GCELE Kenya 2019 – 14 days – Lives Transformed.

GCELE Kenya (created by Silvio Santos, Kaitlyn Popert, Ukweli Wilson, Tommy Lu, Abdalla Ali, Abhishek Rajgor, Nicole Umana, Katherine Armstrong, Keisha Beattie, Vaaranan Jayakkumar, Brendan Chapman, Natashia Deer and Susan Chandy)

(We invite you to read, ponder and feel free to comment and share this blog with others. For more information on how you can be a change advocator or learn more about evolving in your understanding and opportunity as a Global Citizenship, please visit Centennial College Centre for Global Citizenship Education and Inclusion.)

We chose to construct this blog as a team where individuals shared daily reflections and in turn transformed 13 individual posts into one to share our experiences more holistically. Our hope is that not only will you glean insights from our experiences but also be challenged to support and use the privilege and influences that we have as individuals and a collective society to create meaningful and impactful change.

Kenya, a land of kindness. A place where wildlife and humans co-exist respectfully. A nation where the people are so vast and diverse yet celebrate their cooperative society by embodying what it means to make sure the past is honoured, the present is celebrated, and the future preserved. A land where the world should learn from ways that blend the advanced and the simple to create sustainable systems.

We were fortunate to have been allowed to attend as a group of 13 inspired and heart-directed representatives from across the college (ten students and 3 Faculty members) for ten days in Kenya through Centennial College and the visionary Global Citizenship office. A college where Global Citizenship and Social Justice is at the forefront of the academic experience and where donors come together selflessly to provide transformative experiences for the college community through different initiatives. A college where the focus is on offering the highest level of education but with a realization that learning the curriculum is only one essential aspect of creating change. Providing strategically crafted experiences guarantees that in our own way, assumptions can be broken down, divides solidified into a strong movement, minds shifted and the theoretical transformed into the applied.

These 14 days were an intense blend of collaborating with teachers and students at the Mitero primary school as well as sitting in the quiet strength and presence of a 90 plus year old Momma, whose mind is as alert as if she was still 15 years old and carries an immeasurable physical power and reminds us that storytelling is a conduit to understanding the past and how it impacts the future. Nightly reflections under an uncountable amount of stars and constellations break down our assumptions, perceptions’ and stereotypes while educating and challenging our learning under the limitless sky around the bonfire. Experiences that remind us that privilege is fluid and it is what we do with our privilege that is most relevant and influential. The honour of listening and breathing in the stories, challenges and vision of two different Woman’s Camps that work from a ground roots effort to create actual change and understanding and a 5-hour walk into the beauty and vulnerability of the Ngare Ndare Endangered forest/conversancy. 14 days is not enough for us to create massive change no matter how hard we contributed through our collaboration – in fact, it is a gift that is given to us to learn and grow a seed in our minds.

We heard a perfect quote from one of the managers at a Nursery where they grow exotic and indigenous plants, trees and flowers that they will sell to the community to create future growth. A place where if you buy 10 plants/flowers/trees – they will automatically plant 10 more for free. WHY? It’s a selfless, practical and visionary way to provide value and continuous rebirth to the community, earth and the future.

This gentleman said, ‘planting is not the key to true life; growth is.’ What he reminded us was that if we want to see permanent change – we cannot ‘plant’ something and walk away. We need to grow it – through unconditional love, intelligence, commitment, hard work, curiosity, kindness, attention and respect. This trip has done this. The long-term results of the growth will be determined through each of the individuals that were selected to be part of this experience. However; we feel confident that change has happened and like a butterfly, the transformation will be stunningly convincing.

 

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In the words of the students….

April 29, 2019 (Reflection #1) Silvio Santos

Our first full day! We went to the elephant orphanage in the morning and could see an organization involved in taking care of and preparing baby elephants to go back to nature. We saw them having milk with a gigantic baby bottle, eating trees branches and even touch them before heading to our first camp on the border of Ol Pejata Conservancy.

April 29, 2019, Kaitlyn Popert (Reflection #2) (Program – Social Service Worker Diploma Program)

We started our first full day in Kenya with a trip to the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust Elephant Orphanage just outside of Nairobi. This was by far one of the best experiences for me since it has always been a dream of mine to experience the endless energy and joy that baby elephants offer. Everything we experienced after this was just a bonus. My favourite part about this day was hearing the journey these orphaned elephants have gone through, from being rescued to rehabilitation and being released back into the wild. The dedication and love the caretakers provided was reflected in the way the elephants engaged with them and the visitors. I would visit this amazing place again and again.

