Kenya is a magical place.  It has undoubtedly changed the lives of the 38 people on the Kenya Team this year.  Below are the sweet, heartfelt and powerful stories coming from the deserts of Africa, as experienced by our 2013 Kenya Team.   Also, click here for a slide show of the Kenya adventure.  You won’t regret it.  Garret Garcia

We had been on the road for almost 4 hours and I knew that we were almost there, when all of a sudden I could hear hundreds of little children singing and welcoming us. They were all in the street with smiles brighter than the sun. I opened the window and stuck my hand out to greet them and they all grabbed my hand and embraced me as if a long lost brother had just come home. When we parked the vans you could see all the kids running towards us with a joy in their eyes. They hugged me smiling, asking me my name, and I embraced them like my family. At that moment I knew that we had finally arrived in Kajuki.  – Garret Garcia

On one of the first mornings spent in Kajuki, we split up into groups to go deliver name tags to the different classes aHeather Shippt St. Peter’s – my group went to the baby class.  The children in the class were so small and absolutely adorable.  None of them understood English at all, nevertheless we were still able to communicate in some ways through smiles, pointing, and waves.  My favorite part was when I got to hand each child a crayon to decorate the name tag with.  Each time, the child’s eyes would light up.  It was a very humbling and tender experience to see how excited each one became when they received a single crayon.  This was one of the many experiences in Kenya that helped me realize how incredibly blessed we are.  – Heather Shipp

I don’t think words can fully and completely express all of the feelings that I felt during my stay in Kenya. I just can’t seem to find the right words to give the experience I had justice. But, I know that what I saw, who I met, and what I learned really made in impact on my life. Especially impactful to me was the idea that the people of Kenya gave me so much more than I could ever possibly give them.

On the Sunday that we were to give out the chickens to different families I was waiting outside the prayer house for our ride. While I was standing there this little girl, Emily Makenna, came up to me and I started playing with her. Although she didn’t speak English we communicated in other ways. Love really doesn’t need words to speak. Even though I had only known her for under an hour I felt connected to Emily. Eventually, our ride returned so that we go deliver the chickens and I found myself not wanting to let go of her hand.

Later that day, I was packing my bag in the dormitory and I saw Emily standing by a tree outside. I immediately went out and gave her a hug. She had a plastic bag in her hand and another older girl told me that Emily’s mom wanted her to give the bag to me. The bag had in it two sodas and a loaf of bread. At first I really didn’t want to accept the gift because I realized how much it had probably cost them. But, I also Stephanie Gardinerknew that I couldn’t give it back so I ran inside to get something to give Emily in return. As I was looking for something I remembered something someone had said: the people of Kajuki had given us so much more than we could ever possibly give them. At that moment I fully understood what that person meant. Even though this girl and her family probably didn’t have much, they chose to give me part of what little they had. The gift was worth so much more than the money they may have spent on it just because I knew that it wasn’t something that was easily given. As I searched for something to give Emily I realized anything I had in my suitcase didn’t compare. Eventually, I gave her some hard candy and some bracelets knowing that I could never truly repay her. With the gift she gave me I learned that I could never be too giving. Honestly, I realized while at home now I can’t help thinking about Emily and her mom when I pass by a donation box and slip in a couple extra quarters. Nakupenda. — Stephanie GardnerKendall Hymas

Wow, what a trip! We’ve had so much fun learning different trade skills, meeting new people, and working hard to pass the carpenter test. People and friends always come and go, but I feel that this experience will last in my mind, vivid and fresh, forever – as the rest of the team I feel will be the same. I will never forget the community I met here; they will always soften my heart.  – Kendall Hymas

One afternoon while I was working with Tim, one of the seminarians, on the tables and benches, there were a few of the younger kids gathering around and watching us work. Off to the side near the bushes was a long black cord that the kids would sometimes pick up and play with. Tim suddenly dropped the board I was sawing and ran over behind the kids and picked up the cord, he yelled something to them and they all started laughing and ran to the other side of the cord. Apparently Tim had challenged them to a tug-o-war, and when the few kids left standing by us saw Tim was still beating those on the other side of the cord, they all ran and joined in to pull the cord from him. It Isaac Puririwas cool to see, because there was the group of us focusing more on the work, and then the group of kids standing around just watching us work. Tim was aware of the kids and as soon as he had the idea, he dropped the work and gave his attention to the kids. It made all of them happy and was fun for all of us to stop and watch. It was a small thing and happened quick and then we were back to work, but it was really impressive to me. There was a simple way to make the people around us happy, and Tim saw the opportunity and acted, even though we were working at the time. Thinking about it now, it was wrong of us to just kind of ignore the kids and act as though our work right then was more important; even though that wasn’t the conscious thought at the time, that’s basically what was happening. Whether Tim meant to or not, he gave us an awesome example of seeing what is important now. And I’ll definitely try to be more aware and willing to act in the moment to make those around me happy.  — Isaac Puriri

