Report of the 2016 mission of our boys in Kenya

Volunteering, in general, is an experience that everyone should try. I was lucky enough to go to Africa and see firsthand what the conditions of life are like in such a poor country. I was able to see with my eyes how the little things were enough to make a change in the daily life of these people, because they lack the primary conditions of subsistence. For example I could not imagine that simply distributing bread and butter (a food we take for granted) could make dozens of children and adults so happy. A gesture like this has given me back huge satisfaction and the awareness of having given hope and moments of joy even to those who live in miserable conditions. In the end I realize that this experience has enriched me more than all the people I met there.


July 21 … I’m leaving for Kenya… first time in Africa…

I have no idea how it will be…

My travel companions are mostly unknown. I am the youngest. I trust Cristina, the leader, as well as my mother’s friend. I have many questions in mind, but I wait.

I arrive in Nairobi and immediately I realize that everything here is really different.

We take a tour of the market and I am hit by the colors and the mess… The objects are beautiful though. I like them a lot! Shopping!

The next day we leave for Embu, a town 4 hours from Nairobi inland. During the trip, we stop to buy huge bags of rice and slowly I realize what the rarity of the situation … unique whites in a world of blacks … It makes quite an impression.

We reach the goal: the orphanage.

The children are cute.

They are casual, I am a little uncomfortable. I do not know what to do… But slowly, following the other guys, I relax.
The best day with these children was definitely when we took them on a “trip”. They were so happy… They sang and jumped on the jeep… The cell phone and sunglasses are the objects they most enjoy and they love to look at themselves in the pictures… just like us. Ah ha ha.

I like to keep them in my arms and make them laugh because it’s not difficult: they do not wait for anything else.

Shopping at the Embu market is another nice experience.

Fruits and vegetables (sometimes unknown) on the ground, bags full of beans, special smells and colors, continuous noise and people, many people who often stop and stare at you… It’s embarrassing!

But it does not end here. It starts once again. Direct to Laikipia, guests of Kuki.

What a nice woman! I really like how she talks about her life. It is fascinating. She lives in a wonderful place and all those around respect her a lot. I find her helper Martin very nice.

This is precisely Africa … As in documentaries. We have breakfast outside. In the middle of the savannah! In the evening, returning to my room I come across herds of elephants and then I fall asleep to the roar of the lions.

In this wonderful context we have faced, however, aspects of extreme poverty, that one can certainly imagine, but when seen ‘live’ become a horrible story.
We brought bread and butter to children who usually eat every 3 days! They have nothing! And when I say nothing I mean no food, no clothes, without any care. How sad!
Volunteering makes a big difference here. It can give food, medical care, and education to those who are practically out of this world.

This experience was a great opportunity for me and I have to whole heartedly thank Cristina (endowed with an incredible sympathy and kindness) but also the other guys. They are really STRONG! In all senses.
And now, when do we leave again?


My Embu

It’s winter in Kenya, a wet day. In the air a thin fog of the morning leaves tiny droplets on my face and on the jacket I have just worn to cover myself. I was lucky to have it packed in the last minute. From the laudry room window I see a glimpse of the kitchen where the cooks go back and forth, busy preparing lunch for the school children. Beyond, in the garden, tall plants with green leaves fall on the ground knocked down by the work of some uniformed men in black and white stripes. They are watched by an officer who is sitting in front of them, holding a rifle. The sisters explain to me that they are prisoners who are engaged in socially useful work. They are preparing the ground on which the new baths will be built that will replace the wrecked structure that now serves both the staff and the students of the institute.

