A Kenyan Diary: Of Elephants, Maasai Warriors and Empowered African Women and Children

Karen Blixen Coffee Garden

Day One: After being whisked efficiently through Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport by staff members of Me to We (metowe.com), we arrive at the Karen Blixen Coffee Garden, located on the former coffee estate made famous in the movie, Out of Africa. Located in the suburb of Karen, outside of Nairobi, the estate is now dotted with high-beamed cottages with verandahs, set in a lush garden of bougainvillea and other tropical plants. After a hearty breakfast, we visit the Kenya Giraffe Centre, a sanctuary for the endangered Rothschild giraffe where we snap pictures, feed and even kiss the giraffes. Their tongues feel like sandpaper! We learn that warthogs dug under a fence a few nights ago, leaving a big enough space for lions to creep into the compound and sadly, kill several giraffes.

Our guide for this portion of the trip is Santai Kimakeke, who tells us how he became involved with Free The Children (freethechildren.com) in Kenya. His car broke down on a remote country road and Kenyan director for Free The Children (FTC) Peter Ruhiu rescued Santai. In their subsequent conversation about the work FTC was doing, Santai became fascinated and signed on to be part of the organization. Each member of the FTC team shares their story about their involvement with the program. Kailea Switzer, from P.E.I., the manager of Leadership Programs was inspired to join FTC after her parents took her and her brother to Fiji for the express purpose of letting them see poverty firsthand. Kailea has been involved with FTC since she was fourteen years old. Robin Wiszowaty, from Chicago, lived with a Maasai family for a year before joining FTC as Kenya’s Program Director.

The next stop is the Kazuri Bead Factory, a local community empowerment program that hires single moms and orphans to make exquisite pottery and jewellery. They are assured of lifetime employment and never face the risk of being fired.

Kilabasi,the baby elephant I adopted for my grandson.

Our last stop is to the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust Elephant Orphanage, where baby elephants, the orphans resulting from their mothers being poached for ivory are fostered. The keepers herd the baby elephants from grassy fields at 5 o’clock each evening into the compound where they are fed with oversized baby bottles. Because they wake two or three times every night for feedings, the keepers sleep in cots on stilts in the elephants’ enclosures. They nurture the baby elephants for two or three years and then integrate them back into a herd. For $50, we each adopt an elephant and I adopt Kilabasi for my grandson Finley. By the time I arrive back in Canada, he’s already received an email about the status of his baby elephant. A better gift than a souvenir.

We return to the Karen Blixen Coffee Garden for a spectacular dinner on the candlelit verandah, then pack our bags for an early morning flight to the Bogani Cottages in the Maasai Mara region of Kenya, the local home base of Me to We where we will begin our volunteer adventure.

For more information about booking this meaningful travel adventure, visit www.meritvacations.com or call 1.866.341.1777.

– Bonnie Baker Cowan

Guests of a Me to We Trip to Kenya are treated to a unique African experience of being immersed in the daily life of a fascinating culture. Me to We is an innovative social enterprise that supports the important work of its partner, Free The Children, an educational partner and international charity committed to providing holistic and sustainable infrastructure to developing communities around the world. Me to We donates half of its net profit to Free The Children, while reinvesting the other half to grow the enterprise and its social mission.  In a five-part diary series, Bonnie Baker Cowan recounts the impressions of the Kenyan way of life, particularly in its rural and underserved communities and the work Free The Children is doing to help people break the chain of poverty.