Fifteen Mt. Slesse students are heading to Kenya next year as part of a 'volunteer' trip with Free the Children.

Fifteen Mt. Slesse students are heading to Kenya next year as part of a 'volunteer' trip with Free the Children.

Chilliwack students set sights on Kenya

Fourteen Mt.Slesse students are heading to Kenya to volunteer during spring break 2014.

In the ultimate step of taking learning beyond the classroom, fourteen Mt. Slesse students will cross boundaries to get a first hand perspective on life in a very different part of the world.

The students, ranging from Grades 7 to 10, will go on an 11-day volunteering trip to Kenya during spring break 2014 as part of Free the Children’s Me to We initiative.

A long-time “We School” that regularly supports FTC campaigns, Mt. Slesse will become the first school in Chilliwack to do the “voluntour.”

“I really believe that traveling gives students education outside the classroom, that your classrooms shouldn’t be just the four walls,” said organizing teacher Sandi Rae.

Students will fly into Nairobi, and head to the Maasai Mara game reserve the next day to tent camp for the rest of the trip. They will help build either a medical clinic or a school, depending on the stage of the ongoing FTC-funded project. They will also join local moms for a 3-km walk to collect water. They’ll take part in a training with Maasai warriors. And they’ll go on a safari.

“I want to see what the rest of the world is like. I want to see how people live in third world countries,” said 14-year-old Jessica Heppner.

The camp where students will spend nine of their 11 days has no running water or electricity. Although everyone has camping experience, nobody has travelled outside of developed countries.

It took Rae eight months to persuade the school district to approve the trip. In her 17-year-long teaching career, Rae has taken students to New York, Mexico, Alberta, and California. When she first proposed the trip to the district last April, staff looked at the government of Canada travel warning for Kenya (which currently advises travellers to exercise a high degree of caution in the country), and said ‘no.’

Rae wasn’t fazed, and presented the plan again.

“I met with the superintendent last year, and convinced them how ironic it would be for Free the Children to put children in harm’s way,” she said.

After Rae presented the safety plan and obtained parental feedback, a new superintendent came in the fall. Rae received a fresh ‘no.’

Finally, district staff attended We Day in Vancouver in Oct. 2012 and met with other districts that had successfully run the program.

“That was very convincing,” said Rae.

The Chilliwack school district finally approved the trip in Dec. 2012.

“We do have a backup plan,” said Rae. “If something happens politically in Kenya, then we’ll be rerouted to Nicaragua.”

In addition to Rae, students will be accompanied by John Davy, Greendale Elementary teacher, Mt. Slesse vice-principal Alyson King, Mt. Slesse counsellor Joy Dougans, a Greendale Elementary parent, and a Me to We program coordinator. Once in the Maasai Mara, the group will have Maasai warriors with them as well.

“It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity kind of thing,” said 16-year-old Carly Andrews.

Mt. Slesse students participate in many fundraising campaigns, but to experience the impact of the funds is a different thing.

“I want to put all the money we’ve been raising into action,” said student Martha Gumprich. “I know it’s safe. I know it’s a program we’ve worked with a long time.”

Students will see the types of projects they have fundraised for, such as bore holes and school buildings.

Their biggest worry is the series of pre-trip mandatory vaccinations. A series of speakers have been preparing students for the trip, including a presentation on cultural expectations, such as girls dressing modestly. And, two moms from the Maasai Mara are spending the week in Chilliwack as part of a Me to We speaking tour, and will chat with students about what to expect.

Students are fundraising $4,700 each for flight, room and board, and construction materials. They are selling $10 paper bricks to coat a wall at Mt. Slesse, representing the construction they’ll contribute to in Kenya. The students will sell the bricks and other goods at the school during the city-wide garage sale on Saturday. The visiting Maasai Mara moms will also be onsite to answer questions about the trip.