MANON REAGANS, 16 YEAR OLD VOLUNTEER
Last April I had the privilege to travel to Nairobi, Kenya with the non-profit organization, Project Theia. Before leaving for the trip, I was unsure of what to expect; but looking back, I am so grateful that I was a part of the incredible experience that unfolded in front of me. Upon arrival, we were greeted with open arms at the all-girls orphanage, Hekima Place. For the next week, Hekima Place became our home. Although many of the girls at the orphanage had lived in extreme poverty and experienced various hardships, when we entered their space, we were surrounded with genuine love and made an immediate connection with these girls. I specifically remember the first night we arrived, they had been celebrating a birthday and sang their own
rendition of happy birthday. For the rest of the trip, I carried their joyous song with me because it represented what the trip meant to me; a celebration of the work we provided to the local community, a community filled with love despite the hardships they’d endured.
However, the majority of our week was not spent at Hekima Place. We spent around eight hours of our day stationed at a medical camp where the true magic unfolded. Although the thirty-minute commute to the camp felt extremely long, it did not compare to the lengths locals traveled to receive basic care. At the medical camp, Project Theia volunteers offered a range of treatment from basic eye exams to reconstructive orbital and facial surgeries, all of which the locals hoped would improve their quality of life. During this experience, I observed a team of all-female physicians, who also happened to be the majority, women of color. As a black woman, this aspect made my experience even more impactful because I saw myself reflected in these women as they provided this amazing work. I observed firsthand how significant access to modern medicine is, as I saw the positive impact these surgeries had on the local community. The sheer amount of people who came was incredible. In the span of three days, we saw hundreds of patients with medical conditions of all levels of severity. The amount of gratitude we received towards our presence was truly humbling. I remember one woman, who had been the doctor’s first patient whose exuberant reaction made our mission clear, “I have waited all this time to know that there is a solution for this, and I am forever grateful.” While I was in Kenya, I not only learned firsthand from the physicians but shared my creative passions with them as well. I made use of my interest in photography to document the entire process, and in doing so created a visual representation of the harsh realities underserved communities face. Having the opportunity to be involved in this mission trip was truly a blessing and was rewarding in more ways than I can express. These are people that I will never forget and although I may never cross paths again with all of the people that I encountered on the trip, we will be forever linked by this one experience.