Whenever we return from a service trip, we are often met with genuine inquiry about how it was, what the people we like, how the kids responded to us being there, or things of this nature. We have been extremely fortunate to always be able to respond with how wonderful everything has been, but it can be very hard to put it all into words. Something that many don’t realize regarding service work is the extreme emotional impact it can have on the volunteers. While traveling, we fill every waking minute with projects and activities. Your mind rarely has time to pause and let everything sink in. It really isn’t until we return and take some time to debrief that we are able to grapple with all that we saw and felt. On our recent trip to Kenya, this was no exception. Each day carried its own weight of attempting to understand and fully comprehend the struggles of the people and communities we worked with and the gnawing question of- how can we help?
Our work in Kenya this year was directly connected with The Touch Kibera Foundation. This organization was started by our good friend, Edwin Oketch, in an attempt to give back to the community which raised him. As a native of Kibera, Kenya, Edwin is all too aware of the extreme poverty and societal roadblocks which his people face. In order to help youth in his community, he stared TKF, a center which provides after school support, educational tutoring, athletic coaching , mentorship, and one on one guidance for kids in need.
Before heading to Kibera, we worked closely with Edwin to gather donations and items to go directly to the kids he works with. These items ranged from school supplies, to sanitary items, hygiene products, food, athletic equipment, etc. After gathering the items, Doc and Edwin had many Skype sessions and phone conversations in order to devise the most impactful and beneficial visit for the kids. In order to do this, they had to assess the skills of each volunteer team member and best decided how to put everyone to work.
This year’s volunteer team was not only an incredible group of people, but each person brought something unique to the table. Doc and Fligg travelled with the group, once again, as this type of work has become a foundation of what they do with UKSD. Doc is not only the organizer of the trips, but he brings a vast coaching background and education to both the local coaches and their players. He also worked with Edwin to share his experiences and advice around starting and maintaining a non-profit. In addition to his knowledge, Doc has a way of connecting with kids from all walks of life. As someone who didn’t have the easiest upbringing, he can both relate and work to help find solutions. Fligg, who also coaches soccer, brought the added element of being a secondary educator.
On this trip, she was able to work in schools, and she was also able to implement ADL and CAC curriculums into both soccer and classroom activities. She too finds a great sense of purpose in this kind of work. Two other returnees this year were Kate and Molly. Kate and Molly are cousins and actually made the trip together to Kenya with UKSD in 2016. Because they loved their time in Kenya previously, they chose to make the trip once again. Each added their own element to this trip which was necessary for the overall success. Molly is a highly talented photographer and set her skills to good use while there. Little did she know, she would also connect with a local photographer, Ben, and they would work side by side in an effort to capture the trip. Kate came as an eager volunteer who was literally willing to do whatever was asked of her. With a kind heart and truly innate ability to connect with others, she worked with both the kids and adults of Kibera. She helped to link the UKSD team with each and every individual or organization we worked with. New to the team this year was Nancy Feldman, the B.U. Women’s Soccer Coach. Nancy has a profoundly extensive background in the game of soccer and knows how to both educate and motivate players and coaches.
Nancy ran education clinics for coaches and shared concepts of how to devise season goals and session plans, while also overcoming obstacles and challenges. Furthermore, Nancy also possesses the ability to connect with individuals on such a real and meaningful level. This trip would not have been the same without her. We are proud to also say that two UKSD alumni and current coaches joined us this year. We were lucky to have both KD and Begs with us. KD is not only a soccer player and coach, but she is also an elementary school educator. Without hesitation, she stepped right in a taught classrooms of varied ages. We were in awe of her teaching abilities and the way she pulls in kids of all ages. Begs, also an alumni and current UKSD coach, came with us as both a volunteer and UKSD Marketing Director.
She is currently finishing her undergraduate degree in marketing, and worked on the trip to help visually capture the heart of what it is that we do. This trip had a great group dynamic, which, if you’ve ever travelled in a group, you know that this is one of the most important components to finding success. It is imperative to find a group of individual who will respect one another, push each other, pull back when necessary, and who share the same morals and purpose. It also didn’t hurt that all of us, on more than one occasion, had tears streaming down our faces from laughter. This group truly made this trip one to remember.
In addition to the aforementioned roles which each team member played, two aspects of this trip which stood out compared to any other were our group community service day and our home visit experiences. It’s one thing to visit an area and bring our knowledge regarding our respective fields, but it is something much more powerful to allow ourselves to be ingrained in a world much different than our own. On our community service day, we worked, side by side, with the children of Kibera in order to clean up some of the main streets. It’s so hard to explain what this looked like or meant, as none of us had ever really seen an area of this nature. Due to extreme poverty in this region, thousands of people live on top of one another in corrugated tin tenements. There are not systems in places for proper sewage or trash removal, so the streets are blanketed in garbage and discarded items. We knew that we were volunteering to clean for an afternoon, but we were overwhelmed with how many children from Kibera offered to help. One of Edwin’s main initiatives is to teach children that you can create change in our own community if you put in the work. His influence clearly showed, as over 50 kids showed up, armed with shovels, rakes, wheelbarrows, and more smiles than one could even imagine. This work was not easy. To be honest, that’s an understatement. However, everytime we looked up from our rakes or shovels, we saw the kids we were doing this for; we saw the kids we were doing this with. Random people were coming up to us and thanking us and expressing their gratitude. No, it’s not about receiving thanks, but that was an affirmation that we were making a difference. As previously stated, you ask yourself this a lot on these types of trips.
The second life altering experience for each of us was the afternoon where we were graciously welcomed to do an afternoon and evening homestay with a particular student from the Touch Kibera Foundation. Each volunteer was paired with a someone from the program. After school on this particular Friday, we met them at the center, and we then travelled with each of them to their homes. There, we would spend the afternoon and evening getting to know them, their families, and we would also get to experience what a day in their life looks like. As you can imagine, this was a lot for all involved. Not only was each volunteer pushed out of their comfort zones, but these families were willingly taking in complete strangers into their homes. Some of our team had afternoons and evenings of relaxing and talking with families, while others joined in on afternoon chores of collecting water or hand washing laundry. Each experience had its own unique touch and something for each of us to learn from. When our evenings were over and we said goodbye to our host families, we came back together as a team. There was something in the air had not been there earlier in the day. We were not the same people who had left with our kids earlier in the afternoon. We were overwhelmed with a new sense of understanding and a humble appreciation for these people and their daily struggles. We also had tethered these bonds with the kids we were paired with. Through hearing their stories and sharing our own, we tied knots in thread which connects us as human beings. We walked into the tenements of Kibera with the heat of the afternoon sun on our backs and an apprehension of what was to come. We walked out in the dark and raucous streets with a weight in our hearts of a new person we would carry with us forever.
Yes, this trip was about volunteering and donating. It was about running coaches education courses and free soccer clinics. It was about teaching in schools and cleaning up areas in need. It was about all of this, but it was also about getting to the root of what connects human beings. 7 individuals made this journey - to do this work. We brought what we could in both the tangible and intangible, but we may have underestimated what we were to be given. It is our hope that this trip is only the beginning of our partnership with The a Touch Kibera Foundation and simply the start of what will be lifelong friendships.