About a week ago, I got back from a service trip with Me to We to work on WE —formerly known as Free the Children— projects in Kenya. Simply, it changed my life.

I spent three brief but incredible weeks in the Massai Mara region in a community called Esinoni that was about 6 hours outside of the capital, Nairobi. I experienced first hand the beauty of this country (and trust me, was it ever beautiful). I learned first hand how prevalent poverty is within this country. But most importantly, I met strong, driven, joyful and passionate individuals who stayed driven no matter their circumstances.

The local people of the community that I lived in were some of the kindest, most loving people I have ever met. Their joy was overwhelming—contagious. Their laughs overflowing. There was something different about how they held themselves—confident, fully present. Not something that you would often see in western society. In a weird way, I felt more welcomed than I ever did in Vancouver. Kenya quickly became my comfort, my safe place.

During the trip, I couldn’t stop thinking about how tough it was going to be to accurately articulate how much I have learned and been touched by this experience. It was said throughout the trip:

“Real change happens when you go home and educate people on the issues you have seen here. You can only do so much in a short period here, but if your efforts stop after you leave, it means nothing.”

BOOM. Mic drop.

Now, I know what you are thinking: that seems like a big task.

In all honesty, this has been a tough post to write. There have been many times I’ve sat with the post in front of me, unable to finish writing down my thoughts. After much reflection, I still don’t believe I can fully explain this experience in words that would do it justice. But I am going to try my best to do so by breaking it down to five lessons I learned. 

1. Importance and Right to Education

Elizabeth (left), Mary (middle), Sarafinah (right)

Elizabeth (left), Mary (middle), Sarafinah (right)

I met these three girls:

Elizabeth—a sassy firecracker that you will always find dancing and singing. She is 14 years old and wants to be a teacher.
Mary —an intelligent, witty and well spoken gem. She is 12 years old and wants to be a lawyer.
Sarafinah —a shy, collected young lady with beautiful eyes and a heart of gold. She is 14 years old and wants to be a surgeon.

The one thing they all had in common (besides being absolutely adorable) was that they knew what they wanted to be, and there was nothing in their soul that could stop them from achieving that goal. It was very inspiring. My heart dropped, though, when I learned that less than 20% of students of that specific school in Kenya actually continue on to university. It’s not because they lack the drive (honestly, if I had half the motivation they have, my commercial law class would not have been as much of a struggle as it was), rather their circumstances was what kept them from seizing their dreams. In my eyes, this is unacceptable.

Investing in education can help lift people out of poverty. Like the7dayringproject emphasizes, education is a huge step to breaking the cycle of poverty. Empowering these kids and aiding them in finding their fullest potential through education is what will make for a long term, sustainable solution to poverty. Heading into my final year of university, I know this message will carry through to my gratefulness for my education.

I learned to not take my schooling for granted. I must press on and be grateful for what I truly have. Thank you for teaching that to me, Elizabeth, Mary and Sarafinah.

2. Importance and Scarcity of Clean Water

My friend, Simin, participating in the water walk.

My friend, Simin, participating in the water walk.

I had the opportunity to participate in a water walk with the Massai Mamas. These rockstar mamas are one of the strongest, most empowering women I have ever met. On top of other duties and responsibilities, these mamas have to walk over 16 kilometers to get water for their families multiple times a day, everyday! This takes up a big chunk of their time. But get this: the water isn’t even clean.

We all understand the importance of water in our lives. We use water in all the things we do: drinking, showers, cooking, electricity, you name it! It is a necessity. However, do you know how much water we waste? About 95% of the water entering our home goes down the drain. 95%!!! Specifically, nearly 40% of Kenyans lack access to clean water. This leads to 10,000 childhood deaths every year.

I learned that we must be aware and conscious of our water consumption. I know I am incredibly guilty of long showers. The cool thing is that we can start saving water in easy ways—just start by changing something small about your everyday life. One of my teammates suggested to take shorter showers, realize how much water you are saving on your next month’s bill, and after a couple months, use that saved money to aid people in developing countries with clean water initiatives.

3. Importance of Access to Healthcare

I am so lucky here in Canada that the healthcare system is impeccable. After witnessing the situation in Kenya, I realized how I take it for granted. Without a healthy body (and a healthy soul), there is not much else we can do. Being healthy is one of the first steps to empowerment.

