Last February, four Shoreham-Wading River students in the Global Awareness Club landed at an airport in Kenya, boarded a bus and rode down the only paved road that leads to Meru, a rural city in the Eastern District of Kenya.
Peering out the windows of the bus, the students saw run-down buildings, adults carrying heavy loads on their backs and young children running shoeless, or sniffing glue on the sides of the road.
They finally saw the good their fundraising efforts have done when they reached their destination: an orphanage filled with the smiling faces of 69 children.
On Feb. 11, eight Shoreham-Wading River high school students and a teacher will go on the district’s fourth service trip to Meru, Kenya to work on projects at the Jerusha Mwiraria Hope Children’s Home orphanage.
Kevin Mann, a social studies teacher at the district, sits on the board of the Hope Children’s Fund, a Port Jefferson based non-profit organization that runs the orphanage.
The orphanage, where 71 orphans now live, opened in 2005 to house children who were left homeless by the AIDS and HIV pandemic that has ransacked much of Kenya.
Hope Children’s Fund’s goal is to make the orphanage self sustainable. Last year, Shoreham-Wading River students built a barn for cows on a nearby farm, and this year students plan to build an extension. They’ll also be building a classroom at a primary school.
Mr. Mann, who is also the advisor of the high school’s Global Awareness Club, began taking students in the club on service trips in 2007.
“It’s really a life-changing experience for them to go,” Mr. Mann said. “They come back with a whole different appreciation of how fortunate they are to live where they live, go to school where they go and not have to worry about the next meal or a place to sleep.”
Patrick Pitts, 17, has never been out of the country before, but will travel to Kenya to act on a calling he has long felt to help the less fortunate.
“I’ve been watching the news ever since I was a little kid, and there came a time a year ago when I said, ‘I want to do something. I want to change the world,’” Patrick said. “I can’t just sit around watching CNN and say, ‘Oh, that’s so sad,’ and not do anything about it.”
He needs to complete an advanced placement biology assignment during the trip, so he plans to bring an old biology textbook on the plane, finish the assignment before the end of the flight and then donate the textbook to the children at the orphanage.
That textbook will be part of a truckload of donations the students are bringing with them.
Each student going on the trip will check two suitcases — one with each person’s own clothing and belongings, and one filled with 50 pounds of donations for the orphanage which have been collected in a trailer in the high school’s parking lot over the course of the school year.
Meghan Spillane, 17, the president of the Global Awareness Club said the donations are much needed. Ms. Spillane has twice been on the trip to Meru, and said the poverty she witnessed on her previous visits is daunting.
“The poverty is overwhelming coming from Long Island,” she said. “It’s shocking.”
She said spending time with the orphans is why she keeps going on the trips.
“They appreciate their school so much,” Meghan said. “It’s a big difference from America, where kids can’t wait until the school day is over.”
Samantha Locavara, 16, is going on the trip for a second time with the Global Awareness Club and is sure her fellow classmates are in for a life-altering experience.
“When you’re in high school, sometimes you don’t even realize how you don’t think about other people,” Samantha said. The club and the trip, she said, is “a way for high schoolers to step back and say, ‘it’s not all about me. What can I do for other people?’”
Every year the club holds a bi-continental 5K run, where Kenyans and Americans race each other from their respective towns.
The club also sells pizza twice a week and holds a textbook drive, the proceeds and donations of which go to the orphanage.
Some of the members take part in the Hope Children’s Fund’s mentor program, in which sponsors correspond with an orphan and pay for his or her basic needs for one year.
Patrick said he and others going to Meru for the first time are looking forward to meeting the orphans they’ve been raising money and collecting donations for.
“I expect nothing but an eye-opening experience that will stay with me for the rest of my days,” he said.
To sponsor a child through the Hope Children’s Fund, go to www.hopechildrensfund.org.