Just days after graduating from high school, Paige and Olivia Stockard set out on a trip to take school supplies and water filters to families in Kenya.
The sisters were offered the chance to travel with their professor from Neosho County Community College to the town of Kimilili in Kenya where they met students from HIP Academy, a school serving elementary students from vulnerable populations in Kimilili.
Both girls were taking Neosho’s English Comp 1 and 2 courses during their senior year at Central Heights High School when the chance to travel to Ecuador was offered and they signed up to go.
That trip was not able to happen but later in the year, a chance to go to Kenya came up.
“Paige and I were the only ones that had been interested in the trip to Ecuador. And when we were asked if we were interested in going to Kenya, I said ‘yes’ and got chills on me arms,” Olivia said. “I was excited. I felt like it was a really cool thing to do just weeks after I graduated.”
Paige said she also was all for the trip.
“I thought it would be a great experience,” she said. “I just didn’t have any doubts.”
The girls traveled with their professor, Jeremy Gulley, and his family to Kenya through a request from Open World Cause. The founder, Ben Honeycutt, had been a student of Gulley’s at the University of Kansas and needed someone to take supplies for the school and water filtration systems to the area around Kimilili. HIP Academy is one of many schools that Open World Cause sponsors.
“I didn’t really have any expectations about the trip,” Olivia said. “I knew that we raised money for water filters but I had no idea what it would be like,” Olivia said. “The best part was probably the people. The people were the most kind and welcoming and friendly people I have ever met. They do this thing in Kenya where every time you meet someone whether it’s a family member or stranger, you shake their hand and say good morning or how are you. It’s just a great way to get to know people from the oldest person to the youngest.”
The group stayed in a few different locations and all were connected to Neosho County students from Kenya. They stayed in the families’ homes, and Olivia said it gave them a closer look at the culture.
“It was really a different experience than staying in a hotel because we wouldn’t have met nearly as many people,” she said. “We really saw the whole range of middle class to very wealthy to very poor.”
Kimilili is in a rural area in the northwestern part of Kenya. The school had just added new classrooms and the group took English language testing material to help determine the growth of students in the school. They also delivered water filters to as many families as possible.
“At the school we brought the water filters and attached them to buckets, so we spent a good portion of the day drilling holes in the buckets and setting up the water filters. We also went to the market on motorcycles and bought a lot of food for a party because they were opening the new classrooms.”
Both Olivia and Paige said the highlight of the trip was taking the students from HIP Academy on a field trip to Mount Elgon National Park.
“The kids were wonderful and I loved all of them,” Olivia said. “We went and saw all sorts of wildlife. We hiked up to caves and our tour guide took us to the back of the cave and turned off the lights and I was hoping we wouldn’t lose one of the kids. Then we hiked up to a waterfall. It was a field trip I don’t think we would take here in the United States.”
The group spent three days at the school with its founder and teacher, Livingstone Kegode. Olivia said the older classrooms were really small but were decorated with some of the same learning materials that would be found in classrooms in the states.
Open World Cause had just raised the funds and built new classrooms because the school population was growing. The new classrooms, Olivia said, were larger with windows. It also had a technology room with a couple of computers and the group brought with them six iPads to leave with the students. Olivia said she even left one of her personal computers.
“I brought my laptop that I didn’t have use for anymore but I thought it could bring them some joy,” she said. “They still need electricity in the new classrooms and glass in the windows of the technology room.”
Paige said working with the students, she could see how grateful they were for what they have.
“... what Livingstone was doing at the school was really amazing,” she said. “He is trying to reach out to other schools using Skype and giving students a learning experience that a lot of the students don’t get an opportunity to do.”
Olivia is heading to Amherst College in Massachusetts to study Bioengineering and said this trip was a great way to see ways she could help.
“I want to go back there,” she said. “It reaffirms my love for travel even more and seeing different walks of life. I still want to go to college but I would also like to drop everything and drop my bags and go.”
Paige is heading to the University of Denver in the fall and will major in Biochemistry and minor in International Relations. She also is planning on learning to speak Arabic.
“I would really like to make traveling a regular thing,” she said.