Tuesday, October 3, 2017

The Power To Fly

Something wonderful is taking shape – colourful plans to bring groups of visitors from the UK, Europe, Australia, the US and other developed countries on life-changing trips to Kenya for a combination of volunteering and exciting travel.

I first came across the term “voluntourism” in 2012 when I met an extraordinary man, John Lawler who founded Madventurer– a scheme for students on their gap year - between graduating high school and starting university - to volunteer in challenging projects in developing countries with the opportunity to Make A Difference while having a grand adventure.

John Lawler, a pioneer of voluntourism
I interviewed this modest achiever one sunny day near the Tower of London and was inspired by John's story of starting out with a tiny seed of an idea that grew into the mighty tree of a flourishing worldwide charity.

That summer I did an exciting trip with Madventurer to Ghana as possibly the oldest “gap year” volunteer ever and discovered the joy of making heartwarming connections with people living in another culture!

Coming Alive in Ghana 

Meeting the beautiful children and talented musicians in Ghana on my Madventurer trip in 2012
Voluntourism takes hold 
And here I am five years later in rural Kenya returning to the theme of ‘voluntourism’, excited about the possibility of empowerment and transformation for both visitors and local people.

Millicent and I imagine that international visitors can come and volunteer in the Faraja Community Centre and help with the kids’ activities, the ladies’ sewing project, nutritious cooking classes and planting the community vegetable garden.

Volunteering is certainly NOT about White People flying in as superior, condescending Saviours to tell poor Black People what to do! Oh no, no, no! Volunteering is about an equal, respectful cultural exchange – a sharing of knowledge, creativity and traditions that becomes enriching and expansive for everyone. For example visitors can share their favourite recipes with local women who will share their traditional dishes.

Sweet Bananas

Here’s how respectful, equal friendship works. On Sunday I gave Anne some chocolate to say ‘Asante’ for her delicious meals – a real treat for Anne, who, unlike me, doesn’t get to have much chocolate! Today Anne gave me a perfect bunch of yellow, dainty Lady Finger bananas from her garden – a real treat for me, who relishes good quality, sweet bananas!

I believe people from different cultures can learn much from each other. The cultural exchange adds spice and novelty to bland, jaded lives. And we can make interesting new friends across countries, despite how politicians would divide us and build borders and walls to keep people apart, cultivating ignorance, fear and hostility. The truth is we are all human beings, connected as one big global family – mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, sons and daughters.

Adventure for All Ages

And what about adventure? Together with Millicent and Garama and their sons, Peter and Eliud, we are devising a range of exhilarating trips to integrate into a three-week stay in rural Kenya.

On arriving in Nairobi, groups will visit the heart-warming Giraffe Centre and Elephant Orphanage before heading upcountry where trips will include game drives to see African wildlife in spectacular Meru National Park staying in the beautiful eco lodge; camping in Mount Kenya National Park , field trips to the remote villages with Millicent, day trips to the nearby tranquil waterfall lagoon, visits to lush hillside coffee and tea plantations and optional extras such as visiting the exotic tribal people, the Maasai Mara  and finally the ultimate add-on for those who are up for experiencing a tropical paradise?

Tongue kissing a giraffe at the Giraffe Centre in Nairobi 

Keepers feeding the babies at the Elephant Orphanage in Nairobi

Brothers, Eliud and Peter at Mount Kenya national Park

A Colobus monkey we spotted on the road to Mount Kenya 

Eco lodge at Meru National Park

Chogoria waterfall

Maasai women on my safari in 2016

George, my new Maasai friend

Peter, a Maasai chief on his smart phone near the Mara River,
teeming with crocodiles

A sleepy lioness spotted by the road on my first game drive on the Maasai Mara

A family of cheetah relax in the shade on the Maasai plains

Magnetic Mombasa

When I first saw the word ‘Mombasa’ on the map of Kenya and neighbouring Diani Beach (with my name on it!), I was enchanted by the musical sound of the word as it rolled around my tongue. I quietly vowed to visit. However I never made it to the legendary coastal town on my last trip in 2016.

Mombasa is apparently a laid-back hippy haven of non-stop reggae parties and hot and steamy, glorious beaches, full of beautiful bodies basking in endless sunshine.

Over and over the hypnotic word “Mombasa” keeps cropping up. People whisper about romantic adventures camping under the stars with a view of Mount Kilimanjaro on the way to Mombasa!

And now the long-awaited new train from Nairobi to Mombasa is finally running, taking travellers right through spectacular Tsavo National Park with wild animals roaming free – you can spot buffalo, zebra, giraffes, lions, elephants from the window of the train!

The word ‘Mombasa’ evokes rapturous reactions even in reserved people.
While having lunch - a mountain of masala chips and spanish omelette -  on the balcony overlooking the rainforest at the Snow Peak Hotel, Pastor Garama’s face lights up at the mention of Mombasa! Suddenly he is lost in the revelry of fond memories of the magical town where he grew up with three brothers and three sisters, running free!  

Young Mark, the surgeon I met at the guesthouse, raves about Mombasa as some kind of paradise and warns that once you succumb to Mombasa’s idyllic charms, the danger is you never want to leave!  

Idyllic Mombasa beach that captures the heart and soul of visitors

For the Wild At Heart Only 

For the wild at heart and the eternally youthful, I’m imagining running three trips a year – in the dry months of January/February (a great escape from the bleak English winter); May/June (slightly cooler in Kenya) and the springtime of August/September for groups of nine to 12 people, in age groups of energetic young people aged 20 to 35, mid-lifers, aged 35 – 50 and the adventurous Over 50s. The question is, can you see yourself joining in the life-changing voluntourism movement?

The Power to Fly

The metamorphosis of the lowly caterpillar into a beautiful butterfly is an inspiring symbol of transformation. But have you imagined what it actually FEELS like to be that mundane grub, wriggling along munching through leaves mindlessly, running on instinct, never looking beyond the next leaf, until one day you decide to spin yourself a reclusive cocoon where you retreat to contemplate your life’s higher purpose. While in this dark slumber something miraculous is taking place. You are being transformed! Suddenly you emerge with shock and exhilaration – you are reborn in a different form – with a set of beautiful wings with the power to fly! 

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