Kenya 2017

Kenya 2017 (Part II): The Build

As most service trips go, there’s usually some kind of build that is the focus of the trip. In the case of my trip, teaching was the focus. Although, that did not stop us from getting our hands a little dirty every few days.

My group and I were building at Esinoni Primary School (which is also the school we were teaching at). The school was interesting because they still had the original school on the property. The school was made up of two classrooms. I would give a physical description but I think photos would represent it a lot better:

IMG_0123IMG_1953IMG_1950

The oldest part of the school was actually built by parents in hopes of giving their children an education. The parents taught a variety of subjects in the classrooms. Once the student population increased the government recognized it as an actual school and supplied a Head Teacher (Principal in North American terms). This sounds like a good thing but it really wasn’t. The conversion meant that parents would have to start paying to send their children to school. Population decreased but then the government did something absolutely amazing: They allowed Monday classes to be free. Children all over the community were rushing to go to school for that single day because of how much they valued education. Eventually, the Kenyan government put a law in place that says that “for every individual classroom, they will supply one teacher.” The school took that as a positive thing and with time and fundraising they were able to build 6 classrooms but 3 buildings. These 3 buildings allowed for 3 new teachers! You might be wondering why it wasn’t 6 new teachers, that’s because the classrooms were attached, not individual buildings.

The new classrooms that were built allowed for better learning. They have a lot more space for students. They had an actual surface that you could use as a chalkboard, instead of a piece of plywood. They have proper windows and electricity. Most importantly, they had actual floors and walls. The floor they were learning on was no longer dirt that became mud when it rained. The walls were cement and no longer needed to be repaired after a rainstorm. It was a healthy environment for their learning. The biggest problem was that the walls were thin and you could easily hear the lesson in the class next to you. A few years the organization that I travelled with paired up with Esinoni and they offered a solution to their struggles.

The organization I travelled with believes in giving a hand up instead of a hand out. So the community had to raise a certain percentage of funds to help build a new classroom that was it’s own individual building. In return, groups of students (like me and my friends), businesses, families and so many people from different walks of life started travelling to the community and help with the various builds. This works well because the community doesn’t have to pay for labour cost. My group was working on the 6th classroom. Although, they have been able to but in much more than just classrooms. They’ve put in a water well and have started working on new washrooms. For the sake of what I am familiar with, I’m sticking to talking about classrooms.

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How the newest classrooms look.

The way that building a classroom goes is kinda simple but like any build it gets complex. I’m going to go from step 1 until the place that my group left off:

  1. Dig a rectangle trench that is about 3ft deep (maybe deeper depending on the soil)
  2. In the 4 corners, dig deeper by an extra 2-3ft
  3. Pour concrete into the corners and put rebar inside for support
  4. Build a retaining wall in the trench that was dug (This is where the build was at when my group started)
  5. Fill the interior of the retaining wall with large rocks
  6. Fill the cracks with smaller rocks
  7. Use a sledge hammer to level the foundation and crush the large rocks
  8. Fill the foundation with sand so that all cracks are filled
  9. Put a layer of black gardening tarp (I have no idea what it’s actually called) over top
  10. Put a layer of rebar on top of that

That’s where the Teachers to Teachers group left off

Safety measures were common sense: wear gloves, hard hat and protective eye gear. Also, it wasn’t very labour intense it was just hot in the sun, which made it hard to work in.

I like to say that the best part of building is seeing the growth right before your eyes. It’s also good to take a look at the project before you start at the beginning of the day and when you finish at the end of the day because those are the moments where you see and how much progress was made. There’s also the knowledge of knowing you’re making an impact on the lives of children and a piece of you will live on because the entire group literally put their blood, sweat and tears into the project.

That is it for the build! Like how I said in the last post, please feel free to contact me if you have interest in doing service aboard. It’s truly something life changing. I learned so much about myself, the world, and how to live a healthy and happy life. I feel as though I grew and matured as a person and it’s honestly the most wonderful experience for a person. If you haven’t checked out Kenya 2017 (Part I): The Atmosphere please check it out! As for now…

Happy adventuring!

