Meet Sumi

My daughter Michelle and I got to “shadow” a kenyan woman for a day to experience the culture first hand. Sumi was chosen for us. I have to admit, at first I was a little dissapointed because she’s a 17 year old girl. I wanted to shadow a mother. But as we got to know her better I realized she was the one for us.

Life for Sumi is not what she dreamed it would be. She attended elementary school and hoped to be able to continue her education through high school, but since it costs $300 a year to attend, her family had no choice but to discontinue her education. Both parents work in the city (we never met them) and she’s the head of the household. She’s in charge of 4 siblings. She has a brother her age in the same situation, but in a male dominated society, she does all the work. We got to her mud hut home and swapped the dirt floor. We gathered water at a nearby water hole. We went to her family agricultural lot where they plant their vegetables. We picked “greens” (more like “weeds” to me) to take back home for lunch that day. We smashed dry corn to make ugali (mushed corn). It took all morning just to do those things.

There was a moment that I will never forget: Michelle (16) is almost Sumis’ age. As I watched them working in the field side by side, I got an overwhelming feeling of sadness thinking about how their lives had turned out so differently. But I also felt gratitude for the opportunities Michelle has in this country. It was eye opening for her as well, realizing she has much to be grateful for.

Michelle and Sumi working in their family lot. We picked greens for lunch that day.

After a busy day working, it was time to say goodbye. Isn’t she beautiful?

She laughed at us trying so hard to grind corn to make ugali. That stick weighed 100 pounds!

In her kitchen getting ready to cook lunch

Gathering water

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Travel with us to Kenya…

We’ve been back now for almost 2 months, but the memories and experiences we lived there will remain with us for the rest of our lives. As soon as we landed in Salt Lake CIty we hit the ground running, in true american style, trying to catch up with our hectic lives. So much so, that this is the first time I’ve taken to write a post. There will be more coming. The story of our journey to Kenya is far from over. These will be the best “chapters in the book”, where we can look back and share with you how it changed us; one story at a time.

But for now, we wanted to share a video we made for our wonderful neighbors in Hidden Springs, where so many were involved in making the school in Bofu a reality.

So, for the next 15 minutes, travel with us to Kenya. Feel the energy, happiness and gratitude these amazing people have.

Living My Dream

Last October, I had a very strong prompting that I needed to build a school in a third world country. I value education and feel so blessed for the education I have received. I wanted to be able to unlock the world of learning for others who are less fortunate than me. I shared my dream with my hubby, Curt. Then in November, I attended a presentation that touched my heart and I felt “the call”. In December of 2011, I joined with Koins for Kenya and held 3 events at my home to raise money for a school in Africa. We did a short presentation, shared with our friends, neighbors and community about our dream and was able to raise $9,000 for a school in Bofu Africa! This was a community effort to raise this kind of money in such a short amount of time!  We were not alone in our desire.  Our friends and neighbors, the Skonnards joined us in our mission and continued to raise money for the school until it reached $17,000!  We decided to name our school the “Hidden Springs” school in Bofu.  We will be traveling to Bofu to complete the school.  We will teach several lesson plans; we will paint the school and a mural on the wall. The village has planned a ceremony and cultural event to honor our family and the Skonnards. Our entire family wanted to come, but it will be Curt, myself and our 17 year old for this trip.  It has been such a beautiful thing to see it all unfold. Another testimonial that when you have a dream, you can make it happen. The hardest check I have ever written was to pay for mine and Curt’s way to go….(I could be going on my dream trip to ITALY!) but since that moment, our lives have been greatly blessed ….more than ever before. “When you are in the service of your fellow beings, you are only in the Service of your God.” I feel greatly blessed for this opportunity in my life Journey!

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Our Kenya Expedition Begins!

After six months of dreaming, planning, and working to make this expedition happen, it’s finally time for us to go to Kenya! We’re very excited (and a bit delirious at the moment from lack of sleep), but anxious to see our new school and meet the people in Bofu.

This last week leading up to our journey was absolutely crazy. Shopping, packing, checklists galore. Not only did we have to plan for our journey but also for the journey of our three children remaining at home for the next two weeks.

During those two weeks, they will be staying with both sets of grandparents, Monica’s sister, and several very close friends. That part of this experience has arguably been more stressful than our own plans. We really appreciate everyone who is helping us out – you’re making this trip possible for us.

