It’s pretty crazy to say it, but we’ve been back to Kenya more times that we’ve been to any other place in the world outside the United States. As much as we love England and as many times as we’ve returned there, Kenya now trumps England by one to earn the most revisited title. What makes this statement even more crazy to me is the premise of our first trip to Kenya in 2008: it would be the trip of a lifetime! We’d likely never be back, so we would see and do everything the country had to offer before we flew home. Little did we know how much that trip to Kenya would change our lives.
Our first visit to Kenya was incredible. My grandmother arranged our visit with a friend of hers who lived in Kenya part of the year and was helping with a little library and small preschool in a village more than an hour away from a “big city.” She offered the opportunity to our entire family one Christmas (my mom has five brothers and sisters, who all have kids, some of whom were married—this was a big offer!), and by the next year, eighteen of us were headed to Kenya. We went on safari and saw the wildebeest crossing ten minutes after landing on the dirt airstrip, we went to a rain-forest retreat and hiked under soaring trees, but the most impactful experience on that trip was our stop in Makutano, that little village where Grandmother’s friend, Margaret, was spending her time.
When we got home, Tim and I couldn’t stop talking about our experience there, the things that we saw, and the new perspective it had given us on life. We always knew that we were blessed, but now we thought more about the responsibility those blessings placed on our shoulders. We questioned our part in the materialistic society around us and began to reprioritize what was truly important. It sounds so simple when I put it in that way, but it was a process that took time and continues to shift and change in our lives to this day.
I immediately knew this was not a trip after which I would say, Well, that was nice! Time for the next adventure! It touched a deeper part of me that wouldn’t allow me to move on. I asked Margaret if I could do something to help the efforts—maybe do a book drive to help support the library and the little school? As a school teacher, I thought this would be a pretty easy and immediate way to help. But after a few weeks talking with Margaret, the book drive was a distant memory, and the support I began to offer was more than that initial offer. By the following year, Village Project Africa had been formally born as a non-profit and my new mission in life was beginning a child sponsorship program to give some of those sweet kids I’d met the year before a greater chance for health, growth, and education. I still remember the excitement Margaret and I shared when we got the first donor that neither of us knew. We talked about the future and our hopes for the kids in the school and what we could do to make those a reality.
More visits to Kenya followed, and I watched as the kids blossomed, but the need continued to grow as more children came to the school looking for a refuge from difficult situations. As the project continued to grow, it began to demand more time than I could offer outside my full-time job. Margaret brought more people on board, and together we watched the school and programs in Makutano grow even more. I will never forget the day I received a new batch of pictures of the first children who had been sponsored, and I sat at my computer and cried tears of joy. Some of the children were almost unrecognizable—their faces were so full and their smiles so wide. These children who had seemed so needy and hopeless only a few years earlier had their lives changed so completely in such a short time, and it showed on their faces.
After several years traveling to Kenya on summer breaks, Tim and I decided to take a break from the travel aspect of the project. I would continue to support the work, but I wasn’t sure when I would make it back to the village. Tim made one more trip back after the death of a dear friend there, but it had been six years since I had been when I took the trip last May!
Six years, and the changes were unmistakable. I felt the same overwhelming joy when I walked back onto the grounds of the expanded school and visited the new high school campus. What had been merely a preschool on my first visit was now two campuses serving students up to tenth grade, soon to be expanded to eleventh and twelfth. Those malnourished and undereducated kids I met were now young men and young women, healthy and happy with dreams of becoming engineers, pilots, doctors, and teachers. Everywhere I looked, I saw success stories. I talked to so many kids who said (in English!), “I love my school.”
I saw it all through fresh eyes in so many ways, but I had the lens of the past to bring so much that I saw into even greater focus. Davis and Margaret lit the torch long ago and have masterfully kept it lit and made it brighter and brighter each year. So many people have come alongside the project and have made it what it is—a truly remarkable place. When I first started working with Margaret in 2008, I couldn’t, not even in my wildest dreams, have imagined how far it would go. But “little is much when God is in it!” I feel so much pride and happiness when I think of that place, not because of any small part I might have played, but because of those kids and families whose lives have been transformed. The changes to their current state and the paths they walk are remarkable. However this happened, and whomever is responsible for it, I am grateful and overjoyed that it came together to make all things for good.
There is still work to be done. Every day another child walks through the doors of the school with an empty stomach and a dream in his or her heart. And the dream in my heart for them is that they would be given all the opportunity available to fill their stomachs and fulfill their dreams. I’ll continue to do what I can to contribute to that hope.
Interested in learning more about Village Project Africa? Check out the website, Facebook page, Instagram, or contact me. I’d love to provide you any information you’d like about the project or about how you might plan your own visit to Makutano. Stay tuned for more from Kenya—we’re headed there in two weeks!!!