Travelling to Kenya was “without doubt the best decision I have made in my whole life,” Paris O’Keeffe told Spotted in Ely this week.
The 17-year-old joined a group of Ely College students who travelled to Nakuru over half term to volunteer in slum schools.
During the end of their trip, on October 26, the group visited a dump site two miles northwest of Nakuru, where most of the city’s waste is chucked away.
Spread over 54 acres, the disease-infested Hilton Dump is also home to over 130 people, known by locals as “salvagers”.
Some of the poorest people in the world, the salvagers have nowhere else to live and survive by eating scraps found dumped on the site and selling cast away materials they can salvage, including jewellery and souvenirs.
As the Ely College group was leaving the dump, Paris realised she’d forgotten to buy presents for her mother’s Rainbow Guiding group.
“All of the stall holders saw me coming back knowing I had already given them extra donations so they were very happy to see me and were shouting ‘welcome, welcome’ to me.”
Paris, who used to study at Ely College but is now at the College of West Anglia, went to the closest woman and asked to buy 15 bracelets.
“Her face just lit up when I said that many. Before I knew it all of the other stall holders were surrounding me, I paid for the 15 bracelets and still had a lot of money left so I handed it out between them all.
“It was such a heart warming experience as they were all so happy and grateful for the donations. They all started making this “i i i i i” noise which is their way of saying hooray I guess and then they insisted me and Miss had a few extra bracelets for free to say thank you.
“That moment and their appreciation is something that will stay with me forever.”
Humbled by her experiences, Paris said she was still processing the after effects of her life-changing African Adventures trip, which included helping out at Jubilee Academy, a school situated in Nakuru’s slums.
The children are so impoverished that many regularly go without food. The Ely College team distributed underwear, socks and shoes, donated by residents across East Cambridgeshire.
Paris said: “I am still trying to take the whole thing in myself so it is hard to express just how amazing it was to anyone else. It was without doubt the best decision I have made in my life, the most rewarding and heart-warming experience. I will never be able to explain how the trip made me feel in a way that does it any justice.
“The people and children over there touched me in a way that will stay with me forever, their kindness towards not only one another but to me, who is merely a stranger to them, is unbelievable.
“My favourite quote of the trip was ‘they may be poor with money but they are rich in happiness’ because children in our country have everything and still complain yet over there they may not eat every day but they still carry on smiling without complaining.”