Faith Anderson and Gloria McPhee arrived in Kenya last November with a little bit of money, and an idea to help those in need, but they came back with much more.
The Parrsboro friends spent five weeks in the African country, volunteering for the Fadhili Helpers, an international organization set up to work with orphanages and non-governmental organizations to alleviate poverty and promote sustainable rural development.
As much time as they spent getting ready for the trip, nothing could have prepared them for what they experienced, according to McPhee.
"It rewrote the definition of amazing for me," she said. "The people were amazing, so warm and welcoming, right from the moment we got off the plane, until the time we left."
The pair lodged with three different host families during their five weeks in Kenya, which was split mainly between stays in the capital city of Nairobi, and the market town of Thika.
While there, they immersed themselves in Kenyan culture and daily life, volunteering at medical clinics, orphanages, and putting to good use the money collected from various fundraising activities that took place here in the months leading to their departure. The $2,400 they raised went amazingly far, creating three different projects they decided on.
"We started a bakery at an orphanage/school for vulnerable children," explained Anderson. "They had 300 kids in a feeding program there, and they had baking equipment, but didn't have the money to buy supplies. So, we took some money and put it towards buying the supplies."
The bakery is hoped to generate income to employ people from the community who are HIV positive and otherwise unemployable, and to make enough money to sustain itself and create enough profit to buy textbooks for the school.
Another project saw the women buy a milking cow for another orphanage they had visited, while the third project involved the creation of a mobile resource centre to spread awareness about HIV and family planning. Anderson and McPhee were able to purchase a television, DVD player and a generator to make this project a reality, and it will be operated by non-government community health workers they worked with while in Thika.
"Their focus is to take the information out into the communities where people don't necessarily have access to things," said McPhee, who explained that in these communities there are grown men who have no idea about contraception or safe sex. "There is a lot of information being pumped into school-aged kids and in the cities, where centres can make money, but there is nothing in the outlying areas. This resource centre targets those outlying areas."
The experience in Kenya was both heartbreaking and heartwarming for the friends, who saw situations of extreme poverty, such as seven-year-old street children sniffing glue on the corners, but were also welcomed everywhere they went with generosity and hospitality.
On Dec. 17 they returned home, to a country where people were preoccupied with such matters as Christmas shopping.
"I was more culture shocked coming back home then when we first got there," said Anderson. "You come back and your kids are saying, 'I want this, I want that.... Christmas was definitely a hard time to come back."
McPhee said she was surprised by how well received they were. Everywhere they visited, they were offered food and drink by the people.
"It forces you to look at things like our lifestyle here at home," she said. "It's comfortable for us when we're here and it makes sense, but a lot of things we have, we don't need. We take things like running water for granted."
Anderson said she was expecting to be afraid all of the time during the trip, but, other than a couple of small occasions, she was never afraid, Most of all, it was a learning experience for her.
"In Canada, our vision of Africa is what we see on TV, but that is not the reality," she said. "Yes, it is poor, yes, it is not developed, but there is so much there, way more than what you see on TV. It's an amazing place."
The pair expressed appreciation to those who supported their venture, either by supporting fundraisers, making donations or simply by showing interest in their travels.
"The support meant a great deal and allowed us to accomplish so much during our short time in Kenya," said McPhee. "It was a great source of pride to explain to the people we helped that we were merely representatives of our community and that everything we were able to accomplish was a result of the (outstanding) outpouring of support we had from friends and family at home."