Erin McMaster

We went to mass this morning for the first time. It was the most non-judgmental environment I have ever been in. I really like how they make God a person not a religion. I’ll never forget when Father Frankline sat down next to me at opening ceremonies and started talking about the kids. Emilie told him, “You are so lucky,” and his response was, “I thank God every day.” – Erin McMaster

I loved playing with these kids day in and day out! My favorite moments are if it’s singing and dancing, there isn’t a moment where you could be happier than that. But some of the greatest moments with these kids were when you take the time to learn about their lives, their dreams and their goals for the future. They all want to become more than what they are like doctors, lawyers, newscasters, designers and priests. Not one of them complains or allows their circumstances to effect what they can do which is a lesson I think we will all take back with us. So many times before we left for Kenya you hear the typical, “you better finish your plate, there are starving children in AfricJordan Taylora,” and it’s true there are, but it wasn’t made clear to me until we were emerged in it. They are starving. They’re starving for food, clean water, education, homes, medical attention, some of them for families, for love, for opportunity and for life itself. I am blessed with these rights and will try my hardest to never take these for granted, and as these children will no longer allow my circumstances in the past effect my future. I will lend a helping hand to those in need and encourage myself and those around me to “finish their plate.”  – Jordan Taylor

On our final day of teaching, we visited the Kamuteria Primary School. I had the opportunity to teach in their Special Needs classroom, and from the moment I stepped into the room, I knew my life was changed forever. About 30 individuals with disabilities, ranging in age from 5 – 20+ years, filled the small and crowded school room. I walked around and shook hands with each one and asked their names. The teacher followed me and helped to voice the names of students that were nonverbal. One boy with autism quickly caught my eye. Paris was a bright-eyed active young boy who couldn’t sit still enough to remain in a chair and was fascinated by interactions with others. I knew the moment he threw his Adrienne Woolleycrayons out the window and then left the room to retrieve him, that I had a good one on my hands. He and the other students enjoyed looking at pictures of animals and recreating the noises and movements they make. They colored Spiderman coloring pages, sang and danced to “Abiyoyo,” and thoroughly enjoyed the balloon time. Picture 10 balloons floating around the room and hearing squeals of excitement each time one popped and you’ll begin to understand the magic of that moment. Just before leaving the class, I viewed a demonstration of how one of the students makes placemats. Not only does she make the placemats, but she teaches other students how to make them. This is an incredibly important aspect to this classroom, to prepare the students to earn money. Finally, the entire school gathered under a large tree and performed several songs and dances for us. We felt extremely honored to be their guests that day. Then the students from the Special Needs class presented gifts in the form handicrafts made by their parents to our group. Several of us accepted gifts and expressed our gratitude to the students as tears filled our eyes. That day was so life-changing for me that since returning to the United States I have begun collecting money to help build a dormitory, kitchen, and extra classrooms for those students with Special Needs. What a beautiful moment in my life that will never be forgotten.  — Adrienne WoolleyBeka Haderlie

My favorite part of Kenya was the shoe donations. My friend and I collected a lot of shoes to take, and it was cool to see pairs of shoes fit perfectly on a child who otherwise wouldn’t have had any shoes in his/her lifetime. Everyone who went to the school felt like Prince Charming placing the glass slipper onto Cinderella’s foot. The kids would light up when we found them a pair of shoes that fit them. They ran and danced around in them, you could tell the little girls all felt like princesses. I loved it.– Beka Haderlie

After a long 4-hour bus ride we finally got to St. Peters! As we pulled up to the opening of the school, the kids were there to greet us with their “welcome” song. Hundreds of kids lined the street waiting to meet us. There are no words to describe Heather McMasterthe emotions we felt. As we got off the bus, crowds of kids came running. For the next few hours we had kids hanging onto every limb. Never have I felt more loved than in that moment.  – Heather McMaster

Last night it rained – barely a sprinkle, which is enough to knock out the electricity. It is 6:35am…just getting light enough to see my writing as I sit in the church, dimly lit by candlelight…Fifteen hours later, I am exhausted. I have poured my energy – physical, emotional, spiritual – all my energy into this place and these people. I never feel tired when I am with them, but at the end of the day I am ready for sleep. 

Today I met a very sweet girl with a very sad story. As I watched her hobble toward me, I noticed she looked nervous but happy. She seemed to be protecting herself in a way, but strong at the same time.Ann Rauscher

As a physical therapist, there is a lot of detective work to be done. I ask people many questions about their life in order to lead to a hypothesis about where the physical issues may stem from. With this girl, the more I investigated, the more I realized how strong she really was.  In summary, she had been raped 4 years ago at the age of 6 by her uncle. Her father had died. Her mother had no use of her arms following a seizure which caused her to fall into a fire. She had 5 siblings, down from 6 since her uncle had poisoned her little brother… She was ten years old and had experienced more heartache and misery than I can fathom.

