Manitowaning youth ‘forever changed’ by volunteer trip to Africa

The group takes a photo with Craig Kielburger, the founder of Free the Children, after a very inspirational workshop.

MANITOWANING—While other fourteen-year-old youth were hitting the beach, visiting with friends or going on family vacations, Manitowaning’s Cassie Kuntsi spent the majority of her summer in a village in the Maasai Mara region of southwest Kenya with the Me to We program building a classroom, hauling water and helping the community.

“The most rewarding aspect of the program was connecting with locals,” shared Cassie, “playing with the kids and getting to know the families. The connections I made—I still feel them—they will always be with me.”

Cassie said it will be hard to keep in touch as the limited paper and pens the families have are for the children for school, but that she plans to go back and visit.

On July 23 Cassie departed from Toronto to Nairobi, joined by 45 other youths from across Canada and the US.

“We stayed and worked in a village called Olorien,” explained Cassie. “We were there for 19 days, building a classroom at an elementary school, carrying water for families (four kilometres) and visiting with the locals. We also went on a safari and visited a local police station.”

At the school building work site on the first day.
At the school building work site on the first day.

The trip has been a dream of Cassie’s for a long time.

“I want to make a difference in a community, in the lives of others—I want to change the world, even if it’s just a little,” Cassie told The Expositor before she left.

Meeting Craig Kielburger, the co-founder of Me to We, was also a dream of Cassie’s, and one that was fulfilled when Mr. Kielburger decided to join her group.

“It was amazing to meet him,” said Cassie. “He was so inspiring and such a great person. When he spoke to us he was so confident and amazing. Later when we actually got to talk to him he was really nice, so interested in what we want to do and very supportive.”

The connections Cassie made with the other youth on her trip are something else that she will hold on to.

“I made so many new friends,” she said. “The people in my group were amazing and I know we will stay connected for the rest of our lives. We won’t ever want to let go of each other because of the experiences that we shared.”

The food was something that Cassie found surprising. “I wasn’t sure what to expect,” said Cassie. “It was completely different than North American food. It wasn’t even remotely similar, but it was so good. Everything was very flavourful, and they do a lot with what they have.”

me-to-we--Traditional-Maasai-dance
These secondary school boys put on an amazing show, performing a traditional Maasai dance at the first graduation of Kitsaruni Technical College, built by Free the Children.

Cassie said that the overall trip as a whole was life changing.

“It has forever changed me,” Cassie said. “The experience has changed the way I look at everything. When we got home I was having lunch with my family, I looked at all the food on the table, and the food we had for eight would have fed 42 of us in Kenya. I’ve made a point to finish everything on my plate and not to waste anything. I also stagger shower. We did it there and I brought it back as a way to save water. Also, when I do dishes now I only fill the sink a quarter of the way up. We are so fortunate here with everything we have; it’s not fair to waste it.”

Before her visit Cassie planned to becoming a neurosurgeon. Since her trip Cassie said she is even more inspired to reach her goal in order to return to Kenya and volunteer as a doctor with Me to We.

“After high school I want to return to Africa and backpack across Kenya, visiting villages like Aloria and reconnecting with everyone,” said Cassie. “I also want to return after med school as a volunteer doctor with Me to We and work with Doctors Without Borders.”

Back on Manitoulin, heading into Grade 10 at Manitoulin Secondary School, Cassie is planning two speaking engagements this fall to share with Island residents her experience, especially with the many Islanders and businesses that helped support her fundraising efforts.

She is also planning a raffle for an upcoming Assignack community dinner, with traditional Kenyan gifts she picked up on her trip as the prizes. “I want to raise money to donate funds to Free The Children (Me to We’s sister organization) to help build a school.”

me-to-we--judy-in-classroom
Cassie and her new friend Judy Reliat visit the school she will be attending the following year.

“Me to We is an innovative social enterprise that provides people with better choices for a better world,” explains the organization’s website. “We offer socially conscious and environmentally friendly products as well as life-changing experiences. Me to We measures the bottom line, not by dollars earned, but by the number of lives changed and the positive social and environmental impact made. Half of Me to We’s net profit is donated to Free The Children. The other half is reinvested to grow the enterprise and its social mission.”

To learn more about Me to We visit, www.metowe.com