By Jennifer Choi
The Village Beacon Record
March 19, 2009
Three teens making a difference in the world, learning life lessons and now telling you about it.
Three Shoreham-Wading River High School students were among the dozen Long Islanders who traveled to Kenya last month on behalf of the Hope Children’s Fund.
Established in 2002 to help rescue AIDS infected and displaced children in Africa, the Hope children’s Fund of Port Jefferson hosted its fourth trip to Meru, Kenya from Feb. 13 to March 1, according to co-resident Larry Hohler. The visits have been annual since 2005 with the exception of last year when election violence was potent in parts of Kenya, Hohler said. When volunteers returned this year, they visited with the 57 children who currently reside in the Hope Children’s Home, a two -story dormitory built in 2005, and helped construct a manual training center that will serve the needs of the older children.
Among the group of volunteers were SWR junior Natalie Pagano and sophomores Lillian Vail and Meghan Spillane, all members of the high school’s Global Awareness Club, who has been leading the organization with Kenya native Joseph Kirima Rwito, said the students will now be able to “spread the word among their classmates about the scourge of poverty and Aids in a developing country and be better citizens of the world when they grow up.” “They gained a vivid awareness about how most people in the wold live,” he said, “in comparison to how most of us live on the North Shore of long Island.”
Vail, 15, said the trip was worth spending her “life savings” on because it was “amazing to see the kids and their attitudes.” Describing the experience as “life-changing,” Vail said she is now considering becoming a teacher in the future. After witnessing the poverty in Africa, it was strange to return to a paved driveway and spacious bedroom, she said, adding that she still wonders what the children are doing throughout the day. When asked whether she would return to Kenya if given the opportunity, Vail replied, “In a heartbeat.”
When the students first arrived at the Hope Children’s Home, Spillane, 15, said everyone was “so welcoming” that she wondered “What did I do to deserve this?” The children “don’t know greed” and are “so pleasant all the time,” according to Spillane, who chose to spend the money she earned from baby-sitting to pay for the trip because “Material things don’t last, but you’ll always have these memories.” when the children at the home were asked whether they would like to visit America, Spillane recalled, the answer was a “unanimous yes.”
Pagano, 17, agreed that the “welcoming feel” of the home was “amazing.” The children are “so much more thankful and respectful,” according to Pagano, who spent the money she received at her sweet 16 party to pay for the trip. “We all got really close,” she said, adding that the experience is “hard to put into words.”
Kevin Mann an SWR High School social studies teacher and board member of the Hope Children’s Fund, said he traveled to Kenya as a mentor and couldn’t have expected “better behavior and better outcomes” from the students. “They did everything for the right reasons,” he said.
“They represented themselves very well. It was very pleasant to travel with them.”