Denay Hering, a senior Education major from Lake Mills, Wis., had a winter break that was decidedly short on snow. She travelled with a group from UW-Madison to Kenya, to work with the Jirani Project, a nonprofit organization designed to support and provide education for vulnerable Kenyan children.
“On this trip, something that truly amazed me was how at home I felt in a place that I had never been before,” she says. “I have never felt happier and more invested in my days than I did while in Kenya. This trip has had such an effect on me that I intend to return in order to pursue my dream of teaching in a different country.”
The group’s work consisted of facilitating a camp for children – much like summer camps anywhere around the globe. “Our job was to create activities from morning until night for the group of nineteen children for about 5 days,” she says. “We provided an array of activities for everyone throughout the camp which included both educational activities and physical games. Everyone had a great time with each other and no one was afraid to act goofy which made it all the more fun.”
Even half a world away, the track and cross country student-athlete felt right at home. “One thing the kids LOVED to do was to play capture the flag. They could have played that all day long. You think us student-athletes are competitive? Play capture the flag with these kids and you’ve never seen people at each others’ throats over a simple game. I was in my element to say the least.”
“At the camp, we all felt comfortable around each other very quickly. This allowed us to form deeper relationships with one another that I’m confident will remain strong for the rest of our lives,” she says. “The kids I met at this camp have left a permanent mark on me. I have never met such resilient and loving people in all of my life. All of the adults and children associated with the Jirani Project were such warm and kind-hearted people who helped to make it a life-changing experience for me.”
“This experience has taught me so much about myself and has changed my perspective on life. I didn’t expect such drastic changes in the way I think, the way I reflect, and the way I view our society. To see people coming from virtually nothing, yet having such joy in their everyday lives puts the way we live here in perspective. It is astounding what the human spirit can do even in the most heart-wrenching of circumstances. It was truly inspiring for me to recognize that and it has caused me to sit down and think about the way I live my life here. It is a lesson that everyone can and should learn from. Although I’ve been back for almost a week now, I’m confident that this trip will continue to have me reflecting on my life here and what I can do to make it more joyful like what I experienced in Kenya. I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to have such an incredible experience in which I came back a different person that I am proud of.”