-Vince

Kenya 2017

Kenya 2017 (Part I): The Atmosphere

The last two weeks have probably been the best two weeks of my life. I met amazing new friends. I befriended an entire community. I learned from Maasai warriors. I contributed to the foundation of a classroom. Finally, I taught English and Math in a grade 7 and 8 class, but learned so much more from them than they learned from me. This trip impacted my life in such large ways. I want to share with the world my experiences and how doing service abroad or at home makes such a large impact on the lives of people and yourself. I did so many activities it’s difficult to talk about them all but the trip had 3 large components: Atmosphere, Building and Teaching. 

Welcome to my 3 part series focusing around the three components to my trip to Kenya. This trip was 15 days of learning, whether conventional or unconventional. I was an eye opening experience and I’m excited to share it with you all.

Atmosphere

The first thing that shocked me when I got to Kenya was the landscape. It was so diverse and it felt like every turn you took you had a different view and felt like you travelled to a different part of the world. You had mountains to your right and prairies to your left. There were rich green forests then the dry barren desert surrounding them. Crop fields for miles then bright green grass accompanied by Maasai huts and farms.

A lot of the landscape that I saw was during a safari tour. I might not have seen any Elephants or Lions but seeing a herd of Zebras running through the Maasai Mara is the most majestic thing I’ve ever seen and I feel as though I could have watched it for hours on end. Another amazing thing was the Giraffes. African animals in the wild just seem to have a free spirit to them, it’s wonderful. They are the definition of wild and free, because of that they make you feel as though you are too.

The next thing that contributes to the atmosphere is the community and the culture that I learned about while I was there. In the Maasai community they call their mothers Mamas. If you’ve ever worn a Rafiki Bracelet then you might be familiar with them. The Mamas make these beautiful beaded jewelry pieces. IMG_1275They are traditionally made and used for themselves and their families but recently they are sold as a way for the Mamas to make income. I had the honour and pleasure to bead with two wonderful Mamas who were so filled with joy, laughter and strength. The way they make Rafiki Bracelets is a lot easier than I thought it was, but it’s a lot harder than the Mamas make it seem. When I did it there was a lot of string breaking and beads being spilt on my shuka. That just goes to show you that the work that they put into making these bracelets is worth the $10 (but it’s also worth it because $5 goes to a cause and $5 goes to the Mama and her family).

Women not only bead to make income, but they also have daily chores to do. They have to walk up to 20 km or more on a daily basis to get water for cooking, cleaning, drinking etc. It’s a painful process to carry the water. My group and I carried it for only 1km and that was tough enough and halfway through the walk we traded off. Now imagine a 7 year old girl having to do that once or twice a day. Here in North America, we have such easy access to water but in most parts of the world it’s not that easy. We learned about a statistic after the water walk: “By the year 2025, 50% of the world’s population won’t have access to clean water.” This is extremely shocking. Imagine having to choose between you and your partner, only one of you can drink clean water and the other as to drink contaminated water. That’s basically deciding which one of you will live a healthy life and which one will live a life filled with sickness. It’s easy to be aware that not the entire world has clean water but to think of it so drastically is scary. If you want to make an impact it’s the little things that help:

  • Turning off water while lathering your hands, body and hair
  • Using energy efficient appliances that conserve water
  • Drinking tap water or filtered water instead of bottled water (water is needed to make the plastic)
  • “If it’s yellow let it mellow, if it’s brown flush it down”
  • Take a shorter shower!
  • This might sound wrong but… use the dishwasher. They are actually made to wash dishes and they save water because you are able to wash large amounts of dishes with less water waste.