Another stressful moment was when we waved goodbye to our two oldest children, Michelle and Michael, who traveled to Kenya two days before us with a youth expedition group.

Above is a picture of us waving to them as they proceed through security. They’re smiling ear to ear while we feel panic start to set in. 😉

As we walked back to our car, we asked ourselves “did we really just send our kids to Africa without us?”

That’s what parents do. We worry. But deep down we’re also excited that they get to have the adventure of traveling internationally without us. They loved it. We received word yesterday that they arrived in the Koins village safe and sound, and they’re already hard at work earning their keep and getting things ready for us.

The rest of the adult expedition left with us this morning. There’s about ten of us traveling together and we’re meeting up with a few more volunteers in Zurich. A handful more arrive the day after us, which makes for a group of about 15 adults, plus about a dozen more in the youth expedition group already there.

We’re getting to know the rest of our group and already having a good time. The best moment today was when Carol Guest passed through security in SLC … she had packed some “pop-its” (the simple 4th of July firework for little kids) in her carry-on. She was planning to use them in a school lesson on “the five senses”, as a hands on activity for the sense of hearing. TSA quickly detained her, they called the airport police, and after she tested positive for traces of gun powder, they took her to the “back room” for an additional private “pat down”. I guess she learned her lesson. 😉

Right now we’re sitting in Chicago O’Hare awaiting our next flight to Zurich. Then we head from Zurich to Nairobi, and then on to Mombasa where the Koins group will meet us. After a good night’s sleep and a morning in Mombasa, we’ll head to the village, find our kids, and begin our work. We’ll dive into the final touches on our school to get it ready for the grand opening next week!

We’re very grateful to everyone who has donated to make The Hidden Springs School in Bofu possible. Knowing that our family, friends, and neighbors support this cause makes the whole experience more meaningful. Stay tuned for more pictures!

Aaron & Monica

Kimberly Wagner is Awesome!!

I couldn’t believe my eyes! I was busy all evening hosting Gisela’s birthday party and didn’t   notice what Kimberly had left on my kitchen counter after picking up her daughter Claire.

Apparently she’s been busy buying/collecting books for our school in Bofu! She brought 21 AMAZING books with african themes. They will be a great addition to the school and I’m sure the teacher will be very excited to have them.

I’m humbled by all the support and enthusiasm we’ve had from friends and neighbors. I’m blessed to live by such wonderful people. The school truly representes this whole community and is a testament that together we can do great things!

Art Project for the Hidden Springs school in Kenya

The school in Bofu, Kenya is under construction. Schools are often turned over to the villages with just a coat of fresh paint. That is, off course, great, considering they didn’t even have a school before! But as I thought of ways to give it some warmth and color, I came up with an idea. We asked the children in the Hidden Springs community to participate in an art project to decorate the walls of the classrooms. We want the Hidden Springs School to be a happy and bright place to welcome the wonderful students that will attend every day. We also want them to feel our love and support. The project was very simple, since it has to fit in my suitcase ☺

My friend Tara wanted to help and provided white cardstock and markers for the children to draw with. They added their names on the front. We will glue the finished artwork on color cardstock as a border and laminate them. They will hang on the walls of the classroom for the Kenyan kids to enjoy!

When I’m in Kenya I will have the children from the school draw pictures back for the children who participated! I’m so excited to see the finished product. I think it will look amazing and add a personal touch from our neighborhood.

Here are some pictures from our children hard at work. The last picture was taken on Sunday and it has the majority of the kids from our neighborhood. They are amazing!

Progress on our School in Bofu

They are continuing to make great progress on our new school in Bofu, Kenya! Everything seems to be right on schedule for our trip in two weeks. I just received the following update and pics from Steve Littlefield, a member of the Koins board who is currently in Kenya:

I hope all is well as you and your family prepare for your trip to Kenya. We have arrived safely and have quick begun to get involved in the village and the work. We made a trip to Bofu yesterday and the school and the new cistern look awesome.  I was here in April for the groundbreaking and it’s amazing to see the transformation of the raw ground to a new school in such a short time.  It is getting close to completion and will be ready for the paint and finishing touches when your group arrives. We met briefly with the headmaster and he is so excited about the two new classrooms and cistern.

It’s exciting to see everything take shape so nicely. We are incredibly grateful to all of our supporters whose donations made this new school possible!