Reflections: What were my top 5 travel adventures of 2014 – 2015?

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Masai Mara

My favorite place on earth. Majestic landscapes, interesting animals, fresh air, peace. Something spiritual happens to me when I enter the Mara. It’s hard to explain. I have now been on safari in three other places (Ol Pejeta in Kenya, Rwanda and South Africa) and while each safari is unique and amazing in its own way, nothing compares to the vistas of the Mara. Savannas for days. Open. Wide open. It’s really the most remarkable place in the world to me.

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Mountain Gorillas in Rwanda

This would be my most remarkable experience in the world. Trekking through the Virunga Mountains to find a family of 16 mountain gorillas and watching them from just a few feet away for an hour. Gentle. Beautiful. Unassuming.

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South Africa

South Africa is a beautiful country and offers distinct experiences throughout its land. Two of my best friends flew there to meet me at the end of my time on the continent. We enjoyed Cape Town for a week then flew east to Johannesburg on the way to safari in Sabi Sand Game Reserve. It’s not only a beautiful place, the people are friendly and the infrastructure makes you feel like you are in Europe. It offers the comforts of Europe yet the exoticness of the African continent. We all agreed we would return one day.

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Grand Prix, Monte Carlo, Monaco

This was a bucket list item for my Dad and I was just lucky enough to tag along. For years, on the Sunday before Memorial Day, the TV in our living room blasted the sounds of open wheeled racecars zooming through the streets of Monte Carlo. It’s one of those nostalgic sounds for me that will forever remind me of my Dad. He loves Formula One racing. Since I’ve been an adult, I’ve said, “Dad, we have to do that one day. Go to the Monaco Grand Prix.” 2015 was the year. I was living in East Africa, and we could meet half way in France for vacation and check that item off the bucket list. It was all you can imagine and more. We attended the practice rounds on Saturday and the main event on Sunday, watching from a suite on the famous hairpin turn. In addition, to the race, we explored Cote d’Azur, enjoyed amazing weather, food and wine and had one of the best vacations of our lives.

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Uhuru Peak on Mt Kilimanjaro

Saved the best for last. Watching the sunrise at 19,341 feet is by far my best travel adventure of 2015, maybe of a lifetime. Of course getting to the summit was the highlight, but the entire experience of climbing the mountain, camping under the star-lit skies and laughing hysterically with two amazing friends will forever be seared into my mind.

Reflections: What did I learn?

Sitting, thinking by the fire in Ruhengeri, Rwanda.

Relaxing, thinking by the fire in Ruhengeri, Rwanda.

What did I learn living in East Africa?

Well, overall, I learned that living overseas changes you in ways that are not immediately clear but become apparent as time passes and you re-enter your home country. I’m still in the process of this.

But, here are a few things that come to mind now… I learned…

Nairobi is a long way from home and it feels like it.

I can make friends and build a life anywhere in the world – especially with the help of a local church and Christian friends.

I love East Africa and in some ways it feels more like home than the US.

When the sun comes up early, I prefer early to bed, early to rise.

I love animals and the outdoors even more than I thought and I’m a secret conservationist!

When working in a cross-cultural setting you must have patience and humility.

Honesty and integrity are not valued by all cultures even though I believe they should be.

My values and beliefs are well established and not everyone thinks the way I do (Okay, maybe I already knew this).

I can be wrong many times and need to admit my mistakes, but sometimes I am right and I need to be bold enough to stand by my convictions and conscience and not doubt myself.

There is a line between my own mistakes and someone else’s and I need to learn to tell the difference.

I love driving on the wrong side of the road and, deep down, I am a non-conformist!

Doing meaningful work that impacts lives brings me more joy than I ever imagined.

About God – I learned that He cares deeply and intimately for me. I learned that He grows my faith apart from my works. He is good. He is love. He is all sufficient, sovereign, omniscient, all-mighty, omnipresent.

Reflections: What do I miss?

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At the end of each year, I take time to think about the future, make goals for myself and plan out the year. Before I do that, I want to remember the past year and all that I’ve learned, the ways I’ve grown, the fun I’ve had! Over the next couple of weeks, I’ll use my blog to share some reflections from my life in East Africa. I’ll ask myself a few questions and share with you those thoughts. Hope you enjoy joining me in a time of reflection.

What do I miss about living in East Africa?

I miss the simplicity of life in Kenya. It’s hard to explain what I mean; it’s just a simple life in the best sense. There are less distractions and a more conscious focus on what matters most in life.

