18 Years Ago I Went on a Mission Trip to Kenya That Changed The Entire Course of My Life

Seeing men and women committed to the work of God left a deep impression on me

Órla K.
Soul Travel
7 min readMar 10, 2022

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Image: Bennet Tobias on Unsplash

I volunteered at Kip Keino’s Children’s Home in 2004 after completing my studies at the National University of Ireland. I went with Maynooth Missions Outreach.

They sent two of us. At the time, I wanted to go with a larger group, but that’s how it turned out, so I went.

I met Aoife at the airport and we set off to Nairobi, the capital of Kenya together.

On our arrival in Nairobi, we were met by the Patrician Brothers who took care of us and showed us around the city for a few days.

After that, we moved up north to Eldoret, in the Rift Valley region of Kenya where we would meet Phyllis Keino, the owner of the children’s home.

After another few days with the Patrician brothers in Eldoret, we left that security net and moved on-site to serve at the children’s home.

We had no idea what to expect or what our duties would entail. But we soon found out when we woke up early each morning to the sound of children running, singing, or crying. There was plenty to do.

The Children’s Home

Kip Keino his full name Kipchoge Keino was a two-time Olympic gold medalist. Keino was among the first in a long line of successful middle and long-distance runners to come from Kenya.

He was married to Phylis Keino and they started the children’s home together. The home was named after him, probably due to his celebrity status.

Runners running at the Discovery Kenya Cross Country event in Eldoret, Kenya where I stayed seventeen years ago — Image by Justin Lagat on Unsplash

I did not meet Kipchoge as they were separated at that time. I just met and worked with Phylis.

Each day I would observe how she lived her life in that children’s home. I was so impressed by how committed she was.

Sometimes you can be in the presence of greatness and not even know it, but somehow, I did know that she was a unique and special woman and I wanted to be more like her.

We had something in common. We were both nurses and both loved God, but I could feel a strength in her that I knew I didn’t have at the time. I never forgot her and how she cared for those children as though they were her own.

There was no resistance in her. She was completely given over to this vocation. She was truly a mother to those children.

More about Phyllis Keino

Phyllis Keino is a philanthropist who was known for her work at this children’s home. The home’s name was later changed to Lewa Children’s Home but Baraka Farm kept its name.

In addition to this, she serves as the volunteer spokesperson for the non-governmental organization Bread and Water for Africa.

She was the 2018 Humanitarian Award Honoree at the 2018 World of Children annual awards. I didn’t know how well known she was at the time, but it does not surprise me one bit.

She deserves to be recognized for the life she has lived. She was so humble. All I saw was a woman calmly doing what needed to be done each day to feed and care for the 50 children at the home.

She was a gentle, kind, loving, determined, hard-working person and I’m sure she still is.

Apart from working at the children’s home, the Patrician brothers would take us to visit schools, hospitals, AIDS clinics, NGO projects and also show us around the surrounding areas of Eldoret.

In Nairobi, we visited Kibera which is the largest slum in Kenya and the largest urban slum in Africa. Visiting that area was quite shocking, but the Brothers prepared us well for it.

We walked right through the place as though it was any neighborhood, over piles of waste, passing crowded huts with no running water or electricity. We just smiled and said hello to everyone as we made our way to the school.

At the school, all the children ran to greet us. It was their break time and they were very excited to see us!

The Brothers told me that the school was an important place for the children. Not just for education but also to be fed. It could possibly be the only meal they would have that day.

A huge pot of the local stable food, maize, was prepared each morning for the children. Maize provides a basic diet to millions of people in Kenya.

Later Aoife and I talked for a long time about our impressions of Kibera and how we felt as we walked through it.

The conditions were the worst I have ever witnessed in my life, but surprisingly enough, I enjoyed my visit as we received a warm welcome from everyone, especially the children at the school.

“Most Kibera slum residents live in extreme poverty, earning less than US$1.00 per day. Unemployment rates are high. Persons living with HIV in the slum are many, as are AIDS cases. Cases of assault and rape are common. There are few schools, and most people cannot afford education for their children. Clean water is scarce. Diseases caused by poor hygiene are prevalent. A great majority living in the slum lack access to basic services, including electricity, running water, and medical care.”

Wikipedia

At the end of our time in Eldoret, we had a few weeks left so Aoife and I went on a safari trip to Maasai Mara. What an amazing way to end our mission trip.

When we booked our safari trip, everyone kept telling us about The Big Five. I had no idea what they were talking about at the time. The Big Five refers to the five most difficult animals in Africa to hunt on foot, and they are:

  1. The lion
  2. The leopard
  3. The black rhinoceros
  4. The African bush elephant
  5. The African buffalo
Maasi Mara National Reserve Kenya. Photo was taken by Shripal Daphtary on Unsplash

But, not only did we see the big five, but we also saw giraffes, zebras, tigers, snakes, and many more. It was an amazing adventure going around in an open-top truck spotting the wildest and most dangerous animals in the world!

I think back now at how blessed I was to have such an experience. Sometimes we have to work hard for God, but the rewards are always worth it.

Image: Bibhash on Unsplash

We also had the privilege of meeting some people from the Maasai tribe.

The Maasai Tribe

The Maasai are a Nilotic ethnic group inhabiting northern, central, and southern Kenya and northern Tanzania. They are among the best-known local populations internationally due to their residence near the many game parks of the African Great Lakes, and their distinctive customs and dress. The Maasai speak the Maa language (ɔl Maa), a member of the Nilotic language family that is related to the Dinka, Kalenjin, and Nuer languages. Except for some elders living in rural areas, most Maasai people speak the official languages of Kenya and Tanzania, Swahili and English.

Wikipedia

Image: Pawan Sharma on Unsplash — the Maasai is doing a jumping dance wearing traditional clothing.

The clothing

Shúkà is the Maa word for sheets traditionally worn wrapped around the body. These are typically red, though with some other colors such as blue and patterns like plaid.

Final thoughts —

My trip to Kenya was a unique and special trip in many ways. I haven’t covered how emotional the work in the children’s home was or how it shaped me as a person, but I know one thing for sure, I never forgot those children, the home, Phylis, the Patrician Brothers, or the joy of living and serving on African soil.

Kenya is a beautiful country. If you get the chance to go, I would highly recommend it. The landscape is breathtaking and the people are warm and welcoming too.

Thank you for reading!

Orla Kenny

If you want to read more about the work of the Patrician Brothers in Eldoret and other regions in Kenya, I have added two links below that include some of the Brothers I met when I was there. You will see what amazing work they do from working in schools, hospitals, serving the church, clinics, and also training athletes.

I am very grateful to the Patrician Brothers for being so good to us during our stay in Kenya. Especially, Brother Felim and Brother Christopher as they got the task of looking after us (not sure how they felt about that, but we felt like they were our friends).

We received a warm welcome from the Brothers and were treated with love and kindness. They have a great community in Kenya.

May God bless them for the great work they are doing there.

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Órla K.
Soul Travel

Learn about mental, emotional, and spiritual heath. Top writer in Travel. Christian Life Coach/Substack: https://orlakenny.substack.com/