Derby County Community Trust have recently returned from their eighth volunteering trip to Kenya.
This year, the Rams in Kenya group was joined by eight-year-old twins, Harry and Oliver, and their parents, Luke and Hayley.
We spoke to them about their experience in Kenya, and why they chose a volunteering trip instead of a more conventional family holiday.
Can you describe your thoughts and feelings before the trip?
Oliver: I thought that Nakuru would be a lot smaller!
Harry: I’ve always wanted to go to Kenya, so I was very happy. I was nervous, but as soon as we arrived at Mama Kerry School and we met the children my nerves went away.
Luke: Having travelled to Kenya five times before, it was so exciting to finally take my wife and children with me. I was looking forward to returning to Mama Kerry and seeing the amazing children again.
Hayley: I was excited to go! Luke and our eldest son Reece have both been to Kenya before, so this trip has been on my wish list for the past five years. They always come home talking so passionately about the children, the projects and the experience. It was great to know that I was finally going to have the opportunity to make a difference.
What did you think and feel when you arrived at our partner schools in Nakuru?
Oliver: I was surprised how big the school itself was.
Harry: I felt thankful, because the children welcomed us so warmly.
Luke: I was so proud of how quickly Harry and Oliver settled in and mixed with the Kenyan school children. They immediately started talking to them, and even danced with them. It was also so good to see familiar faces from the previous year.
Hayley: I was excited to meet the children and get started on the volunteering work. I recognised the school from the photos that Luke had shown me, so it was great to see it in person.
What volunteer roles did your family take on during your trip? How did you find the volunteering?
Oliver and Harry: We helped to build a fence around the school, painted the walls, repaired the guttering, and built a new playground. We also helped teach English, Maths and Science.
Luke: I don’t have a builder’s background, and my career has always involved working in an office. But, every year, I put on my work boots and do the best I can! It’s fantastic how you are able to adapt, learn new skills, and work as a team with the other volunteers. I love it.
Hayley: I helped to paint the front of the school, and helped with digging where required. I was one of the older female volunteers at Mama Kerry, so I supported with cooking meals in the kitchen and with any other tasks I could assist with.
Was there anything that surprised or shocked you during your trip?
Oliver: Yes, there were lots of things that surprised and shocked me. I thought that the school would be smaller. I was also very surprised at how far some of the children walk to school.
Harry: I was surprised that the school was so close to everything else in the city, such as a supermarket. I thought it would be in the middle of nowhere.
Luke: I am always shocked at how far the children walk to school, and how young some of them are. This year, we heard some more details about the children’s lives and why school is so important to them. These stories were eye-opening.
Hayley: Luke and the rest of the Newman family have always talked very openly and honestly about what they have experienced, so I had a good idea of what to expect. This year, we didn’t visit the dumpsite, where many of the children live. If we visit the dumpsite next year, I think that may shock me.
Hayley, how do you think your experience differed from Luke’s?
Luke will agree that I am not as emotional as he is, and that I accept that life is different for people living in other countries. That said, I wanted to go to Kenya for a few reasons. I wanted to meet the children who had made Luke so passionate about helping others. I wanted to share in the experience that had helped our eldest son, who has suffered from suicidal feelings, see that life is worth living. I wanted to give something back to say thank you for making our son feel that he mattered, and that he could use his plumbing skills to make a difference to others. I was very proud to see his plumbing work in Kenya and hear other volunteers who he had travelled with speak so highly of him. I was so proud to be out there with Harry and Oliver, but also sad that Reece was unable to join us this year.
As a mother to three sons, it was lovely to take on the role of a caring adult to the children at Mama Kerry, and this was noticed by all the teachers at the school. I want to make a difference to as many children’s lives as possible, and I can’t wait to see them all again next year.
What was your overall highlight of the experience?
Oliver: My favourite part of our trip to Kenya was on the last day, when Joy, a child at the school, said “Goodbye” to me in English. Throughout our trip, Joy had been repeating English words which I had taught her, but I hadn’t taught her how to say “Goodbye”.
Harry: I really enjoyed playing with all the boys and girls during their playtime. I especially enjoyed playing tennis for two hours with a girl at the school, using rackets that Rams in Kenya had brought.
Luke: As I’d travelled to Kenya five times before, seeing my wife and children interact with the Kenyan children and teachers was incredible. Also, seeing a little girl called Damaries, who had been so poorly last year, now so happy and healthy was very emotional.