I  miss the noises. I miss the chaos. I miss the people walking on the side of the road and in the road. I miss the heard of cattle holding up traffic. I miss driving home on the by-pass watching the sun set behind the Ngong Hills. I miss waking up every morning hearing the loud Ibis singing outside my window and knowing that I had fulfilling work ahead of me. I miss falling asleep at night exhausted but satisfied. I miss the dry, cool air. I miss the early sunrises. I miss driving on the wrong side of the road. I miss the feeling of accomplishment when you arrived to your destination alive. I miss the smells – always a faint scent of burning charcoal. I miss my friends that God so clearly and timely put in my life as I moved to Nairobi. I miss the smiling faces of the children at New Hope Academy. I miss the grumpy faces of the women of Project Biashara that inevitably turn into smiles when I attempted to greet them in Swahili. I miss reading and talking about Kenyan politics. I miss walking through the mud to get to work every morning. I miss my church. I miss 59 Miotoni Close. I miss doing business on River Road. I miss my runs in Karen and my running partner. I miss meeting people from all over the world and hearing their stories. I miss Festus, Madame and all the leaders at NHI Kibera.

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I always got a thrill out of going downtown Nairobi to purchase supplies for our business project. Always an adventure…

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Every time I got behind the wheel, it was my mission to arrive safely at the destination. Driving in the U.S. is boring now.

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Purchasing beads with the ladies of Project Biashara.

If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together. – African Proverb

Driving out of Kibera for the last time, I turned around and snap this photo. I wanted a way to remember my last day there. Bittersweet.

Driving out of Kibera for the last time, I turned around and snapped this photo. I wanted a way to remember my last day there. Bittersweet.

As you know, I traveled back to Nairobi in October to finish up a couple of projects. It also allowed me to say proper goodbyes to my colleagues and friends there and put a close on that chapter of my life. It was a bittersweet trip.

Now, that I’ve been back in the States, I’ve started to reflect on the past 18 months. In the coming weeks, I hope to share some of my reflections and lessons learned. Today, I am thankful for the time spent in East Africa, the relationships I built, and the work I was able to accomplish by God’s grace and alongside the local Kenyan leaders. It was my great pleasure to work with our staff there. Committed, passionate and caring. Here is a snapshot of some of things we accomplished together:

  • Ongoing one-on-one coaching with Festus, the Head Teacher of New Hope Academy, Debra and Scola, Co-Directors of Project Biashara and Olive, Clinic Nurse.
  • At the school, we have begun a Strategic Planning initiative to guide the future of the school; held leadership development workshops for the teachers, created teacher contracts and HR polices, started the creation of a school-wide discipline policy, completed and moved the school administration into new offices.
  • With Project Biashara, we have created a new process for payroll, set up every woman with a bank account, and set up regular scheduled payments of their salaries into these accounts; we have created a cohesive leadership team and completed regular leadership training with them; we have created a new ordering process and set up quality control measures; we have moved into a new facility and organized our inventory and supplies; we have set up a “shop” for visitors to purchase products in Nairobi.
  • In the clinic, we completed a brand new clinic facility. We hired a new nurse who works two days a week and has started to assess all our people. She also handles immediate care and will begin soon training and educating our people in sanitation and preventive care measures. We have set up a system for keeping health records on all our people as well as a system to keep inventory of supplies and medicines.
  • We have established new financial accountability procedures and trained all staff on financial stewardship.
  • We hosted hundreds of visitors from the United States to expose them to the work of NHI.
  • Around the world, I have been able to visit our projects in Ethiopia, India and Tanzania and facilitate leadership trainings for the staff there as well as resource them in areas of development for their people.
  • In all of our projects, I have had the pleasure and great opportunity to teach God’s Word and share the gospel. This has been some of the most fulfilling times I have experienced –encouraging my brothers and sisters in Kenya in the faith and bringing the good news of Jesus Christ to those who do not know him.

It was God’s kindness and your support that allowed me not only to do meaningful work with New Hope Initiative but to experience East Africa in a way that I will never forget.

                                             Thank you!

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I have to share a photo of this kid. He makes my heart smile. His name is Mwongela Kyalo, and he is in Class 1 (first grade) at New Hope Academy. His Dad works as the school caretaker and he has 3 siblings in the school as well.

This summer I noticed a child playing off to the side, away from other kids and appeared to be very sad. At closer look, he seemed very small and quite honestly, malnourished. Teacher Nelson was standing close by, so I asked him about this kid. It was Mwongela. He had recently been admitted to the school since his Dad had recently been hired to work at the school. I was very concerned from his physical appearance and the fact he was by himself and not interacting with the other kids.

