When I stepped off the plane in Nairobi, Kenya, and inhaled my first lungful of the thick humid air, I had no idea what the next nine weeks would hold for me. I was hoping to teach a little, learn a lot, and have the greatest adventure of a lifetime. However, what I received was much, much more.
With no running water or electricity, no method of transportation other than my own two feet, and not understanding a lick of Kiswahili, Kenya was a whole new challenge. I was there for a GO Fellowship to volunteer in Isinya, a Maasai village, for nine weeks. I was supposed to teach in a primary school, but I quickly realized that I had a lot more to learn than I could teach.
Most of the children of Isinya were born into traditional Maasai families, meaning the fact that they are in school at all is nothing short of a miracle. In torn-up sneakers and thread-bare sweaters, these children showed up ready and eager to learn every day. Classes would start at 8:20 a.m., but with no lights at home, the students arrived at sunrise to study by the sunlight in classrooms with no floors and missing doors.
It took only a matter of days for me to fall completely in love with the Maasai people. Even as a “mzungu” (white person) I was almost adopted into the village, given a name, and now bear their traditional markings. Every day I learned something new: how to make a new meal, how to fetch water, how to carry firewood properly, how to pronounce things, what not to wear, new words, new friends, new experiences. Every day was something new. Every day my students found it easier to understand me, and I them.
I have never seen a harder working group of people in my life, or children that were so appreciative of education and opportunities. Children who have next to nothing, some of them total orphans, or sick, all had brilliant, shining smiles on every day. These children have no real reason to be happy, yet they are. They seem to have an untouchable sense of joy that was inspiring.
I was hoping for an adventure and a summer full of new experiences. What happened was far greater than anything I could have imagined. I left a chunk of my heart in Kenya with the Maasai people of Isinya. They taught me to be thankful for every drop of water, to appreciate my education and to never stop, and to be grateful for my family.
After a few weeks at home with her family, Elizabeth again boarded a plane—this time to Spain for a semester-abroad program in Seville, to be followed by the spring 2013 term in Australia.
Elizabeth is creating a calendar with pictures from her trip to Kenya. She hopes to sell them and raise money for a child she met who cannot afford to go to high school. In Kenya, the government pays only to the eighth grade. Elizabeth receives the Austin College Alice E. Hull Memorial Sponsored Academic Honors Scholarship.