Prior to our trip to Kenya with extended family and friends, we spoke with our travel agent. Our travel agent told us, “You should try to keep your safari luggage down to a carry-on and a backpack per person… Pack simple,” which made sense. He also included in our itinerary the link for Pack for a Purpose which he suggested was, “Something you can do with that extra luggage-allotment and space.”
I sat on the idea of taking donations to Kenya for a day or two, but then curiosity got the best of me. I opened the website and there it was—Pack for a Purpose, in all its simple glory. I casually followed the links – country: Africa – location: Kenya, – lodging: The Ark. I kept browsing the website.
Hmmm I wonder what this is. I thought when I saw the link for the project listed on the website. The link shown had been recently updated, and found that the project was a SCHOOL, and they needed school supplies. More specifically, they needed school supplies in English. Even more specifically, science books for children—I held my breath…
I went to my closet where I had stored my most treasured teaching materials. I had been a science teacher and the owner of a preschool, and had an entire gold mine of science books for children. Just then my mother-in-law came around to see me, staring at all the books from my closet, and said, “You have been saving them for those children!” I knew it was the start of something important!
Pretty soon, everyone we talked to about the trip wanted to donate as well. I was teaching summer school and I told my students, whom were future teachers at Florida State College at Jacksonville, about what I was about to do.
They asked me, “Can we donate too?”
I was talking with some ladies in my neighborhood, and they asked me, “Can we donate too?”
The next thing I knew, my children and I were packing not five pounds, not ten pounds, but two hundred pounds of school supplies—books, pencils, crayons, erasers, colored pencils, workbooks, paper, shoes, band-aids, disinfectant, and sports equipment.
We were traveling with our family, four other families, and close friends, who all chose to Pack for a Purpose as well. By the time we gathered our supplies, we had twenty-five pounds of shoes and supplies from one family, twenty-five pounds of shoes from another family, forty pounds of school and medical supplies and four soccer balls (contact Soccer.com at this link) that came as part of a promotion on the Pack for a Purpose site. One family decided they wanted to contribute to the construction of a new abolition facility, where a check for the new bathrooms was later presented at the school. We were beyond thrilled!
We packed our things in extra suitcases (international allotment allows you one hundred lbs per person and your carry-on and backpack, we didn’t have to pay for a thing).
Then something unbelievable happened as a result of emails back and forth between the manager of The Ark.
I had asked if we could meet some of the children and teachers. Primarily, I wanted to be able to explain the various teaching books we were donating and ensure they would all know which materials were for which grade level and assist the teachers in making the materials their “own.”
When we got to the camp, they explained to us that both a FEW of the children and a FEW of the teachers had gathered to meet us at the school. Since it was a Sunday and school was not in session, meeting just a few of them personally was more than we could ask for. Little did we know what was in store for us.
We were taken on a short bus ride from our magnificent lunch buffet over a dusty road, and what we saw next would take our breath away and brought tears to our eyes.
There were OVER four hundred children! At least four hundred of them met us that Sunday, lining the roads dressed in full school uniforms while clapping for us as we arrived. Fourteen teachers were there, and they had prepared the children to do cultural dances for us, written a poem in our honor.
The local governing school board had donated thirty medicinal trees for us to plant on the school grounds in honor of our visit, which the children planted with the student government for this school of almost 570 students!
We walked down the path to the school and were seated at a table placed in the yard as “guests of honor.” My nephew commented, “It was exactly like being on a Disney Channel Friends for Change program.” We never imagined it would have been like that!
While my friends and family took part in this planting activity with the student council, I took the opportunity to show the teachers the variety of books I had brought, what grade they were intended for, and what each one could be used for (making the books “their own,” by grade level). There were K-8th grade teachers there, and we sorted all the books—together.
What struck me as most astonishing as I got a final tour around the school grounds was that even though they were working in the most humble of environments, they were teaching! These teachers were teaching. Thinking back to the entire experience brings me to tears.
I am eternally grateful for Pack for a Purpose. I cannot urge travelers enough to participate. You don’t have to make a huge project out of it, but even if you do, participating is so easy on your part. You just get a few things together and put it in a suitcase. Participating and donating is valuable for the people there, but it is truly more valuable for you.
I had my time to talk with the teachers, and when it was all said and done, I am not sure whom was most grateful – I think it was us.
Peace and Love,