I am focused on ironing the uniforms of the children, a task that has now been officially entrusted to me by the sisters (at home I do not even iron the sheets!) when the power goes off, the dim light that illuminates the table goes out and the iron cools quickly. I go out from the ironing room and ask the women who are in the kitchen what’s happening, but from the expression of their faces I understand that the worry of leaving the unfinished work is mine alone and they hurriedly dismiss me with a “sooner or later it will come back”. I take this opportunity to wander around the large building that houses me, protected by an iron gate, constantly guarded, and high walls of fence at the top of which shards of glass are set. Outside, the deafening noise of traffic along the road, at the margins of which men and women of all ages walk; the dirt that the wind and the passage of vehicles of all kinds raises, hanging on and leaving everywhere red traces.
I hear the voices of the children echoing in the courtyard, I watch them from the classroom window while they are sitting at their seats wearing blue uniforms and funny wool balaclava that the sisters make them wear even when the temperature is 30 degrees (90 degrees F). I look out the door and ask the teacher if I can distribute to the children photocopies that Cristina left with me of drawings of Disney characters to color. Shortly thereafter each of them takes colored pencils from a container and goes to work. While the children work, I exchange a few words with the teacher who kindly welcomed me during her class. She tells me that her name is Rahab, is from Embu and asks me where I come from. “From Italy”, I answer. She smiles, looks at me with her big dark eyes and tells me: “It would be nice to be able to come with you to Italy”. Then, touching the fingers of his left hand, she adds: “I’m not married, I have no children and I speak English, the only problem would be a visa.” I hesitate a few seconds, then I say to her: “Yes, it would be nice”. I look at her, reciprocate the smile and then we remain silent. Meanwhile, the children have completed their colorful drawings and they proudly show them by shaking them in their hands.
Power is back, I can finish ironing the uniforms. I feel the air becoming hot. This is how it happens every day, this season, in the central hours of the day. Soon you can get rid of the heavy clothes worn early in the morning, letting yourself be engulfed by the African heat that leads to sleepiness.
I help the nurse-educators feed the youngest babies, spoon feeding them patiently one at a time. Some of them make whims, others cry, others still eat everything until the last bite. Sharon eats without being asked. She has just arrived at the institute. She is a year and a half, has two lively eyes and a contagious smile. Her mother disappeared after leaving her; she was later found and arrested and is now serving a one-year sentence in prison. Gadzha, who has chubby cheeks and braids gathered in a bun, is distracted by other children and eats slowly. The sisters explain to me that she does not walk and moves only by crawling. I play with Mathias and Shakina. He, despite the disability that does not allow him to control the muscles of the body, wants to imitate her, who climbs up and down the plastic slide, and finally manages to steal the scene from my eyes. At this point, to get my attention back, she takes my hand and squeezes it tightly into hers as she slides down, just as a younger sister would do in a jealous motion when she sees her mother grappling with her older brother.
The day is not over yet, the older children after school play in the courtyard and as soon as they see me they run towards me and embrace me crying “na mimi, na mimi” which in Swahili means “me too”. In fact, before I can take one in my arms the others wants to do the same and so I end up on the ground, overwhelmed by a whole group that laughs out loud. An amused teacher tells me that at night she heard the children talking in their sleep and repeat aloud “ciao, ciao” (hello, hello). One of them, while watching a program on TV, at one point sees a white man and pointing at him with the little hand turns to me and says “ciao”.
At dinner I tell the story to the sisters which is met with laughter that continue even when, at the end of the evening, convinced by a novice, I accept to take classes of African dances from her.
Returning to the room, I read again the recommendations written on the form posted on a closet door, and I linger on the point where guests are asked not to leave after 10 pm because of ‘danger of dogs’. I smile. I know that tomorrow morning the rooster will cock-a-doodle-doo around 5 o’clock, right next to my window. Another day will start, bringing with it the feeling of “doing little” or “not doing enough” that I cannot drive away. I know there is a time for everything. Perhaps this is the one where I just have to learn to “stay”.


Perhaps poverty really teaches something. Living without the fear of not having something to eat, makes people unable to understand. But what does “understand” mean, precisely?

Poverty however also means living in neglect, in situations where, especially for children, we are witnesses and victims of abuses that unfortunately mark the heart and mind for life.

