During the 2018 Christmas Holidays four Year 11 students embarked on a three-week cultural immersion to East Africa (Kenya and Tanzania). Their time away was filled with amazing experiences including visiting the Kibera Slums and meeting the wonderful children who live there, running a sports carnival for four local schools and painting their classrooms, and climbing the tallest freestanding mountain in the world. For all of them, the journey was life changing and an experience they will never forget.
ES (Emma Siddle): I have two very different highlights. The first was visiting the Mirror of Hope Foundation. We had the opportunity to meet and become really attached to many of the children there; forming friendships that will last a lifetime. Getting the chance to visit their homes (in the Kibera Slum) was an experience that I will never forget, and has changed the way I view the world. Seeing the poor conditions that so many people live in, and their happiness despite their circumstances has made me so grateful for my home and the opportunities that I have. The second was climbing Kilimanjaro. The conversations I had and memories that I made with people on the way was satisfaction enough, but to make the summit was the icing on the cake.
LP (Liam Pert): Meeting all the kids at the Mirror of Hope was my favourite experience of the trip and probably in my life thus far. Talking to the kids about their everyday lives was really confronting, learning about the struggles that they endure so cheerfully, and which we would find overwhelming. Their optimism, happiness and cherishing of life is what made me love them and this experience.
TH (Tayla Hopkins): An experience with so many highlights is hard to sift through and choose just one favourite one from. Meeting all the kids at the Mirror of Hope in Nairobi/Kibera, and especially creating a bond I have never before experienced with a young girl named Fridah was the most life-changing part for me. I was able to create an incredible bond within a matter of days with someone of a different age, religion, ethnicity, essentially with a completely different life. To be able to build such a deep friendship with her showed me that love forms in many different ways if you allow it to. Summiting the mountain was probably second to that, because it taught me that whatever I put my mind to is possible if I have patience and maintain the right mentality. The people who walked beside me were also a huge reason as to why I was as happy and as successful both on and off the mountain; and I cannot discuss the highlights without mentioning the amazing individuals who shared this experience with me.
ES: Hearing their stories of the people who live in Kibera was quite confronting. We see poverty in the media, but to experience it first hand is a completely different situation. The houses were less than 3m squared housing, on average, seven people. There were electrical cords hanging everywhere and the water was filthy. The boys playing soccer were playing with a mesh net filled with plastic bags. There were young women who had to care for not only their own children, but their younger siblings, nieces and nephews after family members had died from easily preventable diseases. Nonetheless, everyone was so happy and welcomed us into their homes with open arms. It has challenged the way I look at the world and has opened my eyes to what is truly important.
LP: I think we all agree that going into the slums and seeing the kids living conditions was tough, comparing their small shacks to our modern suburban homes. Not only were their living conditions confronting but also all the different aspects that were impacting their families like loss of parents/siblings to diseases and what families had to do just to keep the children in school.
TH: To say goodbye to Fridah and all the others involved with Mirror of Hope on our final night in Kibera was excruciatingly painful. Everybody was crying, hugging, laughing at one another’s ugly-cry faces, and writing down final contact details. Leaving what felt like a second family was so difficult, especially after experiencing the conditions many of them live in and hearing all of the gigantic goals and dreams they have despite their circumstances. I think the Australian kids all realised that although these people have so much faith and are so motivated, they simply do not have the opportunities and tools to realise their dreams. This was on my mind as we said goodbye. I genuinely wanted to bring every child home with me and provide them with whatever they need to reach their goals. If given the right education and tools, we could be celebrating future heart surgeons, pilots, and teachers; and knowing that made leaving so much harder, because they deserve the world.
ES: It does not matter how much money you have, or what brands you wear; people are what matter. There is no fulfilment in a life of comparisons and expectations. We will only find true happiness in our lives when we all learn to love one another for who we are like the Kenyans and Tanzanians.
LP: Whilst we were in Kenya we all sat down in our small groups with the same number of kids from the Mirror of Hope and discussed a bunch of questions that we flipped over from a pack of cards. My question will stay with me forever: ‘if there is one thing in the world you could change, what would it be?’ My mind instantly went to large, philosophical concepts like peace and ending world suffering, but I had no idea how to attain these wonderful concepts. One of the girls then simply said ‘to love each person like the big family that we should be’. It was a little like a slap across the face it was that simple. Exploring it more in the group, we came to understand that to attain optimum life we had to put aside our differences and love each other as if we were a family. I personally believe that these words are some of the most beautiful I have ever heard or learnt, and I cannot wait to implement them into my everyday life.
TH: The most important lesson I learnt from this trip is to take chances, especially ones that frighten you, because they are often the most valuable, and will bring you the most happiness and fulfilment. I was so nervous to take part in this big adventure but I have never loved my life more than I did during those 3 weeks. I believe I have become a happier, more grounded person because of this experience. I have learnt to smile more, give attention to the relationships which bring me the most happiness, focus on what I do have instead of dwell on what I am missing, and generally have turned my pessimistic attitude into an optimistic one. My perspective has broadened and I have come to realise that love is the greatest gift we can give and receive. You can be dirt poor, wearing the same torn up clothing and broken shoes every day, but if you have the love of friends and family, and can share laughter, hugs and kisses; then you will always be rich.