North Central College students, new graduates and staff members recently returned from a three-week-long nontraditional service trip to the Republic of Kenya in East Africa. It was the seventh trip to Kenya organized by the College’s Office of Ministry and Service.
“A sociotourism trip, rather than a service trip is the best way to describe it,” said Lydia Pond, coordinator of recreation and assistant athletic facilities and events manager. “There are two types of people who go to Kenya. There are people who just do safaris and don’t really venture into the other parts, and then there are some people who just do that. We spent three weeks doing a little bit of everything.”
Pond and Nathan Warstler, graduate assistant coach for women’s cross country and track and field, led a group of five students. They had one goal: “To suck every minute out of Africa.” Refusing to take naps on their three-week journey, the duo made it a point to learn Swahili, play as many soccer games as possible, indulge in traditional African cuisine, and even wake up early in the morning to help the local people milk cows and goats.
“We did so much. We visited a lot of programs, nonprofits and for profits that are in Kenya trying to make Kenya better, especially in some of the slums and neighborhoods,” said Warstler.
Much of the group’s service time was dedicated to helping children, including a visit to Nyumbaui, a village that’s dedicated to helping young orphans and elders who are either AIDS/HIV infected or affected. The group also spent time at the Little Rock Inclusive ECD Center, which is designed to provide education, nutrition and health care to children in the Kibera slum, the third-largest slum in the world.
“When it comes to being with the children, all we really did was offer ourselves and play with them. It was a lot of building relationships,” said Warstler. “We helped them with their sports day, and they had all these really awesome, fun relays. We helped them play and orchestrate that.”
Not only did the group give its time while abroad, members also brought something back with them: a change in perspective on their own lives.
“You know you always hear how good we have it, but you really see firsthand how good you have it,” said Warstler.
“You gain a lot of perspective, but Kenyans are very prideful people too. The women have basically a shed or a shack they live in, but every single morning they scrub the floor because that is all they have,” said Pond.
Callie Rezin ’15 also took notice of the Kenyan’s upbeat attitude and love of life. “The trip taught me that your house can be empty of many things, but that does not have to stop you from having a full life. The people we met gave all their thanks to God and were a great example that faith in Him is all a household needs,” said Rezin.
As one of the group’s leaders, Pond made sure the group remained focused throughout the trip and that they made each day count.
“I told everybody in the group to just take it a day at a time because if you’re looking forward to doing something we’re doing next Thursday, you are going to miss out on whatever we are doing today and you’re going to rob yourself of an opportunity,” said Pond.
On days when the group didn’t spend time with the children of Kenya, they enjoyed multiple safaris and spent their last four days atop Mount Kenya before coming back to the United States. Based on the experiences they had as a group, all were inspired to continue to do more service work in the future.
“I definitely think I will do something like this again. I don’t know where, but it’s all about being a citizen of the world,” said Pond.
“I don't think anyone could go on this trip and not be inspired to do more,” said Rezin.
Each year, more than 1,000 North Central students give more than 21,000 hours toward service and volunteerism. Many classes include a service-learning component, and all of the College's 60-plus student organizations plan at least one service project throughout the year. To learn more about service and volunteer efforts at North Central College, visit northcentralcollege.edu/content/serve-others.
Photo, back, from left: Don Dishman ’12, Lydia Pond, Emma Majerus ’13, Nathan Warstler, Callie Rezin ’15, Apollo Odongo (driver on all seven service trips in Kenya), Niki Johnson ’15. Front, from left: Brianna Howell ’12, Patrick Anderson ’12 (volunteering four months in Nyumbani Village)