After hearing her history, I did what I could to address her physical impairments. We did some stretching, learned some hip strengthening exercises, made treatment into games, and had a great time together. Her giggle and the way she shyly smiled at me for the first time are things that will be with me always.

It broke my heart to hear her tragedies and to know they would not be her last. There were many emotions and racing thoughts. It made me happy to see her smile – her gorgeous, heartwarming smile. I was anxious to find out if there was more we could do for her (she will need much more medical care)…Mostly it was bittersweet to make physical therapy into silly games and enjoy them with her, only to return to Scott’s outstretched arms ready for a much needed hug and release the sobs that had been threatening to escape the entire time we had been laughing together.  – Ann RauscherBrooke Snow

 Picking out a single favorite memory from this past trip has become a challenge. Each moment, although so versatile, made an impact on who I have become today. From fun moments like, waking up to glowing chickens, to, heart wrenching stories such as Irene’s, I have come to realize that we need to prioritize and find balance in our lives. 

 I hope that what I have learned from each member of the group as well as the individuals in Kenya, I am able to find peace, happiness, and gratitude in my life today. Thanks to everyone who made it such a great experience and I can’t wait to be able to visit Kenya again.  — Brooke Snow

My favorite part of our trip was finding my twin in Africa.  The very first day I met a girl named Brenda.  She followed me Lauren Holmstromaround everywhere and played tricks on me the whole time.  She had the exact same personality as me and reminded me of myself exactly.  Everything she did was something I would do – like never wanting to smile in pictures and always sneaking up behind people.  It was crazy how close we got in just a couple weeks even though we came from completely different circumstances.  It was so sad to say goodbye and I wanted to take her home with me. I loved everything about Kenya and especially the friendships I made!  – Lauren Holmstrom

The flighty temptress Adventure caught hold of me once again.  I let her drag me under, letting the waves of experience wash over.  This experience wasn’t France, Peru, America, or any other.  This was Kenya.

Kenya was a little girl with unimaginable horrors, that smiled despite.  The little girl who would change everything.  Kenya was an ex slave reminiscing about the love she shared with her husband.  Laughing at the photo we took.  Kenya was singing, dancing, and cheering. Praising a glorious God who blessed them.  Thankful for what they had, what seemed so little to us, was everything to them.Alyssa Beck

Kenya was women working to change an ancient culture, trying to give their daughters better than what they have. Proud of the the progress they’ve made, and optimistic of the challenges and distance ahead. 

Kenya was feeling ugly because I had to do without the outside objects I rely on.  Kenya was the most accepting I have been of being proven wrong.  Kenya was the dream of a man being fulfilled. A man who gave everything he had to give for others. A man who’s desire for something better for those around him is continuing to give a chance to children he didn’t know.

Kenya was the man who is still there, in an area other’s said was too hard. A man who gave gifts on his birthday, preferring to spread joy than receive.  Kenya was being loved without judgement. Love shown in a note, or a holding of a hand. It was a love that didn’t need to be spoken, it was felt.

Kenya was people. People who were strangers at first, but became friends quickly. The people who understand what Kenya was.  Kenya is hard to put into words. Words can’t describe the feelings of the heart, or the whisperings of the soul. Words are inadequate for Kenya.  — Alyssa BeckPratik Raghu

The children of Kajuki embody flawlessness in countenance and character. Their gleaming grins perfectly capture their bon vivant approach to life, while their unblemished faces are emblematic of their utter lack of pretention and reservation. Each appears more beautiful than the next, so much so that I find myself seriously doubting Conrad’s words. Africa’s hear is not defined by darkness, but the light that pervade and guides its people.  – Pratik Raghu

Kenya was more than just an experience, it was life changing. There are so many things they taught me about the journey of life – and the simplicity of it. What the people of Kajuki taught me was so beyond what I expected. I hope to carry all of what I learned with me throughout the rest of my life. True happiness Alyssa Smootcomes from the simple pleasures that come from serving others with a humbled heart. Saying thank you all the time. Greeting everyone with a warm, bright smile. Always putting education and family first, no matter the sacrifice. Time; time is endless – and recognizing the power and works of God in everything. Be thankful always. Bless others unceasingly. Pray, pray, pray, whether in your heart or out loud. Never have I met so many people so willful to bless others. My heart has grown in ways I thought it couldn’t and I’m so thankful for that. I fell in love with the children and had such a big heart that grew with love with every person I came into contact with. Including our group! Everyone helped make it spectacular; I couldn’t have chosen a better bunch of people! I’ll never forget, THIS IS KENYA! – Alyssa SmootMadi Hymas

