“It’s not going to be a ‘glam’ trip,” Sarah cautioned.
“That’s perfect – I’m not a ‘glam’ person,” I replied.
And so I crashed a working team trip to Kenya to review current projects, evaluate possible new projects, and meet with very important contacts, both new and long-term. After all, what better way to see what really happened with my donor dollar than to go with the working team to Kenya?
Dangerous? I am more likely to be shot by a toddler in Texas than kidnapped in Kenya! Disease? Multiple vaccinations, two very sore arms, and an entire Walgreens in my luggage – no illness for me. Food? Lots of snacks and bars from home (unnecessary, it turns out). My concerns were more about my role with the group. Everyone else had clearly defined jobs. I decided that I would go as a representative for all supporters, sort an intrepid reporter, observing as much as possible.
Our trip started with a team-building exercise at the Austin airport. Two pieces of luggage were overweight, so we all pitched in to share the load. (I observed at that point that I am about 30 years older than the rest of the team.) “We’ll hit the ground running in Nairobi,” advised Sarah. “Everyone try to sleep on the plane.” So, no one slept. True to the warning, we all got up the next day and started in on the chock-full agenda. Without the distraction of ‘glam’, I observed many things:
Many sincere and good-hearted Western organizations make problems in Kenya worse unintentionally through projects that fail, especially since there’s no follow-up. For example, litter everywhere; so much ‘aid’ is packaged in plastic and there is no system to deal with the trash; most people burn it.
There is desperate need but amazing resilience that just needs a hand up, not a hand-out. Many Kenyans are highly educated, very resourceful, and want to make a difference in their own country but lack a guide or model.
Well Aware is highly regarded throughout Kenya as an effective organization of integrity and success.
The WA team both in Kenya and Texas is thoughtful and careful and, perhaps most important, extremely respectful. Constant and ongoing evaluation of our mission and impact is the norm during every day, not just an occasional review. There are no problems, just challenges to solve. We can be very proud to have them represent Texas and the USA.
Parts of Kenya seem just like parts of Texas in terms of terrain and climate.
The team works but also knows the value of fun. Sometimes it’s playful interaction with children at project sites, sometimes it‘s a language lesson in Kiswahili or Kalenjin, sometimes it’s helping me learn how to eat mbuzi (goat) with ugali (sort of a soft bread but not) and greens using my fingers, sometimes it‘s Tusker Time! (Or dawa time, but that’s medicinal.) The Lion King isn’t too far wrong and the team knows all those songs. And they know lots of other songs – one for EVERY circumstance. Literally.
Giraffes seem larger out in the wild. Baboons can be jerks. Gerenuks are hilarious. Nakumatt rules. We’re seriously pampered in the US. Mike and Rachel are two of the best people on the planet.
Most of all, I observed that my donation is meticulously handled not only in actual application, but also as an investment in the future of our increasingly interconnected world. I’d go again in a heartbeat!