When I first learned about Nyumbani, I was a seventh grader at The Woods Academy. Grades one through eight were gathered in the multi-purpose room to hear an enthralling presentation by Lloydie Zaiser, leader of Kenya Educational Service Trips (KEST) and the mother of Woods Academy teacher, Megan Mullally. In describing her adventures, Lloydie showed photos of the little ones at the Nyumbani Children’s Home, told stories about the shoshos (grandmas) at Nyumbani Village, and raved about the overall beauty and wonder of Kenya. At the time, it didn’t seem possible I could be a part of something like this—I’d traveled out of the country but never as far as Africa. So while Lloydie’s vibrant introduction to KEST sparked my interest, the thought of going all the way to Kenya to do volunteer work terrified me.
It wasn’t until last year, the summer after my sophomore year in high school, that I revisited the idea of volunteering abroad. By then, I had traveled out of the U.S. without my family multiple times and my comfort zone had expanded. I also had acquired experience with volunteering, having worked in childcare at a homeless shelter for women and children and as a teacher’s helper at Head Start. Not only did these experiences lead to discovering my passion for volunteer work, they also helped me to discover my love of working with children. Those two things combined with my love of travel and my desire to learn about different parts of the world propelled me into action. I remembered Lloydie and KEST and reached out to her to learn more. After seeing the outpouring of enthusiasm she has for Kenya, I knew that I wanted this experience, so not long after I made this decision, I was getting on a plane, leaving my family for 21 days, the longest amount of time I have ever been away. I could not have made a better decision.
While initially nervous, the second I saw the smiling faces at Nyumbani Children’s Home, I knew I had made the right choice. My first day at the Children’s Home, four preschool children in Cottage E stuck their heads out one window to say hello to me as I passed, and I’d already made friends. During my time at the Children’s Home, I enjoyed reading books to children on the playground, visiting them in their cottages, dancing with them at mass and playing football with the boys. We visited a Maasai community, where I sang, colored and played games with a group of students. At Nyumbani Village, I had the pleasure of teaching a baby class as well as a class at Hotcourses Primary, which is the sister school of my alma mater, The Woods Academy. Because of this, visiting Nyumbani Village was an especially rewarding experience. I couldn’t contain my excitement when, on my first day in the Village, I saw a boy at the polytechnic school wearing a Woods Academy sweatshirt like one I have at home. The connection between The Woods and the Village became even more evident as I continued my stay: I was proud to see educational posters and books donated by my school all around the Hotcourses Primary classrooms where I taught, and happier still to see students enjoying the playground built for them with money raised by Woods Academy students.
Having experienced Nyumbani Village and the Nyumbani Children’s Home, I know firsthand what special places they are and what special people live there. They are not people one easily forgets—their warmth and sincerity will stick in my memory for many years to come. I hope to revisit both, bringing family or friends with me so they can experience the same pure joy I felt while in Kenya.