There I was in Kibera– the largest slum of Kenya. I had been selected for Loyola Academy’s East Africa immersion trip. Graduates of Saint Aloysius, a school which serves HIV/AID affected young people, showed us their homes in the slums. Kibera was overpopulated and overrun with garbage and feces. While walking through Kibera, I bonded with one of the graduates, Borniface, whose father had passed away of HIV/AIDS. He is the oldest of six children and is their primary caretaker.
â–º Quarter Finalist 2011 Teen Travel Writing Scholarship
I felt an overwhelming sense of helplessness when I witnessed impoverishment firsthand. My group and I had reflections every night, where we could discuss our questions, concerns, and insights. After walking through the slums, I experienced terrible frustration. I could not see how a teenage girl from Chicago could in any way assist the plight of the Kenyan people. The destitution they must have been feeling in Kenya was unlike any feeling I had ever experienced. I wanted to conclude that I simply could not help these people. One of the supervisors on the trip told our group and me that, "God does not want you to feel bad for these people, but to love them as God does."
As I began to reflect on the meaning of that particular quote, I came to a better understanding of it. In Kenya, I created strong friendships and bonded with many of the native people. The Kenyan people made me feel welcome and accepted. By the end of the immersion trip, I felt a connection with every particular person I had met while in Kenya. It was difficult at first to stop measuring my relatively prosperous life against the lack of material gifts of the people I had met. But only focusing on quantity would deepen the feeling I had had of hopelessness. I then started to focus on the quality of sincerity the Kenyan’s personalities possessed and how their lifestyles and personalities had influenced me.
Borniface taught me how to truly care about others, and keep an optimistic attitude, even in the face of hardships. As a result, I have developed an open connection toward people of other cultures, economic statuses, and beliefs. Kenya heightened my reaction toward human suffering. I saw genuineness and faith in the Kenyan people which enhanced my desire to work for social justice. Interacting with those affected with HIV/AIDS broadened my desire to learn more about marginalized people, such as those with disabilities.
My Kenyan experience particularly inspired me to volunteer with other endeavors, including a Camp for disabled adults and a residential care facility for AIDS-afflicted and cocaine-addicted infants.
I have learned that whatever is valuable and precious in life exists even in the slums of Kenya. This may be a travel perspective that many people overlook, yet it is a perspective I have been fortunate to find. At first, I was deeply saddened at these situations. However I learned to understand these hardships, and now I strive to put these feelings into action. The people I have encountered in my travel experience to Africa have taught me that life is about forming relationships, and sharing ourselves with one-another. All people are entitled to the benefits and advantages with which I have been blessed.
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