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Reality abroad: compassion and desire in Kenya

I have never volunteered, been on a mission trip or taught. I don’t really like kids, and I’m not a missions or education major.

I used to think that volunteers must have been selfless and focused people who thought of nothing but VBS plans and where to help next.

What I didn’t realize is that anyone can volunteer, and it doesn’t take much for you to become immersed in the work being done.

I went to Kenya not really sure what I was doing. I gave it a shot, but I didn’t think anyone that was selfish, not very motivated and kind of wimpy could do much good or be a real volunteer.

My first week in the country was a blur of runny-nosed children following me, goat and body odor, dirty everything, being lost and cooked bananas with rice.

But what they say is true: you can get used to anything. My next two months there were full of kids with playful and kind hearts, adventures in slums, teaching and HIV/AIDS awareness, making friends with Kenyans, learning Swahili and of course, giraffes.

I hardly had to put any effort into my change of attitude. Just taking it all in-the people, the learning, the smell of exhaust and poop-it all changes you whether or not you are aware of it.

While I was on the bus my second week in Nairobi, there was a man who tried to steal a woman’s purse on the side of the road. She fought him off and then all the people who were nearby gathered around and beat the living crap out of him. That’s justice.

One day at school my 3-year-old friend Claire had a cough and runny nose that was worse than usual, and Collins from Class 4 used his only five shillings for lunch to get her an orange because we had just discussed in class how vitamin C could help a cold. That’s love.

These things didn’t happen to me; they are just happenings. But they are what seeped into me and made the ten-by-ten houses and shoeless street kids “normal.” Once these sights and experiences became commonplace to me, I was better able to accept them as the reality of the Nairobi slums, making it impossible for me not to care.

Being shocked and feeling sorry for people my first week was useless. It was the real experiences that made my efforts and intentions real, and with no thanks to me, made it not about me.

And the true reality goes deeper. The reality is that the guy who tried to steal the purse was probably doing so to feed himself, and the reality is that Claire probably has caught something far worse than a cold. And the truth is I hardly put a dent into the problems that plague Kenya.

But I went and I tried and I’ll do it again. The only thing I can say for sure is that if you go and try to be a part of aid abroad, the rest-the desire, the compassion, the reality-will take care of itself.

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