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April 30, 2019 – Ukweli Wilson Reflection #1 (Program – Bachelors of Public Relations Management)

The Art of Perseverance

I really am so grateful at this moment. Firstly, I’ll start by saying that God really does have a sense of humour. A couple weeks ago, I remember specifically praying and asking to be more efficient when completing tasks and just generally getting into the habit of persevering through difficult circumstances; too many times I find myself being intimidated by daunting situations which often results in me giving up. Added to this however is my general contempt towards physical activities and pursuits which I view as more of a mental challenge than the physical one at hand- more often than not, I give up mentally before even attempting, and this too was something I wanted to work on personally.

Today was our first official day of work at Mitero Primary School. Initially, we thought the school was about a 5-minute walk from our camp, but it turned out that it was actually a different school we’d be going to that this one was about a 45-minute walk away! Needless to say, my first morning going to school was a challenge! (I would also learn to appreciate and welcome that word “challenge” more as the trip progressed.) The walk to the school could be defined by two main factors; extreme heat and length. Some parts of the journey saved us by providing shady forestry which allowed for us to cool down, just before embarking on another set of equator-temperature sun. With this being our first time making this trek, it definitely seemed more challenging- we were unsure of our exact destination and had no clear end in sight. But on we went- and what a treat was in store for our day ahead!

Upon our arrival at the school, the student’s break time came soon after. When the students saw us in the courtyard, the whole school came running out of class and towards us, swarming all around. It really was quite a moment. One little girl in particular by the name of Ann stuck by my side for the entire break. Playing with the students of Mitero after completing a very challenging walk for me was the icing on the cake. The day in itself provided so many personal victories. Even though I initially felt very overwhelmed by the day, having accomplished those few challenges gave me a feeling of hope which I took with me throughout the remainder of the trip. Would you believe I woke up the next day looking forward to the walk, and believe it or not, I gained new perspectives of the scenery and land we crossed with each journey I took?

Whenever faced with a difficulty or challenge now, I first ensure that my mentality is positive. With that, persevering through anything comes so much more easily! I’m thankful for that very challenging day which preceded and set the tone for the rest our time in Kenya. What an experience!

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May 1st, 2019 – Tommy Lu (Program – Bachelor of Science in Nursing Collaborative Nursing Degree.

 It is only the third day in Kenya and I can already say this trip is something I will treasure and cherish in my heart. May 1st is our second day with Mitero primary school however it is also Labour Day in Kenya, meaning no classes. Despite the fact that there was no school, we still had the delightful experience of playing with a few students that decided to come along! What surprised me the most was the fact that Samuel, the father of two of the students, took time out of his day to come help and talk with us. His work habits and dedication is truly an inspiration to many who had the pleasure of being able to interact with him.

During our discussion with the teachers of Mitero, they talked about how parents are usually supportive of their children going to school however their impact on the school remains neutral. Samuel, however, is an excellent example of a positive contribution to Mitero. All the work he does for the school is unpaid for, meaning he is offering his time in order to give the students of Mitero a better environment for education. He is someone who truly believes that education is important and acknowledges that it is crucial for children to be educated and pursue a future that differs from that of the traditional lifestyle that many Kenyan children are still used to.

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May 2, 2019 – Abdalla Ali (Program – Truck and Coach Technician Diploma)

My day on the 2nd of May started off like no other, we had breakfast at the camp and headed to the school. What happened after lunch is what really got to me the most. While waiting for the meeting with the teachers, Natashia and I decided to go into a classroom which had no teacher after the students insisted that we come in and do something with them. The school had a limited number of teachers and that meant some classrooms had to wait for them to finish with others to get to them. While the students waited, they would take turns teaching the class on previous lessons. The students were very respectful, they stood up as we entered and greeted us with a welcome song and only sat down after we instructed them to do so. After some introductions, we started off with hangman and gave them easy words, but after a couple of the letters, they were already guessing big words. The level of intelligence they have was something that still amazes me, by the time we were doing harder words they were going through them like it was nothing. Their level of understanding and positive attitude towards learning is something that stood out to me. After the games, the students kept asking us questions and just wanted to learn more about us and where we came from. Their curiosity and hunger for knowledge reminded me of myself and how I always go out of my way to learn new things about my profession and personal interests. The students taught me to value the knowledge I have and never take for granted the resources I have access to here in Canada.

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May 3, 2019 – Vaaranan Jayakkumar (Program – ELECTRO-MECHANICAL ENGINEERING TECHNOLOGY – AUTOMATION AND ROBOTICS)

Thank you Centennial College for this great experience.

