It's not easy to impress entertainers and celebrities whose lives are full with the glitz and glamour of show business.
Take Jordan Fisher, for example. The 23-year-old U.S. recording artist is featured on the Moana soundtrack and has appeared in the Broadway hit Hamilton and in movies and TV shows including The Secret Life of the American Teenager and Teen Wolf. And yet, he reaches for words like "incredible" and "memorable" to describe how he walked to the Mara River to collect water with Mama Nancy in Kenya – where women in the community are called "mamas" – and later sat quietly by her side to learn traditional beading.
Mr. Fisher travelled to Kenya this past July to participate in We's international development program We Villages. The Me to We experience, he notes, had "a profound impact" on him. "Being able to be a part of something that makes doing good doable, both at home and abroad, is amazing," he says.
Chloe Wilde, a reporter on eTalk, Canada's most-watched entertainment program, which airs weeknights on CTV, has interviewed many boldface names in her industry, such as Robert Downey Jr., Kate Winslet, Jake Gyllenhaal and Zac Efron. But going on a walk with Mama Nancy was "a powerful experience" for her, too.
"[It] bonded me to [her]," says Ms. Wilde. "She walked every step of the way with me as I struggled to do one water walk. Another memorable experience was visiting the We's Kisaruni All Girls Secondary School …getting to know the students and being awe-struck by their work ethic and determination."
A long-time supporter of We, she has made appearances at We Days and, beginning at age 16, has gone on volunteer trips to Ecuador, Costa Rica and Panama. Still, she was surprised at how "life-changing" the Kenyan experience was for her – right from the moment she and her group landed and were welcomed with jambos, songs typically sung to greet visitors.
Two of the show-business celebrities who went on the We to Me summer trip for the We Villages program are actually not older than some of the students at the Kisaruni school. Lennon Ray Stella, 18, and her 13-year old sister, Maisy Jude Stella (better known as the singer/songwriter duo Lennon & Maisy), are the daughters of Brad and MaryLynne Stella, who perform as The Stellas. Lennon and Maisy are popular recording artists and regulars on the ABC television show Nashville.
They've performed for We Day audiences, but their visit to Kenya was their first We to Me trip. "Seeing how We has impacted the community is so insane and inspiring," says Lennon, who recalls seeing We written on all the local wells and how everyone was wearing We T-shirts. "We felt so proud to be part of the We movement."
Adds Maisy, "The most surprising thing about my trip was the kids. They are so loving and happy with what they have. [And] they get so excited over the little things. Every time they see a car pass, they chase after it and wave. A little girl [in] a yellow dress ran from a mile away chasing after our car. She was so happy just to see the car pass her."
The older celebrities are no less enthused. For Drew Scott, 39, co-host of the home-improvement TV show Property Brothers, lifestyle entrepreneur and co-founder of a television and film production company, most of his days involve on-and-off-camera discussions about real estate, contracts and creative decisions. But when he visited a village in Kenya's Maasai Mara, he enjoyed "getting my hands dirty on a construction site, mixing the cement and pouring the foundation for a boys' college dormitory."
He went to Kenya with his fiancée, Linda Phan. "She [has always] wanted to work with Me to We since she was 10 years old," Mr. Scott explains. "The We organization makes doing good accessible in so many ways and we're so happy to be working with them. We showed me that even with all of the craziness going on in the world, every little bit of effort does make a difference. I saw it in the way the mamas peacefully and diligently crafted their beautiful wares. And the way the students at Kisaruni All Girls Secondary School spoke with confidence and excitement while they gave us a tour [is] proof of the impact We Villages has on young women."
For Toronto-based 41-year-old rapper Kardinal Offishall, who went on his fifth Me to We trip to Africa this summer with his wife, Tashi Harrow, and their three young children, the experience is primarily a way to give back. He wanted to be part of the world community and to lead the group of Toronto teens selected and sponsored by 30 Elephants Inc., the non-profit organization he co-runs with his wife to promote cross-cultural youth travel.
"[But] on a selfish level, for me it's an amazing reset," says Mr. Offishall. It's a respite from the "everyday hustle, the depressing headlines and click bait," as well as from the hassles of being a celebrity, and allows him "to bring it back down to zero and remember what I'm doing and what I'm doing it for."
It's also a reset for 30 Elephants teens who accompany him on the trips. "This one girl – it clicked for her," he recalls. "She didn't realize how good she had it. Sure, she worked at McDonald's, lived in what may be considered a poor neighbourhood [in Toronto]. But it's all relative – some of the kids in the Maasai Mara don't even have [properly] functioning sneakers.
"[And] what's amazing is that every single year, you can see the transformation of [the 30 Elephants] kids."
And of the celebrities, too. "This trip was a lot of things," says Ms. Wilde, "but it was [also] a big reminder to appreciate everything in life – from having access to quality education, free health care, clean water and equal rights. These are things we occasionally take for granted and I hope to never fall into that mindset."
Thirteen-year old Maisy of Lennon and Maisy sums it up. "The trip changed my life forever because everyone is so loving to one another. They all empower each other instead of tearing each other down. Such a stunning way to be."