By Andrea Wiegman
Special to GoHolyCross.com
For one to say that they have ever traveled to Kenya would be an amazing opportunity. Two Holy Cross student-athletes not only had the chance to do this, but also spent their time there touching the lives of young children and others in the community. Junior swimmer Anthony Russo (Stratford, Conn.) and junior field hockey player Lindsay MacPhail (Goffstown, N.H.) spent a month in East Africa with 10 other Holy Cross students taking classes, volunteering, interning and traveling.
Russo spent his mornings interning with preschoolers at the St. Vincent de Paul Community Development Organization in the Kibera slum. There he worked with the pre-primary two classes, which is about the equivalent of kindergarten or first grade, aiding the teacher with whatever she needed. This included helping to teach the kids and playing with them during their break time.
On a similar platform, MacPhail spent her time with an older group of students teaching English to Form one, two and four which is the equivalent of ninth, 10th and 12th grades. She worked at the St. Michael’s Holy Unity Secondary School, interacting and bonding with all of her students. MacPhail reflects upon her time with her students as her favorite part of the trip. “The students I worked with faced insurmountable struggles in their lives and yet I have never encountered people more kind, friendly and loving,” says MacPhail. “They opened my eyes and touched my heart in ways I can't even describe.” Additional internships included work at an AIDS clinic, a general health clinic and women’s advocacy groups.
The afternoons were spent taking classes at Hekima College, an hour of Swahili and two hours of Peace Development and Social Justice. Meanwhile, weekends consisted of exciting trips to various locations including the Beverly School of Kenya, Nairobi National Museum and Nairobi National Park Elephant Orphanage. The group did village homestays in the Western Province of Kenya in order to get a sense of rural life. When reflecting upon the village homestays, Russo remembers being very nervous and unsure about what to expect. Of course, he ended up loving it. “The people we met were amazing,” said Russo. “By the time we left I truly felt embraced by my host family.” The last weekend of the program was spent on a safari at the Masai Mara Game Reserve. A place so beautiful it is considered by many to be the “Eighth Wonder of the World.” The group got to get up close and personal with all sorts of animals including giraffes, hippos and lions.
When asked about his favorite part of the trip, Russo said without hesitation that it was his internship. “I can undoubtedly say that I learned more from my class of six year olds than I ever could have taught them,” said Russo. “Working in Kibera every day changed my perspective on a lot and definitely made me more appreciative of everything, since, despite their circumstances, everyone in Kibera was so positive and did not complain about anything.”
Both MacPhail and Russo excitedly declare the trip one of a lifetime. Overall, MacPhail accredits her everyday interactions with Kenyans that made the trip incredible for her, shedding a new perspective and meaning on life. The experiences had, the life lessons learned, the people they met and the sites seen have continued to shape their lives since being back in the United States. When asked if they would ever go back, without hesitation, both have said they would in a heartbeat.