Benedictine Volunteer Corps: A 2013 Trip to Africa
Last year, Kate Drinkwater, Harris Moriarty and Caitlin O’Malley received the once-in-a-lifetime chance to work a year with the Benedictine Volunteer Corps in Nairobi, Kenya. This year, students have the opportunity to apply for openings to attend a similar trip in 2013-2014.
A wonderful trip was organized last year by the Benedictine Volunteeer Corps: a trip to Kenya during 2012. It was organized by Father Chris and under the auspices of the Belmont Abbey monks as well. Students again have an opportunity to compete for openings for a similar trip during the 2013-2014 academic year.
Last year’s lucky winners were Kate Drinkwater, Harris Moriarty and Caitlin O’Malley. They were sent to a suburban area near Nairobi, Kenya and lived with the Missionary Benedictine Sisters in a priory house in Karen, Kenya. They also stayed in Nairobi itself and even in the Kerio valley for three weeks in another Benedictine convent. During their stay, they engaged in activities such as staining the floors and painting areas in the Karen convent. Sr. Rosina was their supervisor and organized the work they had in organizations such as Feed the Children and Cottolengo. On Mondays and Thursdays, they went to Feed the Children assisting therapists. These same days, they played around with Earning Learning Children who were aged around 4-6, doing things such as painting their nails and playing games. Later on, their schedule was adjusted to assisting Cottage 1 children. On Tuesdays and Wednesdays, they helped out at the convent as they worked in the dispensary and the kitchen. During these particular days, they were under the supervision of Sr. Judy. They also assisted children with HIV in the town of Cottolengo on Fridays from 9 to 3. Other activities included baking cookies and setting up bingo games. During the month of January, the three went to a convent in Chesongoch to paint, cook, make cotton balls, fold gauze, sort medicine, draw with toddlers and play with children during recess.
There were many things that Caitlin, Harris and Kate got out of their Kenya experience. First and foremost, they learned hospitality and gratitude. They were often greeted warmly by the many sisters and Kenyans they met. They learned that many of the Kenyans were warm and considerate despite the fact that they did not have much. They also learned that Kenyans are not restricted by the clock and often did many things slowly. A Kenyan phrase, “Pole, pole,” which means, “Slowly, slowly,” in English, testifies to this aspect of Kenyan culture. Because of this, Caitlin O’Malley said that this enabled her to, “take the time to get to know people.” She said, “I don't think I realized how important something as simple as stopping to say 'Hello' to someone and asking them how their day is going was until the good people of Kenya made it a point to do that for me.” She learned that surrounding yourself with good people is more important than status and the things you own. Kate Drinkwater similarly said that an increased awareness of others was something that she experienced. Caitlin O’Malley also learned that small acts of kindness mean much to others and the importance of Sr. Teresa’s encouragement to, “Do small things with great love.” Exposure to a different culture and lifestyle certainly taught the three very much. It was challenging for them, but the experience helped them to achieve spiritual growth. Caitlin O’Malley stated, “I don't think words can adequately describe my experience and how I changed because of it. All I know is that it was one of the best decisions I've ever made and I feel like I am a better person because of it.”
A question, however, has to be asked: was the trip was worth it? For instance, Kate Drinkwater said that one thing that the prospective student needs to take into consideration is the fact that he or she will be far away from America and the niceties that its industrially advanced civilization has. However, both Caitlin and Kate nevertheless said that it is something that students should do. In Kate's own words, she said that, “I didn't bother inquiring further about [the trip to Kenya] because I thought [six] months was too long of a time to be gone. Looking back, I think about how silly that was! Why give up on something you've always wanted to do because the timing doesn't seem right? There is no such thing as the 'right time.' I am so grateful that my best friend encouraged me to come along with her and for the support I received from my family, friends and the monks of Belmont Abbey. This was an experience I will never forget, and I hope other people my age take a chance on this same opportunity.” Anyone interested in visiting Kenya this year should contact Father Chris. From the testimonies of Kate and Caitlin, one can definitely say that a trip with the Benedictine Volunteer Corps will be more than just a mere once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, it will be a life changing one.