Hayley: For me, there were two highlights. The first was carrying out eye tests and giving the children who needed them reading glasses. The second highlight, and one that does get me a little emotional, was on our last day. Pastor William, the founder of Mama Kerry School, invited the street children to come into the school to eat lunch. All the volunteers helped to prepare, cook, and serve the food, which was paid for by Molly, another volunteer. We had interacted with the street children when we painted the fence at the front of the school, and had given them sweets or fruit whenever possible. Just like the school children, they were always happy. They were so thrilled to be eating in the school grounds, and I admire Pastor William even more for the compassion he shows to all the children he meets.
How was the trip different from your previous family holidays?
Oliver: It was different because on family holidays I buy lots of toys, and spend lots of time on rides and in the swimming pool. In Kenya, it was about helping the children.
Harry: We spent time helping the children rather than relaxing or going to the seaside.
Luke: A holiday is for relaxing next to a swimming pool, and eating at different restaurants every night. This is a humanitarian trip, where we put others first and try to build a better future for the children at the projects.
Hayley: It was lovely being out there as a family and working together to make a difference, rather than restaurant-hopping and self-indulging. Kenya is a stunning country, but the children are by far the most beautiful part of it!
Would you recommend the experience to other families?
Oliver: I would! I would recommend it to my cousin, but he can’t go yet because he is only three. I would also recommend it to my other grandparents. One of my grandparents has already travelled to Kenya seven times!
Harry: Of course! This trip has made me more aware of how lucky we are.
Luke: I would highly recommend a humanitarian trip for families. It is a fantastic way to bond as a family, and a great way for children to understand that not every child has the perks that they have at home.
Hayley: Absolutely. I think that Harry and Oliver were the right age for this; if they were any younger than eight years old, I don’t think they would have fully understood the experience and why we were there. Our boys made so many friends, and it was lovely to see them getting involved in the lessons and the other volunteer work we were there to do. I would say to any family thinking of taking their children on a humanitarian trip to definitely do it. What our children learnt and experienced cannot be taught in a classroom. This experience will stay with them for life, and will hopefully shape them into more caring and humble human beings.
What is the main thing that you learned through this experience?
Oliver: The main thing that has stayed with me is that 25 of the students at Mama Kerry School are street kids, who look for things on the street to sell. A few also still live on the streets, which is very sad.
Harry: I have learnt that I am very fortunate. I have lots of toys and technology at home, which the children in Kenya don’t have. I will try not to be as selfish, and to appreciate everything I have more.
Luke: I have always said that each trip makes me more of a humble person. I don’t treat myself to as many luxury items as I used to, as I don’t believe that I need them. I try to live on essentials rather than luxuries.
Hayley: This trip gave me an opportunity to reflect on my own skills, and to realise that even the little things or small gestures matter. Ken, one of the African Adventures Trip Hosts, told me that just hugging a child can make their whole week, which is both very sad and very sweet. I hug my kids every day, but some children at the school are homeless and sleep on the streets, which is unthinkable. Who do they go to for a hug when they are feeling down? You have an overwhelming urge to protect these children when they leave the school each day and are alone on the streets at night.
Do you think the trip will have any impact on your family life at home?
Oliver: I know that I will never forget the people I met in Kenya.
Harry: I will talk about this trip all the time. I have told my friends at school, and soon I am going to give a presentation to the whole school with Oliver.
Luke: Every trip to Kenya has an impact on my life. I come home determined to live life to the full and make sure that my family are truly happy.
Hayley: This trip has inspired me to apply for training courses, so that when I return to Kenya I will have even more practical skills that I can use to help the children and the school. I now think carefully when I am out shopping and question if I really need certain items. I feel guilty about what I have compared to the children in Kenya, but, like the other volunteers, we are all trying to make a difference.
Can you describe your experience in 20 words?
Oliver: The trip was surprising, because the children have so little. They loved all the equipment that we donated.
Harry: The trip was very surprising, because the school was not in the middle of nowhere as I expected. I loved playing with the school children.
Luke: One of the best, and most rewarding, things I have ever done. I love meeting and making lifelong British and Kenyan friends.
Hayley: It was an inspiring and eye-opening experience which everyone should try at least once in their lifetime!
We would like to say a huge thank you to the Newman family for speaking with us about their experience, and especially for talking to us so openly about the experience of their eldest son, Reece. Hayley and Luke told us that Reece was keen for this information to be shared because he wanted to show the trip as a positive thing for other people suffering from depression. If you have had any experience of the issues raised within this article and would like further support, please visit www.samaritans.org.