I have many favorite moments of Africa, so I can’t narrow it down to my top favorite memory, but one of my favorite things was going to mass in the morning. We woke up to the most incredible voices, and then got to watch them praise their Lord. They were so incredibly thankful for everything He has given them! I loved learning how mass is taught, because it taught me more about their culture. The entire experience of Africa helped me to be more grateful, but mass changed the way I showed my thankfulness and gratitude for my many blessings.  – Madi Hymas

The thing I will miss and remember the most from Kenya are the people. Everyone there was always  Alli Foxmaking you feel so loved and wanted. I got the chance to become best friends with a 12 year old girl named Joy. She always had the biggest smile and made me feel so special. When she would sing and dance she lightened up the whole room. She was constantly by my side and making me feel joy just like her name. I was very lucky and got to hand out the dresses. When Joy walked inside with her new dress on she looked beautiful, and her smile was bigger than ever. That was one of the best heart-warming memories. My goal for myself is to be more like Joy and to make the people around me feel special and wanted at all time – while having a constant smile on my face.  – Alli Fox

I have never felt as loved as I did while serving in Kajuki, Kenya with Youthlinc. I was absolutely amazed by the kindness, compassion and immense love every single person gave us throughout our journey. The children’s bright eyes taught us about faith, the community’s giving nature taught us about warm international hospitality, and their country taught us that it is more important to live simply than to simply live. 

In Kenya, love isn’t just a four letter word either: it is a way of life. Everything someone did for another was because of the love they held for humanity. I was absolutely honored to be surrounded by such an overwhelming emotion and to be aWhitney Waltonble to return the love they had invested in me. 

The most important lesson I learned was that it’s not about changing the world – it’s about changing someone’s world. We have to take steps to make a staircase and it’s such a wonderful process to be involved in. Service isn’t about ‘fixing’ – it’s about helping and healing through collaboration. We all see poverty, malnutrition and hardship in the news every day, but nothing compares to actually seeing it in with your own eyes – that’s when it becomes reality. Youthlinc was able to teach me how to understand my purpose as an informed global citizen and what I can actually do to help make and inspire change. I am so blessed to have been given this opportunity to be a part of such an unbelievable organization and inspiring community!  – Whitney Walton

I was a mentor on the Kenya 2013 trip. It sounds cliché, but it truly was an experience of a lifetime and one I know will live within me forever. The other mentors were amazing people, all with unique gifts to give. Alane GaspariThe students surpassed any expectations that I had before our adventure. They worked tirelessly and always with a smile and a positive attitude. Their compassion was an incredible model for my young son who accompanied us.

Our team spoke often about service as belonging and never was it more true than with this group and with the communities that we visited. We were welcomed and given more than we brought – always.

One of the priests at the school said, “It only takes a minute to now someone, but you remember them for a lifetime.” This has never been more true, and I feel blessed to have made this journey in the company of so many stellar individuals.  – Alane Gaspari

Africa is truly life changing! As many of you know, I lost my mom suddenly. The night before she died she came Lori Nickersonto my house to see my Africa photos and to hear stories. At first, I made one simple book because I didn’t think photos could capture what I experienced. They can’t, but they sure trigger memories. My mom shared in my excitement the whole journey and loved hearing all about it. There was one more book to see. We said we’d look at this next time. Next time won’t be coming, but I’d love to share it with ANYONE who has the time to reminisce. In my faith, the Rosary is a huge part of the burial process. As I heard and recited these powerful prayers, I heard the voices of the children of Saint Peters in the background. I was back in the small chapel with my new found friends. I especially thought of dear Doreen. I found joy and comfort through this difficult time through this memory. And, through miracles, we might be preparing to return! Thanks mom!  – Lori Nickerson

I am not a super great writer, especially when it comes to my feelings, but with that being said … my experience in Kenya with the Youthlinc 2013 Team was truly beyond words. The friends I met/made both on the team and at St. Peters and in Kajuki and its neighboring communities taught me so much about being kind, giving, compassionate, humble, faithful and about being happy!! The adventure/experience helped me to step outside of my “comfort zones.”

The people we met live such simple lives and are so full of gratitude, faith and charity.  I loved how we were “family” from the minute we met, how uncomplicated they make their lives, and I loved hearing about their dreams for the future. I became so attached to the children, they showed me how we are all part of the same family, the human family and how we all want the same basic things in life … good friends, good health, to matter to someone, to give love and to be loved.Carolyn Martin

Again, I don’t have the words to truly describe how amazing Kenya 2013 was … but, Father Franklin said this, “the accident of distance will be replaced by the power of love.” This statement is so true for me, I think about Kenya everyday and I hope I always remember how I feel/felt during and after the trip. I am a better, stronger person because of this experience. 

Simply said … “TIK … This Is Kenya … Dig It!!”  I truly dug it … every part of it and I hope I get to dig it again someday!!   Asante Sauna!! —Carolyn Martin

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