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Kenya Life Exchange 2019 – Kirsten Delaney shares her highlights

In July, my 16-year-old daughter, Caitlin, and I were thrilled to be part of the Life Exchange Trip to Kenya with So They Can. Our family have sponsored a child at Aberdare Ranges Primary School since 2010 and I have had the great honour of acting as the pro-bono photographer for all of So They Can’s Sydney fundraising events for the past three years.

I am lucky enough to have explored many developing countries in Asia and South America over the years but nothing compared to the immersive experience we had in Kenya. While it was a wonderful bonus having our safari excursions and seeing giraffes, zebra, lions and rhinos, this trip for me was all about the people and the community, and having Caitlin with me on this adventure made the experience even more rewarding. Seeing your teen’s absolute and genuine joy from every interaction is a big win as a parent. Most nights we BOTH went to bed with aching jaws from all the smiling.

Every single day was a highlight and nobody on our trip will ever forget exiting the vans on Monday morning to over 1,000 smiling students at Aberdare Ranges or the finale sport carnival “Kenyans v Aussies” tug-of-war on Thursday afternoon, which resulted in such an eruption of buoyant hysteria, it is imprinted on our souls.

Each day was jam-packed with opportunities to talk to and play with the children; to learn about the everyday lives of (particularly) women in the community; to meet leaders such as Moses, James and Boni; spend time with beautiful staff members including Jeddy, Nick and Susan; the wonderfully warm team of Mamas at Miti Mingi Village; along with many of the teachers, cooks & helpers and understand the incredible impact that So They Can has had for the New Canaan Village and the wider community over the past decade.

Personal moments that I will cherish were:

  • Having a full photo shoot with my ‘girl squad’ while on safari in Nakaru National Park
  • Reading to the children at Aberdare and then having them read to us
  • Visiting Kibowen Komen school in a slum in Nakuru and hearing their song to us “The time to be happy is now. The place to be happy is here.” And seeing how much joy a balloon in the playground could deliver.
  • Hanging out with “Mama Avocado” at Miti Mingi Village and seeing how proud she was of her home and the 8 children she cares for.
  • Meeting some of the entrepreneurial women in New Canaan Village who have benefited from micro-finance loans, giving us a new definition for working hard to support your family.
  • Watching the Aussie kids interact with the Kenyan kids and how much unconditional joy they gave each other.

Caitlin and I also had the pleasure of meeting our sponsor child, Monica. She is the same age as Caitlin, and with her excellent exam results last year won a spot at a national school, which sees her boarding about an hour away from her family. She showed us her dorm, very proudly shared her first report (#4 out of nearly 200 kids!) and was the talk of the high school with the very white mzungus who arrived that day!

We also got to meet her three sisters and mum at the Village and see where and how they live. That rainy afternoon of hugs and laughter will be with us forever. She gave us a letter that day which said “I am very happy for the help you have provided me. It may not be very important to you but to me it means a lot. Your love for me is very non-imaginable as for now I cannot pay you with anything only God can do that for me but at least I can give you something good and that is good grades that will make you proud.” We have had beautiful letters like this from Monica over the years but actually meeting her and her family made everything so much more “real”. $55 a month really is a small contribution financially but with a bit of luck, it paves the way for Monica to become the neurosurgeon she plans to be. Every child we spoke to had similar aspirations and really value their education and their sponsors.

This truly life-changing trip was enhanced by having the personal touch of  our wonderful hosts, Keri and Angie and the compassionate, generous, fun families who joined us. Our evening debriefs were essential in processing everything we experienced each day. I have no doubt that everyone, both the adults and the great group of 12 kids would agree that it was sensory overload. It was engaging. It was educational. But more than anything, it was bloody good fun! If I could go every year, I would. In fact, I have two younger daughters and I might have just set a precedent for that to happen!

To be able to see first-hand what So They Can have already achieved – and understand where and how fundraising money will be directed in the future, was priceless. I hope to use my images to help continue to raise awareness, generate more sponsors for the children and support So They Can in their ongoing quest to break the poverty cycle and create a better future for everyone. Not just the kids in Kenya, but my family too in understanding how blessed we are to have been born in Australia and recognising that helping others rewards the giver just as much as it does to the receiver.

( Image courtesy of Kirsten Delaney Photography)

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