Several years ago, I was introduced to an organization then known as Free the Children. Their goal was to inspire change in Canada and the US, which would then directly and positively impact children in Africa. Today, they are just known as WE, because their mission of social justice has expanded to so much more than just children.
From there, WE Day was born. This event is centered around encouraging youth to truly be the change they wish to see in their communities-locally, nationally, and even internationally. After volunteering at WE Day Seattle two years ago, I am excited to be back at the first ever WE Day New York!
As in insight to how this organization is not only changing culture, but also lives, I spoke with Peyton Taylor. She won the opportunity (very deservingly I might add) through DAVIDsTEA to travel on a ME to WE volunteer trip to Kenya in August of 2016. Here is what she had to say;
GXC: Tell us what it was like to work with the WE staff.
Peyton: WE is an incredible organization full of incredible people. From the WE coordinators to the staff at our camp, everyone was so welcoming and happy to have us there. In Kenya, you are welcomed with the greeting “feel welcome, feel at home” and they live up to that standard 100%.
GXC: What was your favorite part of the trip?
Peyton: THE KIDS! Ugh. Those kids have my heart. They were the most joyful people I have ever met. I have never met kids who loved and appreciated their education as much as these kids did. Seeing their passion for knowledge and drive to improve their lives and community was something I will always carry with me.
GXC: Can you speak to those who might have reservations about traveling to Africa.
Peyton: I was so scared of getting sick. We were at a camp in the middle of the Maasai Mara and had to be flown there from Nairobi. So, I was afraid I’d get sick and be stranded, but that was the farthest thing from my mind once we got there. WE does everything that they can to make their guests feel comfortable and safe in every way possible! We also had Maasai warriors with us at all times for protection from any wild animals or any other danger we might encounter. Mostly they were there to be the world’s best tour guides. Another thing I was worried about was being disconnected from the world. Honestly, it was a little scary because we are all so dependent on technology, but it was actually so refreshing to disconnect and really pay attention to what was right in front of me.
GXC: DAVIDsTEA is a partner of ME to WE. Tell us a little bit about it.
Peyton: DAVIDsTEA and ME to WE partner to help provide clean water to the communities in Kenya. We help fund the building and upkeep of wells, so the people in these communities have access to water that doesn’t come from the Mara River. By providing clean water, diseases from polluted water are less common and the women don’t have to spend their days hiking to get the water. This means that the women have more time in their days for other things like going to school and working to make a living for themselves and their families. Free the Children (part of WE charity) builds schools so that the school aged girls can get an education and WE has built the Women’s Empowerment Center where women can work together to make money through farming and artisan programs. WE helps on all levels, and DT just helps out with a small part, but each little part is vital to making the whole thing work. It’s really amazing.
GXC: How did this experience change your perspective on the world?
I was so inspired leaving Kenya. The people I met were so happy, caring and had a love for life that I’ve never seen before. They value interpersonal connections so much more than we do. I really think our culture misses out on making meaningful connections and it makes me sad. I brought that back with me. We have so much to be grateful for but we take it all for granted. They have so much less than we do, they literally live in houses made from mud and sticks, but they are happier than anyone I have ever met. I try to put my phone down, take in my surroundings, and connect with someone on a personal level at least once a day- I swear it’s harder than you’d think.
GXC: What was one thing that surprised you about the Kenyan culture? Which aspect was your favorite?
I was surprised at the sense of unity that they all had. WE has brought together two tribes that had fought for centuries and now they live in harmony. I have never seen a community work so well together. It was amazing. But, my favorite part of Kenyan culture? The singing and the dancing! They sing and dance to make their visitors feel welcome. No one is embarrassed to sing in front of others or dance like no one is watching. It produces pure joy. I’ll never forget the feeling of being surrounded by school children and teachers dancing and singing as we arrived on our first day. Absolutely amazing.
Volunteer trips are just one way you can help! In addition, they offer clothing and jewelry made by artisans in Africa. Or, maybe you want to be a volunteer for a WE Day near you. However, the easiest way to get involved is to take the WE Pledge. For every pledge taken, $10 will be donated to WE Charity.