There’s so many more ways of saving water, I just gave a few examples

The living conditions that the Maasai live are totally different from the ways I live, in North America. In North America, people are always looking for more square feet. People want fancy homes. They spend years collecting decorations to make their homes unique. In Kenya, they live simple lives. They don’t have the tools to build beautiful large homes. They build their homes to be as functional as they can make it. I had the pleasure to sit in a traditional Maasai home that a Mama built (and maintains) with her own two hands. Out of respect for her and her privacy I’m not going to share photos of the home but I can share a rough blueprint I created to match what it looked like:Screen Shot 2017-07-27 at 10.15.39 AMThis blueprint is just an example that I made. In reality the walls are mud; the floors are dirt; the ceiling is sticks, dirt and grass. The beds are single sized thin mattresses. There’s very little ventilation in the kitchen space but not enough to allow smoke to be completely freed. They don’t live in their homes though. They live outside. They are farming, playing, singing, dancing, working. They live simple lives that aren’t spent indoors. It may sound like they have poor living conditions but they are very happy people. They don’t focus their time indoors, they’re more or less always outside. I wanted to share their home because it becomes more of a health concern, rather living in poverty. They sleep in a smoke filled home with their farm animals in the next room so they don’t get eaten in the night. That’s a huge problem for their health and health care centres are needed and are so far from communities.

Their living conditions shows how important heath clinics and hospitals are there. The organization that I travelled with recently converted one health clinic into a hospital and that means they can now do surgeries. They would never do surgeries that the doctors aren’t qualified to do, so there’s a lot of cesarian sections and other minor surgeries. I think in the future it will expand and more people will be able to go to school, become doctors or surgeons and their hospital will grow to large city level hospital. I also think that their health clinic is growing rapidly and soon it will reach hospital status as well.

The last thing I want to mention is the Maasai Warriors. It’s the last generation of warriors in the Maasai Mara and they are the greatest people I’ve ever met. The organization I toured with pairs two warriors with every group that travels to Kenya. My group had the two best warriors (at least in my opinion): Justus and Livingstone. I don’t want to share too much about them because I want to respect their privacy but if you want insight about the Maasai ways, their culture, traditions, how they become warriors and how it feels to be the last generation of warriors then I would recommend reading: The Last Maasai Warriors: An Autobiography by Wilson Meikuaya & Jackson Ntirkana with Susan McClelland. I haven’t read the book yet but I’m on my way to Chapters to pick it up soon and I’ve heard great things about it. 

Justus on the left, Livingstone on the right

I shared a lot about my trip in this post. I hope that you all enjoy it and if this inspires you in any way to do service aboard, please feel free to contact me. As for my next blog post, I’ll have it up as soon as possible. I’ll be giving you a look into the build that my group did. I’m so grateful for the opportunity I had recently and I’m glad I have the chance to spread what I learned and my insights with all those that read this article and the others that will follow. Thank you.

Until next time and happy adventuring,

Vince

Adventures

Adventure Time: Grand Marais, MN

Date: July 6, 2017

Adventure: Grand Marais, MN

Welcome to America’s Greatest Small Town! Located just 128 km from Thunder Bay, ON, this 93 minute drive takes you into a place of wonder. I want you to imagine any movie you’ve ever watched and any book you’ve ever read that featured a small town. Use that description from those references and now you know what Grand Marais, MN looks and feels like. It’s a world wide gem but it never had any intention on being so popular.

Grand Marais has the northern charm you expect a town so close to the Canadian border to have. The cold winters, warm summers, hiking, skiing, swimming, tobogganing, fishing (both ice and boat) and so many more activities! Along with all the activities there’s just as many dinning options (my personal favourite is the Angry Trout). A person could spend two weeks in this small town and still wouldn’t be able to experience it all.

That’s why the one day I spend there wasn’t enough!

The trip is an easy one when you’re making your way from Thunder Bay. You take hwy 61, get to the border, drive for a bit and then BAM you’re reaching the small town. It’s super easy and if you grew up near hwy 11/17 or hwy 61 in Northwestern Ontario then there’s an 80% chance you’ve been to Grand Marais or you’ve at least driven through it.

I go to Grand Marais at least once a year, usually more often. Since I hadn’t been yet in my 2 months of being back in home, I thought what’s a better time than going for my birthday! I sent a quick text to some friends and they were all working except one, Catherine. So her and I embarked on a fun and chill day in Grand Marais.

We packed our bags and were ready to go on our day trip. We had no solid plans but we knew we were going to get lunch. We crossed the border no problem, we got there at a good time, and the weather was nice. We decided to go on a little walk along the rocks that create a little bay around the town. Then a wave wall was added to protect the bay and the light house that stands near at the edge of the bay.

Me attempting to do a pull up
High tides
I spy a wild Catherine
They were waving a Canadian Flag!

