To celebrate our 40th Anniversary, my wife Cindy and I wanted to do something meaningful and fun, so we chose a volunteer vacation. We traveled to Africa with a purpose in mind – to help build a school in Mungano, a small village outside Mombasa, Kenya. It turned out to be a trip of a lifetime.
Our objective, though noble, initially seemed out of reach considering the cost of transportation, vaccinations, visas, etc. I wasn't sure how we would pay for such an adventure but nevertheless, I wrote on my wall calendar that we were going. That was my vision. And then we found CHOICE Humanitarian.
CHOICE partners with rural communities where villagers live in extreme poverty on less than $1.90 a day. CHOICE empowers each local village to create their own vision for the future while engaging volunteers from around the world to help them. My charitable contributions to CHOICE through Encana Cares made it possible for Cindy and me to join a two-week expedition.
Our group of 24 arrived in Mombasa, then traveled by vans through national parks on safari and saw dozens of animals including elephants, giraffes, lions, hippos, and buffalo. That was an unexpected treat. It was winter in Kenya and the temperature was around 85º. The locals wore winter coats and hats.
Upon arriving at the village, each of us was welcomed with our names on signs and then ushered inside the old school made of mud and sticks. A celebration began, full of songs and native dances. We were immediately immersed in their culture. The people, and especially the children, were very happy and appreciative
We slept in tents and had no running water. The next day we began construction on the new school. Some volunteers dug the new foundation. Others built desks, which replaced the cinder blocks the students were using as seats. We built a total of 58 in all. The chief, schoolmaster, and villagers understand the importance and urgency of education. That's why they chose to build a new school.
Villagers speak three languages: Kiswahili, their tribal tongue, and English. I had the opportunity to go into a classroom and meet the students. In one of their textbooks, I read, "The future and peace of the world lie at the feet of mothers." The students get a sip of water for breakfast, no lunch, and a cornmeal patty or rice for dinner. I realized how lucky we were to have a special crew to cook for us.
Cindy, my wife, helped fetch water. It's the women's job to carry water, in a five-gallon bucket balanced on their head. One woman's bucket had a leak and the water ran down her face, so she had to keep one eye closed as she carried it. The touching part was that she had a small pitcher to catch the water so she could return it to the bucket. A simple thing like water means the world to them.
The women asked Cindy, "What do you do to get water?" "We turn on a faucet," she said. "No, what do you do when there is a drought and there is no water?" "We turn on the faucet." The women could not comprehend this. Talk about humbling.
Encana Cares made this trip possible and Encana employees were generous, too. They donated notebooks, pencils, crayons, as well as soccer and volleyballs, bats, yo-yos, parachutes, jump ropes, and other items that we took along and gave to the school.
Not only were we able to touch the lives of the students and villagers in Mungano, we returned home counting the many blessings we have. Especially, to live in such abundant surroundings and work for a company as generous as Encana.
Thank you, a million times, thank you!
Gary & Cindy Witte