Lessons from Shimoni: Part One

It’s been 4 days since I’ve returned home now. In those days I’ve consumed more than enough calories to make up for feeling hungry for 2 weeks. I’ve almost scrubbed the top layer of dirt off my feet. I’ve managed to brush through my hair at least once (tricky after not bringing a brush with me to Africa), and I’ve stopped scratching most of my bug bites to the point that they ooze. Most of all I’ve spent these days thinking about what a truly remarkable experience this has been.

I stated from the beginning of this trip that I wasn’t expecting to make a difference to Kenya. What I really wanted was for Kenya to make a difference in me. I don’t mean to diminish the work that I did. I think that the work volunteers and GVI staff is doing in Shimoni is incredible and significant. I feel I made a contribution to the momentum already in place by lending an extra pair of hands, an extra mind, and an open heart to their mission. However, I didn’t set out to try to impact Kenya. I wanted to be challenged. I wanted to be educated. I wanted to be stirred.

To be honest, I don’t know what exactly I was looking for. I needed something and I knew whatever it was it wasn’t ever going to come from spending countless years within the bubble of my comfort zone.

I was certainly able to find a challenge and step out of that bubble in Africa. It was difficult not to get discouraged by the obstacles surrounding Shimoni. By our standards they are facing absolute tragedy every single day. This is a place that has an estimated 75% HIV/AIDS rate. The village has relied on fishing as a livelihood for centuries, which has caused havoc for their marine populations. They are losing 1.2% of their rainforest each year due to deforestation. And as of recently they are attempting to fight off oil companies who think there is oil to be found in their ocean. Illness, infant death, lack of food, all just a part of every day life.

The main reason I think I didn’t get lost in that murky river of pity can be attributed to a single activity we did with an after school club called “secret club”. The after school clubs are a fun way for students to practice their verbal English and writing skills. The secret club is identifiable by secret badges, secret songs, secret activities, and a whole lot of secret silliness.

On this particular day the lesson revolved around dreams. The children spent a chunk of time drawing pictures of their dreams, and then they got to share with the class. I silently watched as a class full of primarily uneducated, impoverished, malnourished children sketched images of police officers, futbol players, pilots, college professors, and much more. Suddenly the place I was in seemed far from tragic. It didn’t matter that this school doesn’t even have a proper soccer ball and instead have taped together garbage. It didn’t matter that the majority of them can’t even afford shoes. It was irrelevant that they are all struggling to grasp English, even though it has been declared Kenya’s official language. None of it mattered because they had these enormous dreams that could possibly defeat all odds and actually happen. Suddenly, the only tragic thing I could think of was that I had been getting so wrapped up in the difficulties facing Shinini, that I had missed the beauty of their dreams.

When it came my turn to talk about my own dreams I found myself a little choked up.

“I had a dream of coming to Africa'” I said. “And I’m here”.

I realize now what I saw in Africa, why I felt so compelled to make it happen. I chose one of my oldest dreams and went for it because I needed to witness first hand that dreams really do come true. That it’s ok to have a crazy wish, a wild vision, to take a leap. Because sometimes it really does happen.

I’m certain of that now. I’m certain for myself, and I’m certain for Shimoni. There was a police officer in that room. There was a professor. There was a pilot, a writer, a futbol player and so much more. I’m certain.

Thank you Shimoni for teaching me to always dream big. And thank you to my own community for showing me that dreams really are reachable. Thank you.

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