As I talked to Teacher Nelson and then inquired a little more about his home life, I discovered that his Dad is a single parent providing for 4 primary school children by himself. Head Teacher, Festus, decided we could offer some additional support to the family through contributing staple foods and a cooking oven.

Now, as you see in the above photo, Mwongela has been in the school for about 4 months and is doing much better. He is healthy and he has friends. I continue to find him on the playground with a huge smile on his face and many kids around him playing.

New Hope Initiative impacts hundreds of children and families around the world. But the reality is that the work is really about individuals. Changing lives. Seeing people grow. Providing support for individuals to be the person God created them to be.

Pray for Mwongela. He still has a long way to go. And, life is very uncertain and fragile. But, God cares for him and New Hope Academy has given him hope for the future.

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Proud Mama

Steven

In July of 2014, I began telling you about a certain boy named Steven. I originally met him when New Hope Initiative hosted a one-day community medical clinic at our school in Kibera. He was 6 years old at the time and came to the clinic alone, because he had an infected bump on his head. Well, it turns out the “bump” was from a car accident a few weeks prior. He had been playing in the street near Kibera and got hit by a car. He was lucky to survive. The local staff and neighbors named him “the survivor”.

To say the least, he is living up to his name. After our first meeting, I prayed that I would see him again and be able to get to know him better. Sure enough, I spotted him the next week playing in the slum alone. After several meetings, I learned that he was not in school, because his mother could not pay school fees. I asked our Head Teacher, Festus, if we could take him at New Hope Academy. Festus agreed and Steven was enrolled in our pre-unit class July 2014 with the help of a generous donor in the States that agreed to sponsor him.

Because he had not been in school, we learned quickly that Steven was behind academically. His teacher recommended that he be held back and the school leadership decided that was best for Steven. So, at the beginning of 2015, he started pre-unit again. Pre-unit is the equivalent to kindergarten in the United States.

Kenyan schools give examinations to the students regularly to track their progress. At the beginning of 2015, Steven scored 52% on his class exam. It was a very poor score and we all began to worry if he could keep up and stay motivated to remain in our school. His teacher, Rosemary, agreed to stay late everyday and to tutor Steven to help him catch up. After much hard work on both Steven and Rosemary’s part, Steven scored 84% on his most recent exam! What an improvement!!

Today, I talked to our Academic Director, Ken, as well as Rosemary to ask them their thoughts and observations about Steven. Ken said, “We have seen great improvement in Steven. He is catching up and we are seeing changes. We have hope for him and believe he will be in Class 1 next year!” Teacher Rosemary reflected on his arrival, “From the time he came to New Hope Academy, he was totally bad. But now, his character is better. He is not stubborn any more. He is disciplined now and a nice boy. And, next year, he will join Class 1!”

Can you tell they are excited about his promotion to Class 1?

I was very happy to hear Ken and Rosemary’s comments. To hear that New Hope Academy has not only helped Steven academically but also helped him grow his character is such a blessing. I think it reflects the goals and vision of the school to not only educate kids but also to grow their character through the teaching of God’s word and by showing them the love of Christ.

Please continue to pray for Steven and his academic progress. Also pray for Ken and Rosemary and the rest of the teaching staff as they work hard to help these kids learn and grow to become the next generation of Kenyan leaders!

He may have been behind in academics and character but never in popularity.

He may have been behind in academics and character but never in popularity.

Steven says he has two mamas - his Kenyan Mama (left) and his Mzungu Mama (right).

Steven says he has two mamas – his Kenyan Mama (left) and his Mzungu Mama (right).

Karibuni Kenya

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This evening, I will arrive in Nairobi to visit for a few weeks. When I left back in August, I decided to return with NHI in October to finish up some projects and help the founders host a team from the US. I feel like there’s so much to do and so little time.

In addition to the NHI work that I’ll be doing, I plan to spend time with several friends. I am also starting to work on my next career step and it involves continued work in Nairobi. I haven’t fleshed out all the details to make an official announcement, but it’s exciting, and I’m looking forward to making connections this month that will further my intended plans.

So, what am I looking forward to in Kenya…enjoying the weather, catching up with my friends and Kenyan colleagues, checking in on Steven, and making stops at Java House, Talisman and many other yummy restaurants. I am also looking forward to reconnecting with my church community at EBC.