This past year Continental Currency Exchange sponsored an amazing girl named Mackenzie Summer, who through her drive and determination made it her personal mission to travel to Kenya and make a difference. Combined with the direction and support of the ‘Me to We’ foundation, and help from her local community, her dreams became a reality.
Joined on the voyage by her friend and mentor Sarah Little, a local high school teacher from Bowmanville, Ontario, every moment spent abroad was about making a difference in Kenya – both for the people there and for Mackenzie and Sarah. From building new facilities to getting to know the local children, Mackenzie and the other volunteers worked hard to make a lasting, positive impact in people’s lives.
Read on to experience Mackenzie and Sarah’s life changing adventure in their own words!
“Jambo! That is hello in Swahili! Our names are Mackenzie and Sarah, and this past March Break, Continental Currency Exchange’s sponsorship allowed us to embark on a Me-To-We volunteer trip to Kenya.
We, along with other students and educators, were able to experience international development first-hand by visiting Free The Children projects, participating in the building of a school, immersing ourselves in the daily life of a rural community, and learning about important social issues faced by the community and how they are working to overcome their challenges.
Mackenzie and I wanted to say “Asante Sana” (thank you very much) to Continental Currency Exchange for their support and also to share with you some of the things that we learned on our journey.
Travelling to Kenya is an amazing experience that is unlike any other. A wide assortment of landscapes, people and experiences made it an absolutely amazing African destination. That being said, we were fortunate enough to be travelling with an organization that had a long history of working in Kenya and was able to prepare us fully for the journey on which we embarked.”
Mackenzie and Sarah’s trip to Kenya afforded them and the other volunteers an opportunity to experience international development on the ground level. Not only that, but they were able to see the difference in lifestyles between urban and rural areas. Cities such as Nairobi are very westernized, with recognizable chain stores dominating the streets. The rural communities known as “the Mara” are an entirely different world with an altogether unique daily life and struggle.
“There were large malls and shopping complexes, automobile dealerships selling new Fords, Mazdas, Volkswagens and Subarus that clogged city streets, and many recognizable chains including KFC, Domino’s Pizza, and Cold Stone Creamery.”
The difference between city and rural life can also be seen in the way currency is used. Tourist heavy areas, especially in the cities, will often accept US dollars – although Kenyan shillings are preferred. In the outskirts however, shillings are the only currency accepted, plus there are no price tags. This means you have to negotiate the price for everything!
“There are some unique expectations regarding currency and entry into Kenya. In many places, acquiring Visas prior to travel is recommended, while for Kenya we were encouraged to obtain Visas at the airport. The paper work was quick and easy, and payments are made in USD – specifically a $50 bill printed AFTER 2006. Older bills or combinations of other denominations are not accepted.
We were also told to bring USD to exchange rather than CAD, and this made for quick and easy conversions at the airport. There were several currency exchange options within the airport… but the lineups were long and very slow moving. Thankfully Continental Currency had already provided us with Kenyan Schillings, so we avoided the lineups!”
Unfortunately, over 50% of the population of Kenya lives below the poverty line. The average weekly income for a family in the region ‘Me to We’ were located is 5000 schillings, which is equivalent to about 5 Canadian dollars. To experience their lifestyle, Mackenzie had to take these funds, go to the local market, and attempt to buy enough food for the entire week!
“What an experience! Using our limited Swahili vocabulary and bartering skills we stretched our money to the maximum. When we came home with our purchases and laid them out it was painfully obvious that the food we bought was barely enough to sustain one person for a week, let alone 3-5 people.”
Families are often forced to sacrifice healthy, quality, and diverse food choices for what they can afford. Mackenzie and Sarah’s experiences only work to emphasize the difficulties of rural life, and what the local population have to endure.
Western influence can have both positive and negative effects on Kenyan communities. Big businesses often push smaller enterprises out of the market while a reliance on one time gifts and supplies makes it harder to foster growth.
“We have created a relationship of reliance on handouts by giving gifts rather than empowerment.”
On the other hand, many western organizations like Me to We work closely with the communities to improve facilities, promote education, and modernize without losing sight of important cultural and societal values.
One of the most important parts of development work in countries like Kenya is the perspective on women’s role in society. Many women are often so busy they don’t have time to develop income generating skills or get an education. In some cases, women are trying to change this to create a brighter future.
“We were lucky enough to meet a community leader who shared with us her story of working with Free the Children and other local momma to create a lending circle. Local women worked together to develop one business plan then gathered the meager amounts of money that they could spare, pooled it together, carried out their business plan and then divided profits accordingly.”
This community leader was able to send all her children to school, build a modern house, and become an important figure in her community. As the opportunities for women to generate income increase, the better the chance their families will be able to be free from poverty in the long term.
Making a Difference in Kenya!
“Through this amazing experience we were able to explore and develop a whole new appreciation of culture and social responsibility, but also of money and how we view and use it. We would like to thank Continental Currency Exchange from the bottom of our hearts for enabling us to embark on such an incredible journey. If ever you have a chance to travel to Kenya, we greatly recommend that you do, and especially if you get the opportunity to visit and truly immerse yourself in rural communities and their customs. It truly is the experience of a lifetime!”
The sentiments from everyone here at Continental have been tremendously overwhelming. We can hardly begin to express how proud we are of Mackenzie and Sarah’s actions and their drive to start making a difference in Kenya, and we’re so happy that we were able to help make this dream a reality.
We want to say thank you for all of their hard work and determination, and everything they helped accomplish. Actions like these demonstrate what it truly means to be a global citizen.
Find out more about all the good work ‘Me to We’ is doing here.
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