watched the villagers walking past the schoolyard to fetch water from local watering holes. There was a graceful rhythm as they walked, talked, and giggled during such an important daily ritual.
On the last day—uplifted by a week filled with hard labor and cultural connection—we walked with villagers to participate in the process of daily water collection. What we saw and experienced at that watering hole will never leave us.
The watering hole was nearly depleted. With only enough water for less than a week, villagers scooped thick, green water from depressions of elephant footprints. The water was littered with elephant dung, and yet they scooped and drank as they filled their buckets.
Our group was deeply affected by the plight of these resilient villagers who were living in a very desperate situation.
During that short week, we grew to love these beautiful Kenyan people. The farewell was teary on our last day in the village, and we promised each other we would never forget the week we shared on that water-starved African savannah. We had visited their homes, watched them create home gardens using repurposed water, and yet, they smiled beautiful smiles through it all.
Shortly after leaving the village, we learned that the watering holes had completely dried up and the elephants from the neighboring game park had come into the village and ruptured a large plastic cistern, robbing the people of the last of their precious and life-sustaining water.
The Human Family: Vastly Different, Yet Remarkably the Same
I think it is safe to say that each member of our expedition group lamented over the villagers’ plight for weeks and months after returning to our reality of ALWAYS having clean, pure, and beautiful water from multiple faucets in our homes.
These irrepressible people in Kanjaocha were working together as a collective human family to survive a very severe drought. We decided to do the same.
As a group, our expedition family brainstormed on how to raise enough money to build a stable and elephant-proof concrete water cistern for our beloved village. Each expeditioner helped to contribute. A few members had businesses that enabled them to solicit donations with each sale or repurpose product to raise money. We sponsored a garage sale. We petitioned family and friends and even strangers on social media for help.
It required some time and effort, but we crossed the finish line of our financial goal right before Christmas and were able to give the village of Kanjaocha the benefit of a water cistern! While the water still needs to be shipped in by the government until the rains come, the villagers no longer have to compete with desperate elephants for precious water.
Synergy happens with collective effort. The gift for this village would not have happened without our expedition visiting their community, becoming aware of a very dire situation, and pooling resources to arrive at a solution that offers some relief. People can live on a little bit of water, but they can’t live without any water.
We are all part of a vast human family and together we CAN create solutions, we CAN make a difference and we CAN do more. My expedition experience in Kenya was life changing. I will never forget the villagers I met, and I will always be grateful that my fellow expeditioners and I could help in some way. If you’d like to experience something similar, I encourage you to join a CHOICE expedition and become a traveler who is a change-maker.
Author Bio: Teresa Larsen was introduced to CHOICE Humanitarian in 1989 when she was inspired to have her family experience their first CHOICE expedition. The expeditions were turning points for the entire Larsen clan. She now serves CHOICE as both a board member and Certified Expedition Leader. With a degree from Brigham Young University and a true DIY (do it yourself) attitude, Teresa constantly looks for ways to get involved and creatively provide solutions. She loves to run, cycle, cook, travel, write and appreciates handiwork from each and every culture. A particular passion of hers is to assist with the Days For Girls project in each country where she serves, which helps girls stay in school and have all opportunities available to them.