Travelling is one of those things we all say we want to do, but very few of us actually get round to doing it. Unfortunately it’s something that costs a great deal of money and forward planning, therefore forward thinking really is necessary (unless you have a huge stash of money to hand). So when I decided I wanted to go to Africa, I really had to commit to it. And I am not a good saver! But I knew this was something I really wanted to do and I had to take the opportunity while it was there. Once I had managed to pay for it all, I couldn’t believe I was really doing it. But before I knew it, there I was waiting for my flight to Kenya.
My adventure in Africa had barely begun and I was already learning so much. Driving through the streets on the way to school the ‘tuk-tuk’ was constantly followed by running children shouting ‘MZUNGU!’ which means ‘white person’ – it brought a smile to my face every day. There were goats, chicken, cattle and dogs roaming around everywhere, people walking in front of cars without even batting an eyelid. The drives were always very tense for us!
We walked in to meet the children of the school for the first time. As the gate opened we were surrounded by staring faces. They were amazed by us, and as the trip went on we were amazed by them. You always see all those horrible adverts on the TV, showing you the conditions that people are living in in Africa, and yes of course we all get upset by them. But nothing can prepare you for seeing it in real life. The school was absolute bare minimum of a building – made out of mud and had no equipment at all. There were two small rooms with broken glass windows and cardboard for a bed where some of the children lived. The minister of the school later showed us to where he lived not too far from the school. This was an even smaller room with one bed where he stayed with his family and orphans from the school. All of the teachers would take children home with them because their parents had either passed away or abandoned them. Such happy smiling faces all the time, continually singing and dancing. These were children that had absolutely nothing but each other and their teachers.
So why was I there? I was there because I wanted to make a small difference to these children’s lives. I couldn’t focus on how emotional I felt because this was no longer about me; it was all about what I wanted to change in the small amount of time I was there. We rebuilt the school walls and painted them; we helped with lessons and most importantly gave these amazing children memories. And I of course was there for the breath-taking safari and animal sanctuary trips!
It’s so cliché to say but things like this really do open your eyes. It makes you realise how lucky you are and how precious life is. I won’t ever forget the smiling faces of the truly remarkable people and children I met, or the feelings and thoughts they gave me, that l believe have made me a better person. My trip to Kenya completely changed me for the better and I am so glad and proud that I went. And I cannot wait to go back!
By Connie O’Neill