This Easter holiday Academic Families took a group of motivated teenagers on an unforgettable lifechanging journey through Kenya. We supported several amazing projects on land and sea, and we connected with lots of wonderful people along the way during our amazing trip.
Not only was this a customised escorted holiday full of adventure, but there was a serious objective too. Each international boarding school student committed to making a personal impact on those less fortunate while making a difference in people’s lives by helping with sustainable development projects.
Our African adventure started in Kenya’s capital city, Nairobi, which was home for the next three nights. Our hotel was the perfect place to relax and unwind, and very central for all the upcoming planned activities.
The first day proved to be very hands-on meeting some new animals face to face – starting with feeding time at the baby elephant orphanage, learning all about these intelligent animals and how they must continue to adapt to the threat of climate change and poaching. Not all elephant mums survive and we enjoyed watching the babies slurp up their enormous ‘baby’ bottles of milk.
Later in the day we came eye to eye with giraffes and this time we fed them - from a very tall platform! They have extremely long tongues which curled around our hands - much to many squeals of shock!
The first of our volunteering projects was our visit to Alive and Kicking, the world’s only not-for-profit football manufacturer. Here we saw all the steps of the process of manufacturing footballs by hand – only one of two projects worldwide doing this.
This charity organisation employs people who have never previously been employed, creating jobs and life-changing opportunities for their staff. Each person is trained to hand-make footballs by sewing hexagonal patches – all 32 of them - into full sized leather footballs.
This proved to be so much harder than it looked and we really struggled to sew even two patches together! There was such pride on the students' faces when they finally managed it!
Luckily, the staff at Alive and Kicking had skilfully made a big batch of balls for us earlier. We loaded them up and set off for our football match marathon around Kenya.
As we drove and saw groups of young people, we stopped to donate footballs, often playing a short game too. We had lots of matches arranged in advance - often the first match a school or community had played and definitely their first international match! Nearly every local team that challenged us scored more than our team of passionate and skilled boarding school players!
When not playing, our young international students mixed with the local supporters and connected with lots of lovely locals – sharing dances, songs and chats - and we felt extremely welcome and humbled by everyone.
Donating our Academic Families balls opened many doors – or rather local Kenyan school gates - and opportunities for us to connect to children we would never have met otherwise.
Being international boarding students in the UK, we know the incredible facilities that many of the UK’s fantastic football schools have, and these rural Kenyan schools had so little yet still managed to beat us! Many of the local Kenya primary and secondary schools struggled to own one football (never mind team bibs, training cones and even a whistle) so our bags of football donations were greatly received.
Using football as a global language, our international students studying at British boarding schools were able to form instant bonds with local Kenyan children, parents and teachers - all by way of a bouncy freshly made football!
Our adventures continued as we explored further. From Nairobi, we moved to Elenai Camp, a Maasai project which is owned and run by the local community. Here with iconic views of Mount Kilimanjaro as the background, Elenai was basecamp for the next four days.
We spent one day in a Maasai manyatta (homestead) learning their traditional skills including firelighting and spear throwing. Our British boarding school boys and girls also took a turn at African dancing, cooking, craftwork and pitched in to help build local houses.
The Maasai women were delighted to tell us about many of their traditional practices and customs that are very different from ours, including that all girls would be mums had they been born Maasai girls!
Next it was time for another project - this one focused on sustainability and reducing the conflict between humans and wildlife.
With local Kenyan support, we designed and built a waterhole pan to increase its capacity and reduce evaporation. This helped to ensure the local wildlife would have a steady supply of water even during the droughts. We employed several local Maasai to assist us in building the elephant-proof structure, and we all worked hard together. What a privilege it was to work alongside the Maasai!
As a group, we learned to track animal footprints and identify tell-tale signs of animal activity. Now fully trained by the locals, we set off on safari in the first of our national parks: Amboseli.
Our safaris were in LandCruisers, on bikes, and even on foot; we went out for sunrise, sunset and mid-day sun – we always found something we could track! We ticked off many animals on our Wildlife Bucket List including:
We also spotted two cheetah soon after making a kill, hippo, zebra, giraffe, gazelles, lots of birds including flamingos, fish eagles and very noisy nesting weaver birds – too many to count!
As we travelled through national parks and reserves towards the Kenyan coast, one particularly special experience was spending the night under the stars on the Tsavo National Park’s Ngulia Rhino Viewing Platform - a raised area beside a busy waterhole.
Throughout the night, the animal sounds became louder and clearer including the padding of elephant and rhino feet, and their noisy grass munching, elephant trumpets and roars, lions roars and there seemed to be a lot of snorting!
As twilight drew in, we saw giraffes spreading their legs so their heads could reach down to the water and we witnessed the animal kingdom hierarchy – elephants were definitely in charge. We also managed some sleep, but it was a surreal experience.
Sadly, our mega safari time in the red sands had to end, but we were all very excited for the next leg of the trip - travelling to the sparkling blue waters of the Indian Ocean.
"Treat the earth well. It was not given to you by your parents. It is loaned to you by your children."
Academic Families' main coastal project was helping to rejuvenate the Kenyan coastline, ensuring the continuity of local fishing communities.
We continued to work with the local community via the Kuruwitu Conservation and Welfare Association (KCWA). This marine conservation project taught our British boarding school students about the importance of the coral, the reasons why it is under threat, and how to plant replacement coral beds. It was amazing to see different fish species swimming around the recently planted coral! Through their interesting talks and demonstrations, our students were able to understand that the stunning small fish are the start of the food chain, which eventually leads to the fishermen’s catch and the overall livelihood of the entire community.
What came next? Football of course!
We enjoyed several more international football matches and once again, our boarding school girls played against a very strong local girls’ team from the Moving the Goalposts charity, to which we donated lots of training kit as well as balls. Our Academic Families footballs were once more making a big impact by bringing everyone together.
Our hotel was fabulously situated and we were able to kayak, sail and windsurf when our boarding school students were not volunteering or playing football. We finally managed to clean the red dust from our hair and clothes!
Our last day was spent on the water: water-skiing, windsurfing and sailing, while a traditional dhow boat up the Kilifi Creek finished off a very memorable day. Everyone took the opportunity for a last chance to swim and catch some sun.
It was the perfect end to a once-in-a-lifetime trip for our foreign students in Kenya!
Before heading back to our boarding schools in the UK, we reviewed our amazing 3 weeks and how much we had achieved.
We have made so many new rafikis and learned so much from everyone. In particular we have all realised how much we take for granted – privilege and possessions – and how so many of our new friends have so little in comparison to us, yet they are cheerful, grateful and strive so hard for more.
We have been greatly humbled by the Kenyan communities we met along the way and are grateful for these valuable life lessons.
At Academic Families, we also have lots of ideas for how next year’s trip can make an even bigger impact, and we look forward to continuing to make a difference on both a local and global level.
When reflecting on the experience, one of our international boarding school students said it best on his return to the UK:
“In these 3 weeks in Kenya, we did a lot of different activities that will stay with me for the rest of my life. The trip is not just a vacation. You can take a lot out of, for example, how these amazing people who live in Kenya are very happy and grateful for what they have. It will make you realise that you don’t need materialistic things to have a happy life. It will make you change as a person.”
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