After our little adventure on the rocks we decided that we needed food and for some reason we were both craving fish and chips. We made our way over to The Angry Trout (Like I said, it’s one of my favourites!) We had Herring and Whitefish, waffle fries, coleslaw and homemade tarter sauce. It was all so delicious!

After our filling lunch we decided to shop around a bit. We went into Lake Superior Trading Post. This store is a mix match of different camping and household items that have a cabin feel to them. We just looked around, made fun of a few things and fell in love with other things. We then made our way over to a store that I can’t remember the name of but it reminds me of the Shore Store from The Jersey Shore. I bought the best blue tie-dye hoodie from there. We then walked around a little bit and decided it was time to treat ourselves to the thing that put Grand Marais on the map.

It’s a little red shack with a big name, World’s Best Donuts. I think the name isn’t so much of a statement I think it’s more of a novelty. The logo and brand has been taken all over the world but there’s only one shop in the entire world and I think that’s what makes the donuts world best! Don’t get me wrong those donuts are worth the wait if there’s a lineup around the block!

Inside of World’s Best Donuts

After our donuts we decided it was time to head out. All in all Grand Marais is probably one of my adventures to do. It is a timeless classic and I wouldn’t have wanted to spend my birthday with anyone else!

Happy adventuring!

-Vince

(My next few blog posts won’t be about travel in Northwestern Ontario but stay tuned to see!)

Adventures

Adventure Time: Ouimet Canyon/Eagle Canyon Adventures

Date: June 6, 2017

Adventure: Ouimet Canyon/Eagle Canyon Adventures

Ouimet Canyon is probably the most unexpected thing Northern Ontario has but also makes so much sense at the same time…

Wikipedia tells me that Ouimet Canyon was most likely formed when a “diabase sill” (I kept that linked because I have no idea what it means) dating from a billion years earlier was split open, either by the weight of advancing glaciers or the large volumes of water released during their retreat. Erosion by wind and rain continued the formation of the canyon. Thus the canyon was born!

Aerial View of the canyon

The canyon features the privately owned and operated Eagle Canyon Adventures (website linked here). The park features two suspension bridges – one of which is Canada’s longest bridge, measuring at 600 feet (~183 m) – and a zip line, about 0.5 mile long and moves up to 45 mph (~72 km/h). There is an entrance fee of $20per adult and $10 per child (children under 4 are free!) A separate fee of $50 must be paid to zip line.

Directions:

  • Travel northeast from The City of Thunder Bay on the Trans Canada Highway/Thunder Bay Expressway
  • You will reach Dorian, Ontario
  • Turn left onto Ouimet Canyon Rd
  • You will approach a fork in the road and should keep right (unless you want to take an adventure of your own)
  • You will reach the parks parking lot
  • Let your adventure begin!

The drive is nice! It’s super easy because there are signs along the highway and it is about an hour long away from Dawson Rd. However, it doesn’t feel that long… especially when you’re accompanied by two of your best friends

My friends, Catherine and Adam, and I took on this adventure head on! It was the nicest day that we’ve had all summer (so far) and none of us were working… so we did what any sane person would do: GO ADVENTURING!

Adventuring and really just driving with friends is always the best, especially when you and your friends share different tastes in music or other things. The three of us all have different music preferences but all appreciate music for what it’s worth. This “road trip” consisted of 2000s Pop, Rock & Roll, Country, Folk, Indie, Alternative and so much more! (Thank you to DJ Cat Cat for the sick beats!)

As we were approaching the canyon it was very odd scenery. I expected a more hill like area but to my surprise it was very flat. A canyon in the middle of what looked like a prairie land is essentially what and where Ouimet Canyon is!

We approached the parking lot and because it was a Tuesday in the middle of the day the park was not busy whatsoever (so if you freak out because of heights, you can freak out with your loved ones)

The bridges honestly don’t seem big or scary like how I thought they would. They are very safe and secure. I’ve been on other suspension bridges just outside of Quebec, Quebec and those were shaky and scary… but I pushed through! These bridges don’t shake whatsoever and I kinda wanted them to, it did seem very suspension like.


