Trip of a Lifetime
Butler University senior Haley Owens received a phone call one day in February from Linn Asbury with the Jubilee Village Project (JVP). She had no idea that this one call would change her life and take her to a country she had only dreamed about.
After finding out more about JVP, which according to its website, is a program whose mission is to “serve the poor and end world poverty through sustainable community-based transformation,” and communicating more with Linn and others involved with the project, Haley was all in.
“I’ve always wanted to go to Africa. [When I was younger] I wanted to go on a safari and see animals, but as I’ve grown up in life, I’ve realized that I like to volunteer and help people and I want to be a teacher and when this opportunity came up I decided to do it,” she said.
At first Haley’s family and friends objected to the trip. “My family was nervous. They did not want me to go. They were very worried about my safety, about my health and me being alone for eight weeks in Africa,” she said. “Up until the day that I left they were more relaxed and they could see how happy and excited I was.”
To prepare for the trip Haley and those travelling with her had to go through a number of training sessions prior to their departure. The sessions taught them about various concepts of African culture such as ethnic greetings and what kinds of food to expect. They also had to take certain medicines and get shots to prepare their bodies for diseases not common in the U.S.
“I just had to prepare my mind for what I would be seeing over there because it’s completely different.”
On a hot, steamy June afternoon, Haley, Linn, and five Franklin Middle School teachers made their way to the Indianapolis International Airport to leave for Africa. The first in a series of three delayed flights was from Indianapolis to Chicago, followed by Chicago to Brussels and from Brussels to Africa.
They landed in one of Africa’s bigger cities, Nairobi, Kenya. They spent the night in a hotel before driving seven to eight hours in a van to the village of Kager, where they would be working with the God Kado Schools.
“We mainly worked with kids and taught them about sanitation, how to speak English, and how to use laptops,” Haley said, “but we were also involved with volunteer work in farming, business, housing, sanitation and food.”
After the first week, Linn and the five Franklin teachers left Kenya, leaving Haley alone in the village for the next eight weeks. She continued working in the schools and getting to know the people of Kager as well as updating her blog to keep in touch with her friends and family back home.
Haley’s favorite memory from Africa was a “wedding” that was held for her and a seventh grade student named Moses, who Haley had connected with during her first week in the village. The occasion was complete with a hand-made wedding gown, bridesmaid dresses and three cakes baked over an open fire.
“I appointed different people from the village to be the pastor and run the music and other things at my wedding. Lots of people showed up and I was actually really nervous because there were so many people, but it was a great moment for the community because everyone could come together and just have fun.”
Most people from the village did not understand that the wedding was not real. Haley had to walk all around the entire village of about 4,000 people and reassure them that it was fake and just for fun.
Haley’s eight weeks in Kager ended in August and it was time for her to return to Indiana to prepare for her senior year at Butler.
“I was very sad to come home because I had become so close with the people in my village and I knew that I was really helping them, so it was hard to come back here and still think about all the work and help that they need back there.”
She has received many calls and e-mails from some of her students and friends she met in Kenya.
“They ask me how I’m doing and they give me updates on the village and I just wish I was over there helping them.”
Haley’s goal is to have been to at least six continents before she turns 26 in 2016. So far she has visited Europe, Australia, Africa and North America.
“I think I can do it,” she said. “Only two more to go.”