History teacher Quinten Clarke ’87 has been traveling to Kenya since 2003, but his spring break 2017 trip with four Blair students and his co-chaperone, history teacher Chris Cameron, included a first: The group ran a basketball clinic for kids in the village of Kisumu.
The clinic was part of a weeklong visit to two schools built and operated by “Blair in Kenya,” a nonprofit founded by Mr. Clarke in 2005 to improve the lives of the African nation’s rural poor. During their time in Kisumu, the Blair group taught and assisted in classrooms and experienced village life while staying with a host family. They also did their part to bring smiles to kids’ faces by sprucing up playground equipment with a fresh coat of paint and playing lots of games—especially basketball.
“A college friend from Rutgers University was instrumental in helping ‘Blair in Kenya’ raise money to build a concrete basketball court,” said Mr. Clarke, who serves as head coach of Blair’s powerhouse girls’ varsity basketball team. “Even though soccer is the top team sport in Kenya, elementary students, teachers and older kids came to the court each day to learn basketball. Three of the Blair students with us were varsity players, and they were good, patient teachers—the village kids gravitated to them. Everyone loved it!”
On the group’s final day in the village, Mr. Clarke realized just how deep an impression the basketball clinic had made when a young Kenyan girl picked up a soccer ball and instead of kicking it, she started dribbling it. “That was a highlight of the trip for me,” he laughed.
Upon their return to Blair, several members of the Blair contingent shared highlights of their nine days in Africa. Read on for their impressions of the trip.
Meghan Grant ’17
I love traveling and experiencing cultures that allow me to gain and give perspective. Going to Kenya was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
The village included mostly dirt roads, and we traveled by foot. It was normal for cow herders and chickens to walk the roads, even when a motorcycle cabbie zoomed by. Kids walked with us everywhere, even if they weren't old enough to go to school yet or were unable to go to school (due to finances). They showed us how to get home at times, since trails led us back to our homestay. Kids would play at night in the yard; they'd play with a tennis ball, or, if they were lucky, someone would give them their smartphone or iPad.
Our host family, Zilper and Elly, and their kids, Jack, Hope and Peace, were very kind. We always had a graciously large choice of food for breakfast, lunch and dinner. We played games of Jenga and cards at night, just before crawling into our mosquito-netted bunk beds. There was a strong sense of community among the villagers, and, since most people walked everywhere, we got to know people's faces by their routines.
The highlight of the trip for me was watching the grade 1's (first graders) color. We had brought over colored pencils, coloring books, crayons, etc., from Crayola in Easton, Pennsylvania. When the students came up to us and displayed their finished drawings, we saw their creativity come to life. Getting to work with that age group in their own classroom—and knowing that I was halfway across the globe—was a very special experience.
History teacher and head JV boys’ basketball coach Chris Cameron:
One of the highlights of the trip for me was the warm welcome we received, in particular from the students and children. Immediately upon our arrival in the village, the kids swarmed us and just wanted to be near us and interact with us. Communication was difficult at times because English is not Kenyans’ first language, but the conversational difficulties did not significantly affect our relationship. Instead, we interacted through games and play. The kids also just appreciated physical closeness and loved to hold our hands as we walked from place to place. Their energy and spirit was definitely a highlight of the trip.
The adults were also amazingly welcoming. Our hosts, Elly and Zilper, allowed us to stay in their home and were very accommodating. It was also great to talk to the teachers at the school and learn about their lives. We exchanged stories on multiple subjects, including our teaching experience and career aspirations, as well as the United States’ recent election and the upcoming election in Kenya. It was interesting to compare our lives and see many similarities, as well as differences.
The natural beauty of Kenya was stunning. We went on safari at the end of the trip and saw a whole host of animals, too numerous to list. We were incredibly lucky to see the “big five,” which includes a lion, elephant, rhinoceros, leopard and buffalo. This was the first time in all of Mr. Clarke's years going to Kenya that he has seen all of the big five in one visit.
I especially appreciated Kenya’s spectacular sunsets. They were a deep red that lit up the sky. Three sunsets in particular stood out to me: The first was on the tarmac as we arrived in Kenya; the second was on a hill in the village that overlooked a valley; and the last—and, perhaps, the most awe-inspiring—took place on the night of the safari, as the sun set over Masai Mara, coloring the clouds red, yellow and pink, and then the sun silhouetting the horizon. It was breathtaking.
Last but not least, the group of Blair students and faculty was amazing. It was great to spend time with them and get to know them better.
Ellie Chi ’17
I saw the video Lukas Dong ’15 filmed about Kenya a few years ago, and I’ve wanted to go ever since. It was such an amazing experience. All the village kids flocked to us and held our hands and led our way wherever we went. I now really understand why people go back year after year for those kids. Visiting a family of five living in a house of the size of a dorm room helped us realize how privileged we are to study and live at Blair.
Sydney Brown ’18
Traveling to Kenya was the best experience of my life as it has given me a new perspective on life and made me appreciate everything that I have. Teaching Kenyan students in the classroom and on the court was truly life-changing. I am so happy to have had this amazing experience!