Written by Maren Huelsman, Member of Youth Leadership Team and 2016 Umoja Project visitor
This past summer, I was fortunate enough to be able to travel with the project to Kenya. To be honest, it was a very big challenge for me. My comfort zone was stretched in many different ways, and my anxiety was often high, however the good moments and joy of it all far outweighed everything else. I am stronger than I thought I was or could ever be, and I owe that discovery to Kenya.
It is truly a breathtaking country from its wildlife all the way to the hearts and spirits of its own people. I never realized just how big of an impact Umoja has on the lives of so many children until I stood in front of them and saw the confidence and joy exude from their faces as they spoke about what they loved and how the project has given them the confidence and tools to achieve their dreams. There is no feeling like giving another person a reason to smile, and oh my, did I see smiles.
In some ways I feel like the Kenyans helped me more than I ever did for them. Their model of happiness, whole-heartedly grounded by their faith, is truly admirable. As I witnessed the coming together of all the local elders, students, and guardians to build a new home for one of our students, Daniel, I discovered the real meaning of community. As I heard six 1st graders, crammed together at a single desk, sing their ABCs, I witnessed the power and importance of education. As I watched one student share her maize and beans with another who had no food, I saw the beauty of friendship. As I listened to the extraordinary voices of St. Teresa’s Church sing with grace and soul while lining up to give the little of nothing they had left, I witnessed the essences of love, care, and faith along with the unifying forces of music. As I danced the ChaCha Slide like a complete goof alongside hundreds of Kenyan students, I experienced happiness in its purest form, and for the first time in my life le
arned how to let go. And as I skipped down a big hill with four second graders on either side of me, all of us holding hands, laughing, and singing an impromptu song that we somehow all understood, I felt unity. I felt Umoja.
And to you, I say thank you. Thank you for considering donating to this immensely impactful project. I hope you can begin to understand the power your generosity holds in transforming the lives of so many promising children. Simply a single bowl of maize and beans a day, and the comfort from knowing a friend across the ocean cares, can give a child the inspiration and determination to develop their tremendous potential.