At the start of 2020, Luke Newman – along with so many others – was looking forward to his upcoming volunteering trip to Africa.
Luke was due to travel to Kenya in May 2020 to volunteer with Derby County Community Trust (DCCT). The trip would have been DCCT’s ninth visit to our partner projects in Nakuru. Then the pandemic hit, and unfortunately DCCT’s trip was cancelled.
With the vaccine roll-out in full swing and a return to normality on the horizon, we caught up with Luke to discuss how he has found the past year, and DCCT’s planned return to Kenya in 2021…
How did you feel when your 2020 trip to Kenya had to be cancelled?
Unfortunately, when the COVID-19 pandemic arrived and we were placed into the first national lockdown in March, I think I almost immediately knew that our trip to Kenya in May 2020 would be cancelled. I was devastated. For me, Kenya feels like a second home, and the thought of not going back for the first time in seven years was very upsetting.
How did the rest of the DCCT team feel about the trip being cancelled, and are they looking forward to returning to Kenya in 2021?
They were all devastated, but totally understood why it was cancelled. The global pandemic is just that – global. It has affected every single person around the world. It’s very sad for the volunteers who have previously visited Kenya because, like me, they were looking forward to seeing the friends we have all made.
I feel particularly sorry for the new volunteers. The excitement of their first trip has had to be delayed for a year. If I can tell them one thing, it’s that it will be well worth the wait. They will not be disappointed!
What have you most missed about volunteering in Kenya?
Kenya is a beautiful country, I love the Rift Valley and the beautiful scenery that we see on our journey to Nakuru, and especially on safari. On the last day of our trip, I always really enjoy the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust elephant orphanage. My mum passed away many years ago, and her favourite animal was the elephant. My twin boys adopted Dololo, an elephant who is cared for by the Trust, on our last visit in 2019.
As three generations of the Newman family volunteer in Kenya most years, I always look forward to one of the few opportunities in the year when we can all get together. It’s amazing to watch us all work as a family for one cause.
But, without a shadow of a doubt, and as mentioned earlier, I miss the Kenyan children more than anything. They are the happiest children you could ever meet, and so inspirational every time we visit.
What are you most looking forward to about returning to Kenya?
Visiting Kenya on a humanitarian trip is one of the best and most rewarding things I have ever done. Although I don’t have a builder’s background, I really enjoy building and renovating classrooms.
However, I also really look forward to not only seeing the Kenyan teachers and children, but also the African Adventures staff in Kenya. I have become lifelong friends over the last few years and I miss them.
I live 100 miles from Derby, so I don’t get to see the other DCCT volunteers regularly either. I count some as true friends, and we share similarities that not many people do. Again, I miss them.
Have you had much contact with your friends in Kenya?
Absolutely! I speak regularly to them via social media. I think the benefit of platforms such as Facebook is that we can keep in regular contact with one another, not just through messages, but also through photos. It has given me reassurance over the last 12 months to see photos posted of the Kenyan children, and to know that they are safe at present.
Finally, how have you and your family found the past year as a whole?
Like most people in the UK, we have found this year tough, and the COVID-19 pandemic has had a major impact on our lives. I have personally missed the freedom of normal life. We haven’t been able to visit places such as the cinema and swimming pool.
The Newmans are a very close family – that includes grandparents, uncles and aunties – and we have missed them all, especially over the Christmas period. Social distancing and the lockdowns have made us all feel isolated and lonely. FaceTime and Zoom chats are great, but it’s not the same as physical meetings!