By Val Davies
Have you ever slept in a tent where the temperature at night is below freezing, where you can see your cold breath and where you are too hot during the day, above 30 degrees? Have you ever walked half a kilometer with a rope tied around your head, holding a jerry can on your back, to collect 70 pounds of water from a river? Eighteen-year-old Reed Power-Grimm, experienced both when he joined the program ‘Me to We’ spending 20 nights in Kenya during the summer of 2012.
‘Me to We’ was founded in 2008 by brothers Craig and Marc Kielburger of Thornhill, Ontario who as teenagers went to Ecuador to help build a school for a developing community. Now the organization offers training in leadership to other interested teens served by their charity, ‘Free the Children.’ Craig Kielburger came to Bridgetown two years ago at the invitation of the Investors Group Insurance, a socially active corporation and gave an inspirational talk on the project.
Reed, already a keen volunteer since he was 12, having been instrumental in getting the Annapolis Royal skateboard park and town pool going, attended Craig’s talk, identified with his vision and felt he should go to Kenya to help build a school. The problem about this trip is, it costs the student $5,000, plus air fare to and from Montreal, immunization shots for polio, yellow fever, typhoid, malaria pills taken daily and a few days before the trip and for a week on returning home as well as $50 medical insurance in case the student has to be flown in to a Nairobi hospital. Reed raised $6,700 from generous donors in his church, community, and the Investors Group Insurance.
Only Nova Scotian
Reed, the only one from Nova Scotia, left Halifax July 21 and met in Montreal one facilitator and 26 other students -- five guys and the rest girls. Then they flew via Zurich to Nairobi, where they spent the first and last nights in a comfortable house. The next day they left by lorry driving on the left side of the road for the middle of the Maasai Mara, first passing fields of corn, cattle, rolling hills, and trees. Later, when they arrived at their village, Eor Ewuaso, Reed noticed motorized bicycles, dirt roads with connecting pathways, donkeys carrying heavy loads, goats, sheep, and a few cows and subsistence farming carried out by men and women working in the fields at $1.50 a day.
This area of Kenya is very dry. Rainwater for the children is collected from the roofs of the schools into giant, covered, black water tubs, set up by Free the Children. Residents gather their water from the nearby river. The ‘Me to We’ Canadian kids drink only bottled water, but also purchase Coca Cola and Fanta made with local delicious sugar cane when possible.
The four ‘pillars’ of ‘Free the Children’ are clean water, health care, a sustainable income, and education. Primary education up to Grade 8 was made free for all six years ago, giving one and a half million children a chance many adults never had. Most children wear school uniforms and they pay for further education. Schools consist of individual classrooms or school houses built side by side. The existing school houses, built in the 1990s were flimsy, made like Maasai huts of wood and board with four-foot walls and seven-foot-high corrugated metal roofs. Reed and his fellow volunteers were there to begin building two new schools. The main job of Reed and his Canadian co-workers was to dig the four-foot-deep by one-and-a-half-foot-wide trenches with pick axes, clean away the broken ground with hand shovels, and load it into waiting wheel barrows. Reed enjoyed this manual labour. The concrete was mixed by hand shovel (no delivery here) and 18 wheelbarrows filled with crushed rock plus fine red sand and ordinary sand were used. Rebar frames were then added. The concrete was poured into the bottom of the trench onto the rebar frame. Two skilled construction workers supervised. The next group of Canadian volunteers would later add the walls, roof, and paint the building. There was no gym or auditorium, but Reed enjoyed playing soccer outdoors with the local kids.
Not Just Work
It wasn’t just work out here in the bush. As it was too hot to work in the afternoons the Canadians went on a Safari, seeing cheetah and giraffes. They were driven to other communities to meet with Canadian groups and they often had a siesta. The accommodations for the Canadians in the village were large five-person military-style tents equipped with cots and mosquito nets, although there were few mosquitoes as it was winter in Kenya at the time. Each tent had one light bulb and electricity from a generator for just three hours a day. Solar heat is used in some towns and cell phones are very popular with residents who pay a few shillings to have their phone charged if they have no electricity.
English and Swahili are the official languages in Kenya, but there are many other different languages with 42 different tribes in the rural areas. A few decades ago there was even tribal warfare. Today the country is fairly peaceful.
Now, Reed is working on his BA in Recreation Management & Sociology at Acadia University and has been selected to take advance training at an Arizona Ranch (donated to ‘Free the Children’ by a patron) in the summer of 2013. He also plans to volunteer at the upcoming ‘WeDay’ this Spring in Halifax. He has certainly changed from thinking of just ‘me’ to looking at the bigger picture of ‘we.’ Some students from the Tri-county School Board also did a 10-day March Break trip last year. Reed went on an ‘open trip” finding his own financing. For more information look up: http://reports.freethechildren.com/community/eorewuaso/
On Sunday, Jan. 20 from 2 to 4 p.m. Reed will be speaking about and showing slides of his Kenyan experiences at the Annapolis Royal Library, sponsored by the Friends of the Library.