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Young Woman Finds Adventure, Hope in Africa

Lisa Portelli , Sault Youth Association for local2 sault ste. marie
October 18th, 2011 at 9:53am



This article is a column or editorial.
The opinions expressed here are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of LOCAL2.

youth 2

Glancing at travel books, I mindlessly turned the pages cringing at the thought of spending another gluttonous holiday at an all-inclusive resort. Donít get me wrong, spending my days with friends sprawled out on a tropical beach with a pina colada in hand is not exactly my idea of hell on earth. I mean, thatís what people my age do when it comes to spring break, right? But I couldnít get it out of my head that there was something missing. I longed for culture and authenticity. I was craving an adventure.

When I told my family that in March of 2011 Iíd be travelling 12,500 kms to spend three weeks in Africa with a group of women I didnít know, I thought even my dog was going to faint. Worried that I might come face-to-face with child soldiers armed with machetes, be eaten by ravenous lions or contract some lethal infectious disease, my familyís reaction didnít exactly match my enthusiasm. But it was my decision and my heart was set on it.

YOUTH 1

The moment the plane landed in Kenya I knew my life would never be the same. Nairobi was a thriving and vibrant metropolis of organized chaos; vehicles flooded the streets, waves of children ran the sidewalks and people headed somewhere with a purpose. Though reminiscent of the rat race at home, there was something alluring about this new foreign place. I was in awe as we reached the outskirts of the city, seeing shanty tin shacks and dung mud huts neighbouring large brick homes and the local Nakumatt, the African equivalent of Walmart. Small children sat on the side of the road with looks of envy as other children made their way to school and vehicles honked as scooters jetted in-and-out of traffic. Garbage, pop bottles and plastic bags lined the streets and stray animals zigzagged the red dusty roads looking for something to eat. We made our way through the narrow streets until we reached the place we would call home for the next three weeks, a university campus surrounded by concrete walls, barbed wire and armed guards.

We travelled to the green valleys of the Ngong Hills. Masai people, traditionally dressed in their bright colours and beaded jewellery, with heads shaved and carrying babies on their backs, formed out of the distance until they were standing before us, singing and welcoming us into their village. Tall, slender and beautiful, they lined up as we handed them bags of maize, flour and lard. Our other working days we travelled to the east coast of Kenya where we dug fence post holes with foot-long machetes, and visited women with AIDS in Kibera - Africaís second largest slum. These experiences left our group with a taste of culture shock, but grateful for what we had waiting for us back home.

About one-third of our time was spent visiting primary schools. Children wearing tattered uniforms fumbled in their inadequate shoes as they raced towards our bus. Their little faces brightened as we unloaded donated food, school supplies and toys. Most of them spoke little English, yet we easily bonded over the days we spent together. As I walked toward the classrooms, these curious little children stunted by malnutrition, reached up and grabbed my arms, each holding one finger until I easily had 10 clinging to me. I lifted one child into my arms and chuckled as she began to touch my hair and skin, mesmerized by how different it felt from hers.

Corruption had left this particular school dilapidated, a shell of its former self. A man-made pond, once home to schools of Tilapia and created for the purpose of producing and selling, was a mass of green algae. The rabbit hutches empty, eradicated by fungal infections. At lunchtime the children lined up to receive their meal, which for many was their only meal of the day - a bean and rice mishmash. Once their bowls were emptied, the children took off to play on rusted-out slides, which had shards of metal scratching their skin until their legs bled. We saw their bathroom, which was just a hole in the ground and it worried us to think how children as young as three years old would be able to manoeuvre themselves enough to not fall in. These children were the lucky ones; they were able to go to school. The teachers and children were eager to hear our Canadian stories, firing off questions and studying our pictures from home with great interest. These children understand how critical their education is to their future - they are the generation that is going to transform Africa.

Throughout the trip, we spent our down time in the middle of the Masai Mara Reserve watching zebras, lions, giraffes, cheetahs and elephants roam the open plains. We went deep sea fishing in the Indian Ocean and cooked our catch of the day on a deserted beach.

Africa was ďitĒ; the experience and the life long friendships that span entire continents were what we were searching for.

For more information on donating to these projects or planning your own adventure, please visit www.wowsafaris.org.

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