Last month we had the tremendous opportunity of going to Zanzibar, in Eastern Africa, to photograph a local fashion designer's upcoming collection (photos from that coming in the new year). We figured that since we were lucky enough to be sent to that part of the world, we should make the most of it and do a bit of volunteer work in rural Kenya - something we both felt very strongly about - and while we were at it, we should go on a safari and try and spot some animals. My parents and my sister Arielle decided to tag along with us, since this was an opportunity that they too did not want to miss. We all knew this would be the trip of a lifetime, but I don't think anything could have prepared us for just how much this would touch our lives. We were mesmerized by Zanzibar's Stone Town; a veritable maze of streets and shops, with deep cultural and historical roots. But it was Kenya that really stole our hearts; in particular, the 47 smiling little faces at the Nakuru Baby Orphanage were we stayed for a few days.
The orphanage is run by Mission in Action, a truly incredible organization that is operated by an Australian couple. It is a big happy family, consisting of 47 (and counting) abandoned or orphaned children. Because there are so many of them, they don't get to go out much, so during our time there, we took groups of them on various outings, including a visit to the Kenana Knitting village, a special lunch in town, and a very exhausting trip to the pool. But mostly, it is the children who spoiled us. There was an abundance of hugs, kisses, hair petting (they like our soft hair!), funny questions (to Daniel: "Is Davina your wife? Do you kiss him?"), and so much love that I swear our hearts felt physically fuller at the end of the day. MIA is very open about the children's backgrounds, some of which are downright horrific, so we had the chance to learn all about the kids while we were there. To look down at the child who is sitting on your lap and realize that this is the one who was severely beaten by their parents... or raped as a baby by men who believed they would be cured of AIDS... or left to die by the side of the road just a few hours into their life... or bore witness to their mother's murder at the hands of their own father... It is hard to find words to describe the feelings that came over us. Yet despite what they have gone through, they are all still just children. Those with traumatizing pasts have come a very long way, and while the traces of their experiences are still visible at times, for the most part, these are all very happy children.
While volunteering at Mission in Action, we took a few trips to local villages where we gave out thousands of biscuits to some energetic village kids, and brought bags of flour and sugar (both hard and expensive to come by) to donate to some local women. The heartfelt gratitude we received when giving these women such a simple gift is something that I will never forget. Arielle was similarly moved when we gave our leftover lunch to some local street kids. Their enthusiasm for food that we would not have hesitated to throw away back home, had her in tears. We also had the opportunity to meet Mrs. Rabbit; affectionately nicknamed so because she has fifteen children, who all share a mud hut no bigger than 300 square feet. (Mrs. Rabbit is the woman in our opening photo, pictured at the entrance of her home with eleven of her children)
After very tearful goodbyes and promises to ourselves that we will return soon, we headed to the Masai Mara, the Kenyan side of the Serengeti. It was chilly, rainy, and incredibly muddy, but we still had the pleasure of spotting many animals, including elephants, zebras, gazelles, hippos, lions, cheetahs, and giraffes.
Since returning home, we have not stopped thinking about life in Kenya. Not a day goes by where we don't think about the kids, laugh about an adorable thing they said, hear their joyful giggles, or just plain miss them. Our time in Kenya gave us the most precious gift we've ever received: perspective. I can tell you that our post-Kenya home is one with a lot less complaining, and a whole lot more appreciating.
We've made the very easy decision to keep working with Mission in Action and to do what we can to help them out from a distance. They are involved in many community projects outside the orphanage, on top of running a second orphanage nearby. We saw firsthand just how every penny of sponsors' money goes to the exact cause that they wish to contribute to, so we feel confident that this is an organization to get on board with. We are currently working on getting each of the kids their own backpack in which to keep their very few personal belongings. These kids share absolutely everything, but the few personal objects that they might have (a toy sent by a sponsor, or even just an empty water bottle that they latched onto) usually gets lost in the mix or broken. For this reason, we want to send each child their own backpack, personalized with their name on it of course, to put the special things that are all their own. Until January 1st, every dollar from every print sold in our ETSY SHOP will go towards this project. You can also make a donation to the project by emailing us, or donate directly to the orphanage HERE and make sure to read about some of the projects currently going on in the community. We will also be sharing portraits of each and every one of the children at the orphanage, so keep an eye out for those on our FACEBOOK PAGE.
There are so many individuals and families around the world, both at home and abroad, who need help. This is one community that has touched our own hearts and that has given us the simple yet precious gift of appreciation. If you can help, this community or another, please do. And please do take a moment to be thankful for all that you have, especially over the holidays. I know we will.