Sunday, February 5, 2012

Reflection from Paige Richards (High School Senior)

The children of Achungo thirst for the love and care of a parent as well as an education.  Achungo gives these children both of these things and it is thainks to Michael and the amazing teachers at this school.  One student stuck out to me the most and her name is Yvone.

Yvone lives with one of the Achungo teachers away from her mother and sister.  She has connected to other students at the school and built relationships to help her deal with her struggles.  Yvone has taught me how to connect with God.  Strengthening my relationship with God was a crucial part of this trip because there were many times when I felt scared, overwhelmed, and sick. 

When I get back to the United States I can't wait to tell family and friends not only about the amazing stories of all the children here, but about the amazing grace of God.  This mission trip gave me a new heart, a new perspective and a new direction.  This trip has made me so grateful of my family, my education and my teachers.  Teachers are amazing people who have devoted their lives to helping others and maybe in the future God will have me be a teacher.  I know God has a plan for my life and I am so excited to see where He takes me.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Lions and zebra and giraffes, Oh My!

On Saturday morning we head out to Masai Mara, the most popular of Kenya's incredible wild animal parks.  The morning at Gracia Gardens Hotel is a bit wet from last night's rain, but the grounds are a lovely green garden.  We've been refreshed from our night's rest and stretching out in a bed after all those airplane hours, and we enjoy the breakfast buffet as the team slowly gathers.  I venture out when I hear Wendi and Paige out and about.  Others apparently get more sleep and join us a bit later.

After Fred and Carlos show up with the vans, we load up and head out for the trek to the park.  After a few hours, we stop for gas and trinkets in Narok.  We've been asked to bring back the cow-bone bracelets to see if we can sell a few for Achungo and Narok had the best prices last trip.  We find some small shops but end up getting better prices from the street vendors.  On the road again, we make a short stop at the viewpoint for the Great Rift Valley and then after a few more hours, we see signs that we are approaching the park.   "Zebra!"  "Look, a wildebeest!"

After we arrive at the Mara Sopa and sort through the room assignments and move in, we rejoin for the buffet lunch and then our afternoon safari van adventure.   We stay 2 nights, make morning and afternoon forays into the park and sight all manner of gazelles, elephants, lions, a cheetah, hyena, ostrich, mongeese, baboons, warthogs, giraffe, and of course, endless hordes of wildebeest and zebra.  The hotel has very comfortable cabins, wonderful buffets of all sorts of foods, and brings in a bit of the animal park.  The bushbaby is fed each night in the bar on a small platform about 10 feet up the wall.  Hyena and jackals are fed in an open area below the hotel buildings each evening.  Vervet monkeys roam the grounds.  We're in the wild!

Saturday we walk down to the nearby Masai village with 2 of the chief's sons and get the hopping dance reception and the grand tour of the compound, huts and fire-starter demonstration.  Then, as last trip, we are led to the village's handicraft stalls but there is much less pressure and much better prices than at the village we visited on the June trip.  The chief's son wants to know if this entire group (8 women and one other guy) are my family.  I'm tempted to say "yes" if that will mean that I don't lose any of our women to Masai marriage proposals!   In the end, some of the women are asked their age but no one gets much pressure to take up residence, thankfully.

Sunday we pack up and head out early for the long, torturous drive to Rodi Kopany.  Along the way we stop briefly at the Tanzania marker and then at the Mara River for a view of hippos and crocs, before continuing on our way.  I'd forgotten how horrible were the fully-washed-out roads of the hills above the Masai Mara.   But at long last we make it to Kisii and our lunch stop and that means just one more hour to our Tausi Hotel.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Departure Day (October 19) and Nairobi Arrival

Sometimes I dream of mission trips where we would all leave together on the same flight after spending a number of meetings all together.  Doesn't that seem like the way to do it?  This trip the first time we'll all actually be together will be when we are all at the hotel in Nairobi on the morning after (Friday).  Karley flies out from Dulles and will meet most of us before we board for our second leg in Amsterdam.  Gini and Georganne flew to Kenya a week early, taking advantage of Georganne's nearly-free standby (she's a flight attendant).  In fact, they are already at the hotel (Gracia Gardens) and although they've had a great time knocking around Nairobi, they've emailed us a warning about the early rains setting in.

So it's actually only 7 of our team planning to depart SFO this Wednesday for our 2pm flight to Amsterdam.  Expecting the unexpected I've asked the team to arrive at 11:25 so we have plenty of time for check-in (sometimes we have to repack to adjust weight, for one thing).  But what could possibly go wrong?

1. We could find ourselves at the wrong check-in counter.  Some of us are at KLM and some are at Delta (our tickets are with Delta but issued by KLM).  I'm wrong and Jimmy and Mary convince me to come to the KLM counter.  It takes a few runs to move our 3 bags apiece, but, hey, that wasn't a big problem.  Now that we know where we are, everything should be easy.

2. There's only 6 of us.  Although I brought one of Paige's bags for her, we can't find Paige.  A number of us start calling her home and cell -- no answer.  We check out the entire international check-in area--no Paige.  Wendi goes over to the domestic terminal -- not there either.  We have Paige paged (seems appropriate) -- but paging Paige does not bring Paige.  After an hour we finish check-in for the rest of us.  The check-in counter is closing in 15 minutes.  We have posted team members at a number of the entrances for first sight of Paige.  Finally, I get a call...from Paige..she's still at school and thought departure was tonight...and she has about 15 minutes to get home, finish packing and get a ride to the airport.  Otherwise, she'd have to book on a later flight that would take her alone all the way to Nairobi and would have to let us know her schedule so that after we get to Kenya we could arrange for her pickup after she takes herself through baggage, visa, customs, etc. at this strange African airport.  Her mother gets on the phone and asks me, "Would you suggest this for a 17-year-old girl?"  And I share my misgivings.

So with some real disappointment and sadness, I pay to check in Paige's bag (it's full of stuff for the school), and we proceed through security to our gate.  As we begin to line up for boarding, a small figure with a backpack races towards us with her father and her carry-on bag following her.  Incredibly, beyond all hope, Paige has made it!!  Her teacher parents left their classes (getting subs in record time!), met her at home as she quickly packed a few things, and dashed her at light-speed to the airport where they begged their way through check-in long after it was "too late."  It is a true miracle and answer to prayer!

And other than that, our departure is smooth and uneventful!

Well, we did lose track of Wendi and Sharon as we exited the plane at the Nairobi airport, but we soon found them at "the other" visa line and were eventually reunited.  Alex, Fredrick and Carlos, our agent and 2 drivers, met us promptly as we passed through customs and off we went, through Nairobi to our overnight at Garcia Gardens.  The next morning, breakfast finally brought the whole team together in one place at one time!   And our adventure began.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Packing Day

Sunday is packing day.  Everyone brings their spare check-in bags and we fill them with all sorts of good things for the school, staff and children:  books, puzzles, blocks, play equipment, clothes, shoes, classroom materials.  This is our last get together before our departure. 

Suney Park and Kathy Fisher share their experience of the June trip and suggestions on things to do in the classrooms and with the teachers, how to organize the days, craft possibilities, songs that the children will enjoy, etc.