Reporter’s note: The horror that played out in a Nairobi mall has focused the world’s attention on Kenya. This week ABC 4 Utah is also focusing on Kenya, but for a very different reason. World of Difference, a non-profit foundation based in Utah County, recently organized an expedition to Kenya to build a school in a poor neighbor of Embakasi. The founders of World of Difference, Dr. Richard and Jodi Nielsen of Salem, have a track record of success in Kenya and were honored this year as “International Heroes” by the Utah Chapter of the American Red Cross. These reports are my first hand account of the work they do and the lives they change.
On this first day, volunteers with World of Difference drive out of Nairobi under overcast skies bound for Embakasi. There, they will build a school.
Before they can build, they must move everything out of the existing school and then demolish it.
Neither will take much time. The classrooms have only the bare essentials – simple tables and benches, books and a few posters hanging from the walls and ceiling. What’s more, those classrooms are little more than corrugated metal nailed to poles or 2 by 4’s.
The moving and demolition take only a couple hours.
The new classrooms will be of stone and mortar. They will be built to last, but built the African way. That means no cement trucks, backhoes or bulldozers. The only tools for excavating the foundation will be picks, shovels and a lot of buckets.
Bucket brigades haul dirt away from the excavation and will eventually be used to haul cement back.
“These team members are just amazing,” said Dr. Richard Nielsen, co-founder of World of Difference and the leader of this expedition. “They don’t mind getting their hands dirty. They don’t mind a few scrapes and bruises here and there that they’re going to get.”
Working on the school project is not only the team Dr. Nielsen brought from Utah, but also a local crew hired by the foundation. But they will pick up many more as the day progresses. The school project quickly becomes a neighborhood event. Adults and children alike show up on the site and quickly join in the work.
Team member Jonathan Morris of Salt Lake was amazed at the crowd, “We’ve got an extra 25- 30 people helping us out and they’re doing most of the work.”
And yes, even the children wanted to help. Co-founder Jodi Nielsen observed, “There were a couple of kids that were right next to me. I swear they were probably only five or six years old. I mean, there’s no way they could lift a bucket, but if they could just touch the bucket, that’s all they needed. They just wanted to feel a part of it. And their faces just lit up. We’d say, ‘just pass, just pass the bucket,’ and they’d feel so excited! We’d give them a high five and … it’s just amazing! It’s cool to see that happen.”
And it wasn’t all work for the Utah-based team. On breaks they would play games with the kids. Before they even arrived on the site, those team members were told that play was just as much a part of their assignment as work. They were building friendships as well as a school.
When I walked by with my camera, I captured video of Jayne Wortley surrounded by 10 or 15 little children. Jayne said, “The people are so awesome and so nice. It’s way fun. I love it – Especially the children.”
With in a few minutes, Jayne and some of the other team members had gathered those children around in a circle and were singing songs.
“I think there are special things that happen when our team members have the opportunity to connect with children,” said Jodi Nielsen. “There’s something about the children that really touches our lives.”
Jonathan Bush of Magna took up the challenge to play a game of checkers, “It was a piece of cardboard with checkers drawn on it and they were playing with bottle caps.” Jonathan played and lost and could not have been happier.
Jodi said, “That’s what happens. You come and you totally forget about yourself. You forget about you life. You forget about all those things that sometimes get in the way, that are distractions, and you’re just focused on giving of yourself – anything you have to give whether it’s a handshake or a smile.” Or games.
By the end of the 1st week, the floor of the school was ready to pour. A few days later and the walls are up. And then the roof.
Within a few weeks, another school was ready for students. World of Difference has built 10 other primary schools in Kenya and one secondary school.
Dr. Richard Nielsen estimates they’ve helped educate more than 10,000 students. “Our trips are designed to really take the person from the United States who’s only qualification is they have a heart and a desire to help. And we take them over there and our focus is to help them learn how to deal with this level of poverty … to lose themselves in service so they can find themselves.”
On their final day in Nairobi, the volunteers from Utah deliver textbooks for the students. They can’t stay for the opening of their new school; still they leave with a sense of accomplishment. They leave realizing that even in a Kenyan slum, people who have so little and struggle so much, can still be happy.
One team member said he learned that wealth and possessions have little to do with happiness.
Tuesday on ABC 4 Utah, I will show you the team delivering toys to orphans in Nairobi. And I’ll show you where those toys were made in Utah.