Being at Ouimet Canyon is a different experience! It doesn’t feel like you’re in the same old Thunder Bay district. It feels as though you’re in a different province, country or even continent! It goes to show you that the area of Thunder Bay, ON is something special because it has all these unexpected places to experience.

To finish off our trip we stopped at one of those greasy roadside diners you see on TV as a kid but never in person. This day trip is one of my favourite memories I now created up in beautiful Thunder Bay… I can’t wait to create so many more!

Here’s to checking another item off my list and cheers to your adventuring!

-Vince

Adventures

Adventure Time: Rabbit Mountain

Date: Wednesday May 25, 2017

Adventure: Rabbit Mountain

Rabbit Mountain is a fairly easy adventure. It’s a drive up John Street Road, left turn onto Belrose Road and right into a “parking lot” on Marlwood Road. Following your park job, it’s a short “hike” (I think of it as more of a walk) up the road to the top of the Mountain where you get the most beautiful view of the North end of Thunder Bay (Port Arthur) and a wonderful view of The Sleeping Giant, a view that doesn’t make it look so giant.

Hiking Superior has other directions about the Rabbit Mountain Lookout Loop linked here.

Due to how easy the trek up Rabbit Mountain is I’m not going to go too in depth with it. I brought water, hot tea, flip flops, a sweater and a flashlight (because it was sunset). I find it to be more of a place you go to relax than a place to hike and such.

For me, my experience at Rabbit Mount is always calming. I walk or drive there with my dog, on my own, with friends. I’m an avid visitor of the mountain.

However, this time felt very different. I went with a friend who I had met during my time back in Thunder Bay during reading week. He’s very intelligent and passionate about nature, specifically plants… he’s also an artist!

Plant expert and artist on the left there! (follow @naturalworks3 on Instagram)

This trip to Rabbit Mountain had more of a learning experience tied to it. Not totally about plants though because I forgot all the information within 5 minutes of learning it. The learning was more about myself. This short drive with green tea and apple cider to sip on, plus the great great company got me thinking. I am exactly where I need to be in my life right now and I am happy. This really clicked for me while I was laying down parallel to The Sleeping Giant. My mind was racing at a million miles a minute. Then I took a deep breath looked at over at The City of Thunder Bay and the surrounding area and thought: “There’s so much of this small city I have yet to discover and THAT is all I need to do right now!”

Sure the life I’m going to start building in Toronto will be AMAZING but I’m living for the moment and right now my heart and mind are in the lovely little city I call home.

Until next time!

-Vince

Gotta stretch the toes!

 

Photo my friend took of me

 

 

 

Ps. I’m sorry I’ve been a shitty blogger the last month!

Lessons

14:24 – May 11, 2017

Reflection from my journal during my hike at Silver Falls

I am currently on my way back to my car, nearing the end of my hike, and decided to take a break. This break came on because I had a flood of emotions. The trail here at Silver Falls reminds me a lot of the trail I hiked near Nogales, Arizona in August 2016 at Me to We’s Advanced Leadership Training camp. It’s weird to think that here, in Canada, the USA and many parts of the world we hike these trails for pleasure. However, migrants from Mexico and parts of South America hike these trails in the middle of the desert to find a chance at a better life. They hike these trails looking for hope, work, money; really just a fraction of all the pleasures my friends and I have in Canada and the US. This search for a better life gets ripped away from the migrants by the American government.

How is North America so corrupt that our boarders are so strict? We descended from Europe! A place where restaurants have boarders running down the middle of them; a place where you can pull over on the side of the road and half your tour bus can be in one country and the other half in another country. It’s kinda ridiculous.

“President” Donald Trump wants to build a wall but a wall is the most unnatural thing on this planet. Environmentally, it would prevent migration for animals and insects. It would cause plants to die surrounding the the wall. There are so many issues I just can’t. Sure we have walls in our homes but we have windows to let air flow. We have doors, which allow us to enter and exit freely. Yes, walls can protect us. Literal walls protect us from the elements, but at the same time these walls can endanger us. They can collapse on us, hold poisonous materials and cause harm. We also build figurative walls to shield our emotions. These figurative walls are good temporarily but if they are never broken down a person will never find true happiness.

