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A trip to Kenya leads to a new perspective on life

By Eddie Jenkins

Eddie Jenkins on the Habitat build site in Kisii, Kenya.

Would you like to go to Africa? Some people would probably go for a safari, or to sit in a pool while giraffes and elephants walk by, but I decided to go to Africa to help Habitat for Humanity build a home for a family in need.

I consider myself a well-traveled man, having been to Slovakia, Scotland, England, Ireland, Czech Republic, Romania and a few other places. But I’d never been to Africa before and had no idea what I would encounter.

Our goal as a Global Village team was to help build a house for a family of 11 in Kisii, Kenya. We were responsible for digging the foundation, pouring footers, setting blocks, prepping floors and laying bricks for the walls. For these tasks, we used local tools that you don’t often see in the United States.

When I say it was physically tasking, I really mean physically tasking. Every day after work I would go back to my hotel for a shower and a nap to try to recover from my day.

Each day was a new experience. I met members of the local tribe, the Habitat family we were helping, and learned their ways of accomplishing things. The kids from the local tribe, along with people from other nearby tribes, would stop by on a regular basis to get their pictures taken and watch us work on what was seemingly an impossible project.

When I first learned that a team of nine people from the U.S. and a group of Kenyan locals were going to build a simple 30-by-30 brick house with three rooms, I thought to myself, “This is no problem, we can do this in 10 days for sure.” 

I was wrong. We finished the foundation and completed about five layers of brick in 10 days and honestly, according to the locals and Habitat for Humanity, that was a huge accomplishment, so we were very excited.

Eddie Jenkins takes a break from building to play with the local children.

Imagine building a home and having to dig 3 feet down with only hoes and shovels. Imagine having to cut 6-inch concrete blocks/bricks with a machete. Imagine having to carry river water for a half mile in order to mix mortar and concrete. Imagine having to make your own gravel by chipping away large rocks with homemade sledgehammers and chisels.

I learned so much on this trip about myself, about Africa and about life. But the main things I learned are:

  • Work smarter, not harder or faster. You need to last all day and all week, so don’t burn yourself out swinging the sledgehammer like a madman. Take your time, take breaks and let others help out.
  • It is possible to smile, laugh and be happy and carefree even if you have nearly nothing. The kids in the tribe wore the same clothes every day and had no shoes. They had no bicycles, Xboxes, TVs, toys or even soccer balls, but they were all so happy! They laughed and played nonstop. Life is good in Africa for them. I’m spoiled and most of us are spoiled, so my lesson was to be happy with the little things in life and make the best of any situation.
  • The impact one person can make on another individual, a family, a tribe or even a country is amazing. One person can make a difference. You have to want it, you have to feel it and you have to be passionate about it, but one person can make a difference. The others on my GV team and I left a lasting impression on the family, the tribe and the country. Not just by building a house, but showing that we care, sharing our thoughts and visions and most of all being ourselves and sharing our personalities and traits.

I became involved with volunteer service many years ago when I asked myself, “What is my legacy going to be when I leave the earth?” I struggled with what my purpose was. I knew I was a hard worker, entrepreneur, etc., but I didn’t know what I wanted people to remember me for. I decided to start giving back to the community that was giving so much to me. I began volunteering for Habitat for Humanity, Big Brother Big Sister, Animal Rescue Foundation(s) and a few other local organizations. I discovered quickly that my skill sets as an IT guy and an ex-carpenter could really help local organizations.

When Habitat for Humanity reached out to me to thank me for all the support I provide them and asked me if I was interested in helping with a Global Village project, I immediately said yes and didn’t think twice about my decision. I’m so happy to have been given this opportunity and honestly I can’t think of a better way to spend my two-week vacation. 

Eddie Jenkins was a team member on a GV trip to Kenya in late July 2014. He lives in Baltimore, Md.