Sunday, July 23, 2017

Kenya trip made girls think differently

It might seem strange that a two-week trip to Kenya would result in spending less time in the shower when back home, writes Brian Byrne, but that is a result for at least one of the three young students from Cross & Passion College who went to the African country last February.

Niamh Doran, Ellen Byrne and Sophie Murphy, Transition Year students at the Kilcullen college, spent the trip working with the Cara Girls Rescue Centre near Ngong, outside Nairobi. The Centre was founded in 2002 by Ballysax man Paddy O'Connor, meeting a need for a place for vulnerable children in advance of them being placed in more permanent facilities. With the help of people in mid-Kildare, he raised funds to buy the site and a team of volunteers built the current facility.

For the girls from CPC, it was an eye-opening trip in many ways. "You look at everything so differently when you come home," says Niamh, who comes from Newbridge and who was the instigator of the trip by the three CPC girls. "We found ourselves becoming impatient when we hear people complaining about things that aren't really so important." And not spending so much time in the shower is a reflection of having been in a situation where resources like water are much less taken for granted.

Niamh had heard about the Cara Projects from friends in Newbridge, and after enquiring she managed to get a place on this year's annual two-week work trip to the Centre. "We're both very good friends and I decided to go as well," Ellen Byrne says. "They were full up, but eventually contacted me when somebody dropped out."

Along with their other friend Sophie, they got stuck in to raising the required funding to make the trip. Cake sales, a college Civvies Day, and a sponsored static exercise cycle event all helped, but the biggest contribution came from a party they organised.

"We held it in the clubhouse of Cill Dara RFC in Kildare," Ellen recalls. "We charged €10 a head and it was a great success, bringing in most of the money the three of us needed."
Prior to the trip, they had meetings with others going out for the fortnight, many of them from Kildare, including Newbridge, Milltown, and Rathangan. Finally, along with adults from among the young people's parents, they took the two-leg trip to Nairobi on 9 February.

Ellen recalls the drive from Nairobi to Ngong, noting the homes of people along the way as in many cases being little more than huts. It was a thought-provoking introduction to a different country and culture, but also helped for their arrival at the Cara Girls Rescue Centre. "It was quite lovely compared to some of what we had seen on the drive."

The group, which was mixed boys and girls and parents, had plenty to do during the two weeks spent in Ngong. There were about 30 girls in the Centre, aged between three and 13, and they all had one thing in common. "They were always smiling when we'd come into a room," Niamh remembers. "It was the thing that surprised us the most, how happy they were about every little thing. We had brought little things with us, like stickers, and pencils, which they very much appreciated. And we had a fashion show with the clothing that we had brought with us for the residents, and that was great fun."

They also had something less pleasant in common, the various stories about why they were in the Centre. Hearing those stories had their own effect on the visitors, Niamh Doran says, without going into any details because, obviously, they are personal to the residents in the Centre.

When not interacting with the children, Niamh, Ellen and Sophie (who wasn't available for this interview, but her experiences were similar) spent much of their time doing refurbishment chores such as painting, and putting nets around fish ponds at the Centre which provide part of the food supply. They met up with other volunteers from different parts of the world, including Australia and Mexico.

The Irish contingent also visited the local town, and were again struck by the cheerful demeanour of all they met, even if their circumstances were much more difficult than any of the visitors were used to back home.
When the time came to come back to Ireland, it was a surprising wrench. "We didn't want to leave the children, it's amazing how much a bond you can develop in just a couple of weeks," Ellen says.

Back in CPC, the three were asked into many classes to talk about their experience, which they would all very much like to repeat. Being the first students from the College to take part in the initiative, it's now pretty certain that others will follow the route over coming years, so Niamh, Ellen and Sophie have started something that is likely to continue long after they leave school.

For anyone wanting to find out more about Cara Projects, they can contact Paddy O’Connor, 7 Ballysax Hills, The Curragh. Tel: 086 8210569.

This article was first published on the Kilcullen Page of The Kildare Nationalist.