I was able to visit Kishon Health Centre and Baraka Health Clinic, two clinics that WE established a couple years ago. Baraka Health Clinic recently got updated to becoming a hospital. Before Baraka, the closest hospital was two hours away. This now means that locals in that area do not have to travel long distances for something like a surgery. Rather they have access to healthcare right in their own backyard!

Although this is an amazing improvement, it is important to realize that there are still countless areas around the world that do not have access to this kind of healthcare.

4. Importance of Food Security

One thing I loved about my trip was that it was geared towards empowerment and change, but also geared towards educating us on different world issues. They did this in many ways including different scenario activities.

There was one day we had the opportunity to go to a local market and at the market, our team was split up into different “families”. Similar to families in the community, we only had 500 shillings (equivalent to around $5 USD) to spend with the task to purchase enough food for our “family” for the entire week. Here’s the catch: we were also given different scenarios that families do face on a daily basis. My situation was that we were a family of seven, needed new rope for our jerry can to collect water, and four of our children needed haircuts to attend school.

The streets in the Massai Mara region of Kenya.

The streets in the Massai Mara region of Kenya.

It was quite the experience. It was tough, not only because our Swahili was sub par, but also because it seemed impossible to get all our tasks done with only 500 shillings. But locals do this ALL the time. How?! With the amount of food we were able to purchase, it was clear that this “family” would not be fully satisfied with the food on their table.

I learned that many families in the local area face problems like my "family" situation did. It got me thinking about my own food consumption and food waste. How can we be aware of food waste? How can we help?

5. Importance of Empowering Communities

As you may know, empowerment is a huge theme here at the7dayringproject. We believe empowering individuals is the first step in making change. We believe everyone has the potential as agents of change, but sometimes they just need that little push.

I learned during my time in Kenya that empowerment is a huge part of breaking the cycle of poverty. I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to learn how WE has been empowering community members through different alternative income projects. For example, we had an afternoon where we were able to sit down with the mamas and learn how to bead with them. Me to We employs these mamas to make their jewelry (something they are passionate about), so that they can have an alternative source of income.

One of the biggest things I've taken back to my own life from this trip is the idea and drive of how I can further empower those around me. I have always loved investing in different relationships, both old friends and people I have just met. I believe every person is so unique and valuable. My goal and what drives my heart is to empower people of their worth. Though we all have that potential as agents of change, we all also have our stories. Stories that have made us who we are now. Stories that have hardened our hearts to finding our potential. I want to be able to help people work through that and help them rediscover their spark. This experience in Kenya has pushed me further to live this way. How can you empower others around you?

Me and my rafikis (friends)!

Me and my rafikis (friends)!

I didn’t really know what to expect going into this trip. I went in really nervous about post-grad and what I wanted to do with my life. I honestly wanted this trip to be a place where I would be able to be removed from my world, have time away and not think about my present problems but instead focus on rediscovering my love for helping others. I quickly realized that I couldn’t run away from my problems. The people I met, both on my team and in the community, taught me more about myself and the world than I ever anticipated. I learned (and am still learning) that it is okay not to know what you want to do. All I know is what I can do: think about how I can combine my passions and grow my talents. Change is not an immediate thing but rather a long-term decision to alter your thinking and your way of life. It is the decision to do everything in your life, whatever that may be, with that mindset.

So where do we even start? The list of issues seems endless.

It’s important to recognize: not everyone is called to be a Nelson Mandela or a Craig Kielburger. Start small! Don’t underestimate the prevalence of the ripple effect. These issues are all connected! You can be a world changer by simply asking: “How can I make a difference in my own community, my school, my faith group, my family, my friends, my city?”

Take an issue that you are interested in, combine it with something you are passionate about and you will make change. I truly believe if you can make even the smallest impact on one person, you are a change maker. You are an earth shaker. Because of you, that one person’s life is changed forever.

This, of course, is a very condensed version of my experiences in Kenya. If you wish to learn more about how I was able to learn first hand about these issues, or silly stories about my time with my team and the kids, don’t hesitate to shoot me a message. I love sharing!

Asante sana (thank you), Kenya.
Asante sana for reading and letting me share!

Much love,
Chief Day Seizer & Marketing Director