Dispatch from Kenya: Crutches 4 Africa July 4

The following daily diary is from Cassidy Johnson, a Scottsdale student who is one of six Valley high students visiting Kenya this month to distribute mobility devices as part of Crutches 4 Africa, a service project sponsored by Arizona District 5495 Rotary’s Interact Club. Miss Johnson is a senior at Desert Mountain High School and an assistant governor for the District 5495 Interact Club.

Miss Johnson has agreed to share her journey with the Independent readers via her personally written dispatches.

Visit here to read more about the journey.

Interact Ambassadors traveling to Kenya in July to distribute mobility devices are Cassidy Johnson, Hannah Mason, Sandra Franco, Matthew Syms, Jaiden Gatson and Kara Austin. Advisors include John Wintersteen, Marla Lazere, Steve Lazere, Ron Williams and Lauren Lukas. Mr. Wintersteen is in the second row, far left. Miss Johnson is in the center, second row. (Special to the Independent)

Crutches 4 Africa Dispatch: July 4

Happy Fourth of July!

We woke up this morning to our first full day in Kenya. After a delicious breakfast and quick packing, the team departed our hotel to meet Edward, Ephantus and Toney at ION Handa, the Naivasha school where we are storing our mobility devices.

We loaded the devices onto the roof of our van and set off for the first distribution site of our trip. After merely five minutes beyond the beautiful Masada Hotel, we reached a dirt road lined with small shops on either side and people filling the streets. It was crazy to realize that this poverty-stricken community was so close to our previous night’s hotel.

When we arrived at the distribution site, the beneficiaries had not yet arrived, so we spoke to many locals who greeted us with warmth. I met a new friend, Johnson, who was so excited that my last name was his first name! We took lots of photos with Johnson and his friends, who were making fresh chapati (fried flour dough) ad offered us some of this interesting food.

It reminded me of an un-sweet donut. We unloaded the mobility devices from the top of one van as locals swarmed the van upon hearing rumors of our “gifts” – T-shirts, soccer balls and small, stuffed animals.

When we made it to the distribution site, Ron Matthew asked me to help a man named Emmanuel — who had paralyzed legs — get into his first wheelchair. It was an emotional moment for all. I made him a foot-rest so that his feet didn’t drag on the ground.

At the distribution site, there were four men who arrived either on the back of a motorcycle or by crawling with flip-flops on their hands. These men came seeking wheelchairs, as their lower extremities were completely immobile.

Unfortunately, the team had only brought one wheelchair to this distribution, so these four men were promised wheelchairs in the very near future, to be distributed by Naivasha Rotarians.

Although they didn’t get the wheelchairs today, they were still extremely grateful for our support. In addition to the wheelchairs given to Emmanuel, the team distributed four canes and one set of crutches.

We were lucky enough to hear the stories of how these individuals became disabled, and I was startled to learn that many disabilities were caused by accidents and environmental issues. After hearing these stories, the Interactors hope to create projects in District 5495 to combat some of these serious external threats to the citizens’ physical health.

After the distribution, the team headed to the Naivasha Girls School, a secondary school housing 1,000 girls, ages 14-20. At the school, we were able to sit in on a class and I listened to a lecture on organic chemistry in which each girl in class shot her hand up when a question was asked.

I was so impressed by the girls’ respect, intelligence and focus. After the lesson, the team took a tour of the school led by the principal, and visited the botanical garden, which housed a gorgeous selection of trees. As guests, we were honored by being able to plant trees in the garden. I placed my tree in the ground, and immediately five girls came running to pile dirt on the unburied tree.

After planting trees, we were able to mingle with the girls who all spoke incredible English. They asked me many questions and I showed them pictures of my sister, Carly. Each of the 20-25 girls clustered in a circle around me asked, “Can you please tell Carly I say hi? My name is Nellie, or Catherine or Sufi. …”

I will never forget their beautiful smiles and bright eyes as they asked questions and we took a bunch of selfies, which they loved. I even got a few of their Instagrams! Saying goodbye to the girls was heartbreaking, and I gave each of the girls attending around a big hug, even after I was told it was time to go. I gave probably around 100 hugs (counting Johnson!).

I forgot to mention earlier, that when surrounded by girls, many would touch my braids from behind.

After leaving the girls school, the team went to Olive Resort about five minutes away for the joint Rotary/Rotaract meeting. Here we met many Rotarians and Rotaractor (college-aged Rotarians). After dinner the ambassadors and Rotaractors danced the night away to Kenyan, Spanish and English music.

I had so much fun learning new dances from the Rotaractors.

We are off to GilGil tomorrow!

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