Two years ago Ashton was at a team meeting for USATF, the governing body for American track and field. At the end of the event a fellow athlete came up to Ashton and said “I need to talk to you.” That athlete was Lopez Lomong.
It’s unbearably torturous to not explain more about Lopez. But to do so wouldn’t be worthwhile, frankly. Our best efforts to describe him would be way past insufficient. Lopez wanted to invite Ashton to a project he was organizing to raise money to provide clean water to the people of South Sudan, where he’s from. Ashton agreed and the next year found himself at the starting line of Hood to Coast, a 300 mile relay race in Oregon. It’s here that Ashton met another person we’re unworthy to describe; Michael Chitwood, head of Team World Vision USA. 300 miles and 36 hours later on the Oregon coast, sitting around a fire in lawn chairs utterly exhausted, Chitwood looked over to Ashton and said, “you and Brianne need to come to Africa with me.” Two years later after visiting Mozambique with Right To Play, we’re in Nairobi airport with Chitwood and Team World Vision.
World Vision works with children, families, and communities in over 100 countries. When you get down to the brass tacks, their aim is to work themselves out of a job. This essentially means that they don’t work to indefinitely support communities, but wholly help build the infrastructure for them to grow and become self-reliant. Over the years, World Vision has refined this practice into a system that takes around 15yrs from the time they enter a community to when they’re no longer needed and phase out. Team World Vision is a supplement to World Vision. Specifically, Team World Vision raises money for clean water projects through a simple method; running.
The goal of this trip, called a Vision Trip, was to experience Kenya, its communities, visit World Vision projects, and meet the child we committed to sponsoring before we left.
Annoyingly, but appropriately, for the third time this post we find ourselves lacking a clear way of explaining something. To build such a beautiful place as Kenya with your imagination is far easier than actually seeing it and accepting what's before your eyes. From the plains of the Masai Mara to the mountains cradling the Rift Valley, the landscape and its inhabitants astound.
The word "community" will never be the same for us. We’ve never seen people work together for the combined benefit of everyone like they do in rural Kenya. Community members will care for the children of others. Water will be fetched for multiple families. Education, discipline, entertainment, are all provided on the whole. Not only that, but the communal greetings for visitors are enough to make someone want to become a permanent resident.
**If you're having problems loading the video, adjust the resolution to "480p" in the bottom right.
The video below shows the story of Maureen, Chitwood's sponsor child. We actually got to meet Maureen since the community we went to on our trip was hers (Bartabwa), and the water projects shown in the film are the ones that we visited. Bartabwa is 5yrs into the WV program. It's incredible how many people are grateful for even having to walk just a few less kilometers to get water. Easy access to clean water has myriad benefits including giving women and girls more time for education, increased health, sanitation, food, and economics.
This spring dam is a vicious 2km hike up a hillside in dense forest. Before the dam, it was even longer. The pipes you see in the middle of the picture are soon to be extended down to the communities below, saving women and girls ~2hrs of perilous trekking per day.
Without question, the highlight of Kenya was meeting Philemon, the child we sponsor. Donations for child sponsorship through World Vision go to the entire community the child lives in. If you want, you can specify an additional gift to go specifically to your sponsor child and their family and local World Vision staff actually work with the family to asses their highest need and allocate the funds. It was a very surreal experience understanding that you now have the ability to make someones life better, and looking that someone right in the eyes.
Phil is quiet. He's small and slender for 10 years old. He lives in a mud house with a grass roof. He has 8 siblings. He's never been more than a few miles from his house.
He has all the potential in the world.