Sarah Duff in Kenya

16 year old student Sarah Duff, from Dromore High School, gives her view on a ten-day trip she took to Kenya with school expedition company Africa Adventures.

There’s nothing that comes close to the emotions of Kenya. I’m not even sure ‘emotions’ or ‘feelings’ are words I could use to describe them.

I left Dublin airport on 11th March 2016 with a group of fellow students, on a mission to change the world.

I didn’t know what to expect. I’m still not quite sure if any of us had hopes, dreams and aims for the trip as one would anticipate, or if we all were just rather overwhelmed by the adventure in front of us and the world that was opening up around us.

After a long and eventful journey, we stepped out of Nairobi airport into the light. The heat lingered upon our skin, and our eyes were met by scenery so extravagant that it has to be seen to be believed.

A five-hour bumpy bus ride to Nakuru felt momentary with the landscape to admire.

Kivu Resort felt like home from the moment we tucked ourselves into the safety of our mosquito nets. It was the perfect mixture of basic yet luxurious. We settled quickly and, after a reflection of how far we’d already come, both in miles and mental growth, we drifted into the realm of dreams.

On the first full day of our trip, a Sunday, we used the day to adjust and chill out. We mingled with local teenagers by the pool; both nationalities excited to get to know the other. Hours were spent wide-eyed, taking in everything. We discovered Kenyan cuisine; the chapattis, served with mixed beans and rice, were a delight.

Kenyan children

Volunteering time

After the relaxing weekend, Monday was certainly a shock to our systems. We were bussed off to our projects, knowing only that there would be children, lots of children.

Our team was to be based at Mama Kerry School for four days. Our tasks for the coming week included teaching lessons, helping with conctruction of a classroom and doing house visits to deliver food parcels.

The welcoming ceremony at Mama Kerry consisted of all the pupils singing and dancing, an abundance of joy. Overwhelmed by the happiness of these kids, we joined in the celebrations. It was only when I started to look closer at the children I noticed the torn clothes, shoeless feet and longing eyes.

In that moment the world stood still and all that I could see was the brokenness and overflowing love of Kenya.

If I’m completely honest, the first day at Mama Kerry was one of the most tiring days I have lived. Coming from a country where everyone lives their own life and focuses on where they are going and how they are getting there, it was a bit of a culture shock to suddenly be so intertwined with the children of Africa.

It was amazing to be sitting in a classroom so different to our own and witness the eagerness to learn; education was a life or death essential to them. It inspired me to work harder, to use the resources and opportunities that are so readily available in Northern Ireland in order to gain skills and intelligence that I could someday bring back to Kenya, to pass on to the children that sat around me.

Lessons were relatively short and breaks were relatively long. I got the feeling that the school aimed to provide the kids with a place to go, hot meals and an understanding of God first and foremost, giving them a chance of freedom, a chance of being kids, being who they are.

Leaving Mama Kerry on the first day, I was burdened with fatigue but exhilarated about what was to come.

The rest of the time spent in Mama Kerry was an experience I struggle to put into words. My feeble attempt to describe it in a sentence would be…

Truly amazing, thought-provoking and character adjusting.

My last day at Mama Kerry was a tough yet joyful experience. I was so thrilled to have been a small part of the kids’ lives but I was concerned about their future and I knew that I was going to miss being with them each day.

While we gave them material goods and education, which don’t get me wrong are so desperately needed, they gave us love, perspective and life lessons that will forever be priceless to me.

They taught me how to be grateful and how to have a childlike heart. They taught me the value of a smile.

A visit to Hilton Dump

On the Friday of our trip we went to Hilton Dump.

I think it's fair to say that I've never seen anything quite like it. At first glance I could see massive piles of rubbish that appeared to go on for miles. Pigs and goats roamed the surface of the rubbish, scavenging for food. People worked alongside the animals, looking for food, things to make shelter and things they could make products out of or sell.

The atmosphere among the group was one of sympathy and thankfulness.

The kids I met in the dump were truly amazing, filled with joy they taught me how to dance and rejoice. I got to spend about 45 minutes playing with them and getting to know them, and, honestly, that short period of time made me happier than I ever knew possible.

Leaving those kids was hard; I knew they didn't go to school and maybe would never get out of living in the dump, unlike the kids at Mama Kerry who had slightly better opportunities.

I pray that someday they will get a better standard of living. Whether I'm a part of that or not, I'm going to try every day to live my life with the same heart they have.

Expedition time

We spent the remainder of our trip exploring Kenya and getting to experience the culture, with an incredible safari, a trip to Baboon Cliff and a hike down Thomson Falls. Like all the best things in life, it was a tough journey but it was worth it.

On the bus journey back from the waterfall, daylight turned to dusk, which faded into darkness and the streets stayed alive with children laughing and people enjoying each other.

I couldn't help but wonder at what they were all thinking.

On the Monday, we began our long trip home. Leaving behind what had become all we'd known for the past 10 days was hard, very hard.

Settling in when we arrived home again was and still is very hard. The only way to describe the sensation is being homesick. Homesick for Kenya, homesick for the kids, homesick for the culture, homesick for the love.

I look forward to returning to Kenya someday, hopefully in the near future, but until then I am holding tight to everything Kenya taught me, holding tight to the memories, holding tight to the moments shared with the Mama Kerry children and kids I met in the dump...holding tight to the emotions of Kenya.

To find out more about school expeditions with African Adventures visit School Expeditions.