Two athletics department staff members and a North Central student-athlete recently returned from a three-week long nontraditional service trip to the Republic of Kenya in East Africa.
Last month's journey was the seventh trip to Kenya organized by the College’s Office of Ministry and Service.
“A sociotourism trip, rather than a service trip is the best way to describe it,” said coordinator of recreation and assistant athletic facilities and events manager Lydia Pond. “There are two types of people that go to Kenya. There are people that go and just go do safaris and that, and don’t really venture into the other parts, and then there are some people just do that. We spent three weeks doing a little bit of everything.”
Pond and Nathan Warstler, graduate assistant coach for women’s cross country and track and field, led a group of five students on the trip that included sophomore women’s basketball player Callie Rezin.
While on the trip, Pond and Warstler had one goal: “to suck every minute out of Africa.” Refusing to take naps on their three-week journey the duo made it a point to learn Swahili, play as many soccer games as possible, indulge in traditional African cuisine, and even woke up early in the morning to help the local people milk cows and goats.
“We did so much. We visited a lot of programs, non-profits and for profits that are in Kenya trying to make Kenya better, especially in some of the slums and neighborhoods,” Warstler said.
Much of the group’s service time was dedicated to helping children, including a visit to Nyumbaui, a village that is dedicated to helping young orphans and elders that are either AIDS/HIV infected or affected. The group also spent time at the Little Rock Inclusive ECD Center, which is designed to provide education, nutrition, and health care to children in the Kibera slum, the third-largest slum in the world.
“When it comes to being with the children, all what we really did was offer ourselves and play with them. It was a lot of building relationships,” Warstler said. “We helped them with their sports day, and they had all these really awesome, fun relays and all the kids played. We helped them play and orchestrate that.”
Not only did the group give their time while abroad, they also brought something back with them: a change in perspective on their own lives.
“You know you always hear how good we have it, but you really see how good you have it,” he said.
“There’s a lot of perspective, but Kenyans are very prideful people too. These women, they have basically a shed or a shack that they live in, but every single morning they scrub the floor because that is all they have,” Pond said.
Rezin also took notice of the Kenyans upbeat attitude and love of life stating that, “the trip has taught me that your house can be empty of many things but that does not have to stop you from having a full life. The people we met gave all their thanks to God and were a great example that Faith in Him is all a household needs.”
As one of the group’s leaders Pond made sure the group remained focused throughout the trip and that they made each day count.
“I told everybody in the group to just take it a day at a time because if you are looking forward to doing something we’re doing next Thursday, you are going to miss out on whatever we are doing today and you’re going to rob yourself of an opportunity,” Pond said.
On days where the group didn’t spend time with the children of Kenya they enjoyed going on multiple safaris and spent their last four days atop Mount Kenya before coming back to the United States.
Based on the experiences that they had as a group, all of them have been inspired to continue to do more service work in the future.
“I definitely think I will do something like this again. I don’t know where, but it’s all about being a citizen of the world,” Pond said.
“I don't think anyone could go on this trip and not be inspired to do more,” Rezin said.
Each year, more than 1,000 North Central students give more than 21,000 hours toward service and volunteerism. Many classes include a service-learning component, and all of the College's 60-plus student organizations plan at least one service project throughout the year.
To learn more about service and volunteer efforts at North Central College, visit northcentralcollege.edu/content/serve-others.