So as today was our last day with the Mitero Kids, we were all ready to finish the last little bit of work there needs to be done. We had prepared a little song for the kids so they can sing along with us, and they shared their talents with us! We prepared the interactive Little Shark Song for them, which we ourselves enjoyed practicing. So as we reached the school we drank some water and continued to our designated work. As part of our project, our goal was to plant 100 trees and we were only a few behind. Five of us continued to plant trees and today as we had more people we were able to dig more holes for the plants compared to the past few days. It was such an amazing experience planting trees and watering it once it’s done. The rest of our group continued with wall paintings (the talking walls on the outside of the school and educational pictures in the Kindergarten classroom.)

At the end of their school teacher and students welcomed is to the open around and they asked us to sit on the ground for some performance. Students from grade 7 started to dance and sing some songs for us. We all enjoyed every bit of it. And then Joyce (our amazing guide and partner from Rift Valley Adventures) went up and asked some academic questions and handed out prizes to the kids who answered it right following which came our part of the performance. We all gathered up at the front and started singing. The kids started to laugh and clap as the song was sung by our team. We improvised on the song a little bit and called in the school teachers to join is on the performance. In the end, we asked all the kids to join and it went so well and the happy part was, the kids loved the song. We all took a final pic together with all the students and teachers and our Centennial Team. It was a pleasure working and meeting the students. 🙂  It was such a nice and great learning experience for us and I was glad to be part of it.

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May 4, 2019 – Reflection #1 Abhishek Rajgor (Program – Construction Management)

After 4 days of overwhelming and beautiful experiences at the School, we had mixed feelings in terms of exploring newer activities of GCELE but also for not being able to be with the school kids. So the 7th day began with a relaxed morning schedule (which meant more sleep J), we were excited to explore the town of Nanyuki as it was our first instance of experiencing an urban environment in Kenya other than camp and the village we were at. The town was vivid in its own ways – from the colourful buildings to the sweet chaos of the marketplace, the town had everything to offer for a visual delight.

We strolled through the streets of the busiest areas of Nanyuki and were welcomed by locals at every corner with wide smiles & offering to visit their shops or stores.

It was indeed interesting to see how extremely contrasting lives of people exist so closely in the town of Nanyuki which boasts almost all urban facilities and the small village of Mitero which struggles to get electricity on most days.

May 4, 2019 – Reflection #2 – The Wisdom of a Mama   

Today was a blend of the past, with a step into the future. Before heading into the urban town of Nanyuki, we walked to a nearby farm and was privileged to sit and listen in the presence of a 90 plus-year-old Mama. Her stories recounted experiences and lessons from her youth to the present day while she freely shared her wisdom and insights. Her small physical stature was overwhelmed by her quiet strength, eyes that have experienced many lessons and her joy and faith that she endeavours to pass on to future generations.

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May-5: Silvio Santos (Program – Program Management, Post-Graduate)

Safari day in Ol Pejeta. Time to see the animals in the reserve while having a lot of patience and maybe luck. First animals to be seen was the impalas that were closed to some buffalos. Wild pigs with its big two teeth running, stopping eating grass, looking at the bus, running and stopping and so on. This animal had a short memory, it’s funny to observe it. Two charcoal were looking for eggs in a bird’s nest on the ground. Zebras with its unique stripes all over the body.

The reserve integrates agriculture with wildlife, there were around 40 cows with huge horns, a characteristic of Uganda cow type. I’m the night they are kept in a big cage so that they can be protected against lions. Cattle stays in the cage and will only go to eat grass in the reserve when they grow up enough to run away from lions. Lions usually don’t attack cows during the day because they prefer to avoid humans.

A family of three white rhinos (male, female and child) were spotted drinking water and defining territory by pooping. The reserve mission is to protect black rhinos and they’re doing a good job so far since in the 2000s the number of rhinos was 450 and nowadays is around 700. Poachers want the horns that are sold with a gram price higher than gold. It was believed that rhino horn powder would increase sexual performance, but nowadays it has been scientifically proofed it’s is a big mistake.

After lunch, we spotted a tower of giraffes when a ranger approached and told our bus driver the place where we could find two cheetahs. They were sleeping, but woke up, stared at us and slept again.

The day was fantastic so far, but it became perfect after we found a lioness and a lion – this closed our day with four of the five big animals. We couldn’t see Leopards (as they are not native to the conservancy) but it was great anyway.

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May 6 – 7, 2019 Nicole Umana – Project Management – Post Graduate Certificate

May 6th – Twala Maasai Village

By this point of the trip, we were already in the second half. We travelled for the most part of the day. Somewhere around 1 pm, we stopped to have lunch in the middle of what I called nowhere (probably somewhere for someone who knows the area) and ate lunch with the most amazing view.