Going back to the hike. I learned a lot in a short period time, especially reflecting on my hike in Arizona. Migrants go on the hike almost unprepared. They are wearing dress clothes, heels or dress shoes. They have a small amount of water. They get separated from their families, having to find a meeting place, getting sent back to the place that they are running from and even incarcerated. I went on this hike to see the beautiful scenery. I had easy access to water. People knew where I was. I had good shoes, clothes. I discovered something though… I want to better myself.

All migrants that try to cross the boarder, legal or illegal, are trying to better themselves and their families.

The next time you hike, think of it as a way to better yourself. Use a hike as a way to bring yourself closer to who you are and who you want to be in life. Let the hike bring you closer to what you love. Yes, a hike can be pleasurable but use it as something more. Use a hike as a path to find something greater, in yourself and in the world.

Sincerely,

VP

Adventures

Adventure Time: Sliver Falls

The time has finally arrived! Thursday May 11, 2017 is the day that Thunder Bay finally got adventure worthy weather! To start off the adventure season, I made my way over to Silver Falls, about a 45 minute drive North West of Thunder Bay, ON. Oddly enough, this adventure wasn’t on my original list (but it’s on there now and it feels damn good to cross it off!). That just goes to show you how plans change.

You might be asking how I came across this gem of a spot? Well… I’m here to tell you and give you some tips to having a good hike up at Silver Falls!

I found Silver Falls through an Instagram post a few days ago and it looked beautiful! So like anyone would do, I added the destination to the list. It turns out Silver Falls is actually a Provincial Park and very easy to get to.

You travel up Dawson Rd. and turn right onto Silver Falls and follow that road until either the Ontario Power Plant (which is where the hiking trail is) or until the end of the road where there is a camping ground (you can guess what else has been added to the list). A more detailed description will be attached here.

In terms of the hike it’s fairly easy! The hardest part for me was walking up the road where the path divides because I was baking in the sun, without a water bottle and the road is fairly steep! Although, as soon as you get on the path again it feels good. A few things I recommend if you’re going on this hike:

  1. Bring a backpack! This is important because you have to carry all your stuff.
  2. A journal is a must! I stopped at a few places to write and observe. The hike and path reminded me a lot of a hike I went on in Arizona and I drew inspiration from it (tune in next week… maybe sooner).
  3. Water bottle… you gotta stay hydrated kids! (In other words: Do as I say not as I do! I’m writing this blog to help you on your adventures.)
  4. Extra socks because it’s a pretty muddy trail (especially this time of the year because the snow is just melting). My socks and shoes were black after this hike! 

    They got a lot worse…
  5. When it’s actually summer time the river is pretty clean and calm in many places… that means great for swimming! I suggest bring some swim gear (or don’t, skinny dipping might be your thing).
  6. A camera or GoPro is a must! Although, try to remember to live in the moment and take in your surroundings. Don’t try to focus on that perfect shot, all you’ll be doing is hiding behind technology. Go out and explore nature!

I took the hike on my own. I needed a day of personal reflection, where I focused on myself. I found that on the drive out there my mind was wondering, thinking about nonsense. The hike offered me a lot of time to reflect on all my relationships in life, my school year, my job situation, my future and so much more. As soon as I got to the falls I was at easy. There’s something about a body of water that just takes over me and makes me feel at home (that’s one reason why I tattooed Poseidon’s symbol on my wrist). I was able to write in my journal, observe nature and my favourite: listen to the roar of the rapids and falls. On the drive back I was calm, cool, collected. I didn’t have thoughts running in and out of my head, I was at easy.

This hike is perfect if you need a day trip for yourself and focus on you! Just make sure someone knows where you are and when you should be returning because you could get lost and there isn’t cell coverage out there. I do suggest going with friends during the summer months! It’s a smooth drive out there, great hike and a fun place to chill by the water and swim a bit. Really, this path works for both introverts and extraverts. Also, if you want to swim but don’t want to hike, the Silver Falls Provincial Park campgrounds has a nice beach area that you just drive up to.DCIM100GOPROG0010061.JPGIf I had to grade this experience, I’d give it an A.

Happy adventuring!

Check out other adventures I’ll be taking or get to them before me in the About section!