The experience lived in these few days was for me certainly a very strong warning of the superficiality of this consumeristic life, where there is no ‘neighbor’ but only ourselves.
To devote even a small part of one’s time and actions to try to make this world in which we live a better place, will be a goal for me.
After all, each of us is really a small drop, but together and with a common thought we are the force of change.


Phase 1
After twelve-hour flight we finally land in Nairobi. We load the numerous suitcases full of clothes and medical devices for children and we are on the road to Embu.
To the children of the orphanage in Embu – one of the poorest regions of Kenya – we bring food and clothes.
We also pass from the market of Embu, where a sea of smells and colors opens up before our eyes and nostrils. There we buy kilos of beans and vegetables. This way we can supply the children for two months. During our stay in Embu we organize entertainments and games for children. We also decide to take them on a trip to an amusement park – for many it is the first time outside the orphanage: they will remember this experience for a lifetime.

The builders are also coming to Embu with the new project for children’s baths. We analyze and check it carefully before approving it.
Phase 2
Leaving the orphanage, we go to see Sister Rosemary in Giacioka. There we check the aqueducts, funded by Maisha Marefu, and visit the local children in the clinic. Some of them are in very serious conditions and will have to go to the hospital.

Meanwhile, in the waiting room, we serve bread and Nutella for children and parents.
Phase 3
We move in the direction of Laikipia West. Guests inside the Kuki Gallmann nature reserve, we travel between clinics and schools.

We inaugurate the two Matweko clinics built thanks to Maisha Marefu – the local committee is lost in hours of speeches and thanks. For them, a clinic is like a miracle: finally they can improve and save many lives. Later we also go to check out the Ndidika clinic, inaugurated three years ago.
During our stay in Laikipia, we often bring food to the children of Mutaro. Bread, butter, sugar and milk for everyone: they welcome all of this with big smiles. They probably will not eat anything else for days.

For them we have, in fact, a new project in mind: a van that can transport children to Land of Hope, where they can study and receive other treatments.
Phase 4
Land of Hope. Place of hope. With the hope in the eyes the nursery children welcome us: the nursery was built by Maisha Marefu in collaboration with the Gallmann Memorial Foundation. Children play, eat and even learn to use computers. A door opens for them on the rest of the world.

Leaving the Laikipia reserve, let’s go visit Father Giacomo to Tumaini. The local school, built with the help of Maisha Marefu, is home to around 400 children of all ages.
Between school subjects and cultural activities there is also the group of African dances. He just won the regional selection and anticipates us the wonderful show that will lead to the national contest. A great honor for them and for Maisha Marefu.
Return to Nairobi. This is how our journey ends, but in reality it has just begun. There are many goals already achieved, but even more are those that we still want to pursue. The smile of a child who sees food after days; the proud and hopeful eyes of a man who sees a clinic built in his village, which he thought it was forgotten by the world: these are the moments of happiness and hope that mark our lives and we must never stop looking for them.

Before leaving, I continued to say to myself how much this experience, reserved only to few lucky ones, could have enriched us. I say ‘lucky’ because, in retrospect, I can say it is something that only a few can understand or deeply understand.

Now that it is over, I can reiterate what I hoped and thought.

It was a wonderful journey, intense and with no breaks, but for this reason it flew.
Being immersed and transported in a reality very far from mine has made me a better boy. The thought of helping people facing sometimes sad and dramatic difficulties made me think a lot.
Thinking about what I have, about my habits, about my reality and seeing with my own eyes what these people have and how they live, makes you realize at the end that wims, envy and jealousy are insipid feelings that should be eliminated.
The thing that struck me most is how an orphan child who lives with so little can give you emotions that are difficult to describe. See how a child dressed in rags and not eating for days can line up humbly waiting for his piece of bread, butter and sugar and then look at you and offer you a piece of it, makes you realize that you are not teaching and helping him, but it is him who is making you understand things that in my Milan I could never really think or live.

I am proud of my contribution to Maisha Marefu’s projects that helped me to understand what really matters: being simple and loving what you have.




Luciano Zapponi

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