, Newburyport, MA

December 21, 2013

Triton student brings clothes, compassion to Kenya

By Jim Sullivan

---- — BYFIELD — Triton junior Rachel Williamson understands what a life of privilege she has lived on Plum Island for the past 16 years now that she’s been to the other side of the world.

“First I was surprised,” said Williamson who spent most of August working at an orphanage in the Kenyan town of Kakamega. “We landed in Nairobi which is much more industrial than I thought it would be. But during the drive, you would see villages every now and then. There is extreme poverty that you will never see here. It’s hard to see at first. But more so than that is how quickly you get acclimated to that.”

Williamson, who has ambitions of becoming a doctor in Third World countries one day, made the trip with the Maine-based non-profit organization, Friends of Kakamega, raising over $3,000 toward that end herself since last February.

She wanted to bring something with her as well and before she went, she got an idea from one of her fellow “Trippers” who had brought a bunch of old school athletic uniforms with him on his last trip. Williamson approached Triton’s then Athletic Director, Donna Anderson who said she had roughly 300 old uniforms lying about and Williamson could have those.

“My dad came with his truck,” said Williamson. “And we loaded up all the boxes. There were some tank tops, some lacrosse jerseys, shorts.”

The Triton togs made the 24-hour trip over to Kenya on the same plane as Williamson and her ten new friends. After landing in Nairobi, they eventually arrived at the orphanage in Kakamega and were greeted in royal fashion.

“That was one of the most special times of the trip,” said Williamson. “You pull into the compound and they just rush out of the building. They have been waiting for us all day and they just scream and you have all these hands just grabbing at you through the windows, trying to get you inside so that they can hug you.”

The orphanage is home to children ages, 7-15, most of whom have lost their parents to AIDS and other diseases. Each child is matched to a US sponsor and Williamson soon found a child that drew her attention and soon after, her love.

“I met the newest boy to come to the care center, his name is Valentine and he is seven,” said Williamson. “So I decided to sponsor him because his dad had died (of AIDS) two years earlier and the oldest brother followed six months later due to contracting the virus from handling his dad’s bloody bandages. With the mother, it is basically a matter of time and the 16-year-old daughter is pregnant and there is a 10-year-old son who is the man of the house.”

The house itself had no mattresses, a leaky roof, no food and only one blanket to share amongst the entire family. The Trippers decided to pool their personal money and built an addition to the house along with some food and new mattresses.

The Trippers would also take the children to the rainforest and into town to buy books, the most popular being the educational variety.

“Education is above everything,” said Williamson. “Because they know that’s what is going to help them out the most.”

The Triton clothes also made an appearance.

“They don’t have a lot of clothes, so they usually play with what they have,” said Williamson. “They all speak English really well so I explained that this was from my high school.”

Once her time was up, Williamson came home to the States but with a different perspective.

“It was really hard,” Williamson said of returning home. “You can’t quite put your finger on it but things are different. You’ve had a great experience and you come back to your life which is basically the same.”

Williamson said that she wants to go into foreign medicine now more than ever and hopes to return to Kakamega this summer.

“Everyone asks; How different was it? And the only thing I came away with is, they are exactly like us,” said Williamson. “All they want is to be loved and have affection and play. They just have different material needs but they are exactly like us as human beings.”