Two sisters from Port Perry, Ont., had the adventure of a lifetime when they travelled to Kenya recently on their first Me to We trip.
Madeline Payne, 17, and her sister, Sydney, 16, were inspired after Me to We motivational speaker Spencer West – who had both legs amputated at age five due to a genetic disorder – spoke at the girls' high school a year and a half ago. The girls joined the Free the Children Club at Port Perry High School and were among 26 students and four teachers who spent 16 days in the Maasai Mara region of Kenya in July.
They helped to install foundations for a new building at an all-girls' high school and accompanied "mamas" on a water walk to gather drinking water in jerry cans.
"I always wanted to go to Africa, and as I got more involved with the Free the Children Club, I saw that I could help to make people's lives better," says Madeline, now a first-year student at Brock University.
What surprised both sisters was how joyful the children were.
"You see stereotypical pictures of Africa and the kids look so sad," Madeline says. "But they are happy and love making friends."
"I miss the kids the most. I built a big connection with a couple of them," Sydney adds. "The trip made me realize how much we take for granted.
"The kids have so little, but love their lives. And the women have to walk six kilometres to the river to get water when we just turn on a tap."
Their group was visited in Africa by Spencer West and Free the Children co-founder Marc Kielburger, who "really inspired me," Madeline says.
Both sisters are eager to return to Kenya and to become Free the Children facilitators.
"I wish I could live like they [the villagers] do," Madeline says.
"When I got back, I felt so spoiled and had so much stuff. They live on so little but their lives are so fulfilling. It really changed my outlook."