Meet Ashley: Ashley: Sponsor, Volunteer, Donor, Climber!
In 2010, I came across the Flying Kites Adventure Challenge program on Twitter. I bookmarked it and hoped someday to be able to do something so adventurous. A few years later, in 2012, I had committed to the Kilimanjaro trip and to volunteering at the Flying Kites house in Njabini. At the time, I just wanted to do something epic. I had no idea the impact the kids would have on me, or how Flying Kites would become such a huge part of the person I am today.
Three years out from my first journey to Kenya, and I carved out a new career in teaching, I also volunteer at the Flying Kites office in Boston, and have returned to Kenya (and have plans to return to Kenya once a year for as long as possible).
Most of my time spent in Kenya during my initial trip was spent at their primary school. I was an English major in college, but had never considered teaching as a career. Kenya is a place where education is immensely, especially among the Flying Kites children. I think seeing the true impact that education could have on a group of students was what inspired me to pursue a teaching career once I returned to the US. I now teach English at my local high school, and I absolutely love my job. I think without the Flying Kites experience, teaching never would have been a career I considered. I remember the first lesson I taught in Kenya. It was on the day of President Obama’s second inauguration. The staff had decided to shape a creative arts lesson around this event- given the Kenyan affinity to President Obama. I had students write letters to the President, and the results blew me away. I promised the students that upon returning to the US, I would send the letters on to the White House.
I think the individual impact a volunteer has on the ground is difficult to measure. Impact comes in the small moments. I remember during my last trip spending time with one of the older boys who shares my love of field hockey. We would work on his game (I gave him one of my sticks) and in these sessions we would talk about life and his plans for the future. The same is true in teaching. The great big philosophies and ideals we set out to achieve are commendable, but it’s generally the little things that end up making the biggest difference to a kid. My favorite moments in Kenya were spent getting my hair braided by the girls, putting on a fashion show with the kids, or having a picnic down by the river.
I always tell potential volunteers or donors that the Flying Kites experience is different in that it allows you to make those small connections. Volunteering with FK means becoming part of the community as well. One of my favorite memories is a day we spent with the kids doing community service in the village, helping to repair a road with some of the neighbors. I have always felt compelled to stay connected to Flying Kites and support them in any possible way, long after my initial volunteer trip. Once you meet the kids, you feel like you’ve been invited to something bigger than yourself, something that you need to honor for a lifetime rather than just while in Kenya.