We arrived at Twala, a space owned and managed by women of the Maasai Tribe. For the next two days, we were given the opportunity to camp there in order to learn more of how these women have grown as part of their tribe and the difficulties they have had to overcome to be respected as a part of a male dominant society.

For the rest of the day, we set up our tents, made dinner and reflected around the fire on life and career plans, which led us to a discussion about hard work, passion and the importance of self-thrive to succeed in life, no matter where you come from.

FUN FACT: In Africa, wildlife runs the business, so we had to fix our schedule for tomorrow because it seems like the elephants are hanging a little too close to the camp, making it unsafe for us to go start early in the morning for activities. In the city, how many times have you been late because of elephants?

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May 7th – Rosemary 

We woke up early and met Rosemary, the woman who started this community of woman. She told us a little bit about the start of the community and how the group has grown from 10 acres and 60 women up to 40 acres and 203 women currently.

This full day was about learning how Maasai women go on with their responsibilities.

We had the opportunity to fetch water as they do daily. They dig a big hole on the ground under they find clear water, put into a container and carry it with their heads, backs and the help of a cord. Each container weighs about 40-50 pounds (according to our estimates) and they usually have to carry them for very long distances to get some water to their houses. When we tried to do it, we carried the containers for less than 1 km and ended up exhausted. This was an eye-opening experience on how usually we take for granted the ease with which we have access to some resources.

Later on, Rosemary showed us around the land where they have developed different activities, that have turned them into the major economic support for their families. This is incredibly important because it has empowered women all over the community and it has helped the fight against previous traditions of the tribe such as female mutilation and arranged marriages. Nowadays girls get to decide who they want to marry, which is completely amazing.

Finally, my favourite part of the day was when we had the chance to sing and dance with the women. They have such great spirits, they are warriors and they have accomplished so much by working together, that songs and dances seemed like the perfect way to close a day that filled me with awe and admiration of how powerful we can be when we decide to work together.

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May 8, 2019 – Katherine Armstrong (Program – Child and Youth Care)

Today began at the Maasai women’s community and was our last morning with them. We packed our bags and tents, shared our final breakfast with Rosemary and Cecilia, and thanked them for sharing their space and stories with us. We then headed out for our drive to the next camp, which was approx. a 2.5-hour drive. These long drives usually consisted of card games, music, and LOTS of jokes. Thankfully we had a few stops along the way – our first stop was at Cedar Mall, somewhere we stopped often for a bathroom break and some Java Coffee House milkshakes. Our second stop was to another Maasai village, which was where one of our guides, Francis, was from. We were welcomed with songs and dances and had the opportunity to ask the women questions. They’ve been a community for 3 years and were so kind to us – they even prepared lunch for us, consisting of rice, lentils, and cooked goat. For many of us, it was the first time we’d ever tried goat – literally, every day is a new experience. They took us around their community for a tour, where we saw how they prepare food and sterilize horns used to store milk. After that, we got on our way and left the village towards our final destination, which was only a short 30 min drive.

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May 9, 2019, Keisha Beattie (Program – Broadcasting for Film, Television, Digital Media, and Radio)

I cannot believe that we had to say goodbye to the place where we called home for two weeks. We began our day with a bushcraft lesson from Francis. To be honest, before today, I had never heard of the term bushcraft ever in my life. We essentially went into the bush with Francis and he taught us survival skills that the Maasai warriors use. The highlight of this bushcraft experience was learning how to start a fire using cow poop! The hardest part of the day came upon us where we had to say goodbye to everyone who we met at Rift Valley Adventures – Joyce, Francis, Dorito, Omari, Ritchie, and everyone else who was so gracious to us. Goodbyes are tough. Especially to those who have made such an impact on your life. I think what I’ll take away most from this whole experience is, the fact that everyone who we came across was just so kind and warm-hearted to all of us. The people who live in Kenya may have it tough, but not once did we ever come across anyone who was unaccepting to us. Everyone wanted to share their stories with us and ensure we had the best experience we possibly could. I’ll always remember this trip and the people of Kenya. I will return back to Toronto with a heart that’s so full of love and appreciation.

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We thank you for taking the time to read our blog and hope that it has inspired and entertained you! Wherever you may travel, may you be inspired to use your privilege, influence and joy to create positive and collaborative change through every encounter, in each moment.

With heartfelt thanks and gratitude to Centennial College, the Global Citizenship and SAGE teams, the donors and to Joyce and Rift Valley Adventures (our partner in Kenya) for memories and experiences that will impact for a lifetime.

GCELE Kenya Team 2019

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