AMHERST – Marilyn Nixon views the simplest of things a little different now.
After spending three weeks in Kenya last summer participating in a Me to We-sponsored aid program, the 17-year-old Grade 11 student at Amherst Regional High School has a new appreciation for the abundant food at grocery stores, what the necessities of life are and what are luxuries that can be done without and something as simple as a hot shower.
“I think I cried the first time I went to a grocery store when I came home,” Nixon told members of the Amherst Rotary Club on Monday. “When I was coming home, we stopped in New York. Once I got through security I went to a store to get a gift for my sister. I just stood there and looked at all the stuff there and wondered how much of this do we need to have. It has changed my perspective on things.”
Nixon, who wants to study social work when she finishes high school next year, said landing in Kenya was an amazing experience because she then realized she was on her own in a foreign airport far from home.
“I didn’t know anyone from my group and didn’t know if I was going to make any friends or feel alone,” said Nixon, who was supported by the Amherst Rotary Club. “When I landed it was dark, there weren’t a lot of people there and we had to go through customs. It was a scary moment because there was a bunch of people standing there with big guns looking at us.”
After a six-hour bus ride, the 26-person group arrived in Kipsangol where they went to work helping build a new classroom for the community’s school. The existing school wasn’t much compared to schools in Canada. There were holes in the walls, not much for a roof and as many as six students shared one desk.
“When it rains you can’t hear anything because of the rain falling on the tin roof,” she said. “We were working to build a new classroom with a study roof, soundproof walls and proper desks as well as a blackboard and posters to help the children learn.
While there, she spent hours digging a foundation the in rock-hard ground using shovels that had seen better days and mixing cement to build the foundation. She would also walk up to 45 minutes to get water, adding that some women would walk up to six hours to get water for their families.
“It was hot and a long, hard day of work,” she said.
She also got to see some of the perils children face every day collecting water. She said she saw children playing at the edge of a river while others were collecting water. Nearby were what she thought were rocks. She soon realized they were hippopotamuses, which are very dangerous and claim the lives of hundreds every year.
She also said women face many other challenges from predators, both animal and human, while doing their chores – sometimes early in the morning or late at night.
While she wasn’t sure if she’d make friends among the children there, she was quick to get to know some of the children, including a 13-year-old girl, Vicki, who she became close during her 21 days in Kipsongol.
She didn’t think it would be so hard to say goodbye when it was time to leave, but said she still finds herself thinking back to her experiences there and the members of the group she was with – one of whom she shares a birthday with.
“I was trying to avoid connecting because I knew I wouldn’t see them again, but when I was leaving they gave me a necklace that I still continue to wear,” she said. “My friend Vicki also wrote a note in my journal, but I haven’t been able to read it yet because I’m not quite ready.”
She also got to meet Me to We founder Craig Kielburger, who was at the project and gave a presentation on how they could better help their communities and help themselves. She was surprised to know that Kielburger knew who she was and that she’s from a small town in Nova Scotia.