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Creating positive change, from Vail to Kenya

Emily Bandoni
Special to the Daily
Vail, CO Colorado
Special to the DailyFrom left, Nick Riley, a Littleton High School student; and Emily Bandoni and Cooper Perkins, who both attend Vail Mountain School, work with kids during their service trip to Kenya this summer.
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VAIL, Colorado – Going into my freshman year of high school, I went to New Orleans with Ethically Engaged Youth to help with Hurricane Katrina relief projects throughout the city. My New Orleans trip experience started to define citizenship on a local level. As my high school career continued, I learned more about what used to be distant countries but are now much closer in term of relationship to myself as an individual. With the end in high school within sight, I wanted to go on a trip that would allow me to pursue a more irrevocable definition of citizenship on a global level. Having a curious mindset on the global community led me to my Students Shoulder to Shoulder trip to Kenya.

As a brief overview, I was with a group of nine other people, including leaders. We were in Africa for a total of 18 days. We started our trip off in Nairobi. While there, we went to an elephant orphanage, a giraffe sanctuary and the second-largest slum in the world. After spending two days in Nairobi, we said goodbye to the city and began the six-hour drive to our final destination, Meru. We spent the next 10 days of our trip getting to know the community on a more intimate level.

During our time at the Armani home, our group worked hard to put in a drip irrigation system at the orphanage. While an irrigation system may seem like a project lacking significance, it provides a sense of reliability regarding food. In Kenya, specifically Meru, the people survive off of homegrown food. Growing fruits and vegetables is made difficult when there is a lack of consistent rain. Right now, Kenyans are struggling with the infrequency of rainfall – they are unsure when to plant crops to ensure that the seeds will get enough nutrients from both sunlight and water to survive. A drip irrigation system allows the members of the community to structure the growing season.



Going down the escalator at the Denver International Airport, waving goodbye to my parents through the glass above me, I had no idea that I was leaving for the most profound, memorable trip I will ever experience.

While the 18 days I was in Kenya are unforgettable, the most important memories on the trip were made with those who surrounded me, whether they were Americans in my group or Kenyans we met along the way.

Participate in The Longevity Project

The Longevity Project is an annual campaign to help educate readers about what it takes to live a long, fulfilling life in our valley. This year Kevin shares his story of hope and celebration of life with his presentation Cracked, Not Broken as we explore the critical and relevant topic of mental health.



Fredah Mesh Rajab will forever be in my thoughts. Throughout the entire trip, she was there to help our group attempt to learn the Swahili language, explain Kenyan tradition or merely have a good time. Getting to know Fredah as an amazing trip leader as well as an outstanding friend taught me to appreciate what I have in my life. Fredah constantly smiled the entire trip – over the course of the trip I did not once encounter a Kenyan with a scowl. Being around such positive attitudes made me start to believe that life was like that everywhere; however, upon returning home I was greeted with open arms and smiles from my family but those passing by did so talking or texting on cell phone completely unaware of the people and lives surrounding them.

A goal of Students Shoulder-to-Shoulder is to emphasize the fact that each nation in the world, when put together, creates one large global community. Within each nation are individuals who have the capacity to create positive change by providing resources or even simply by providing a positive environment through smiles and positivity. My Kenya trip taught me that I am a part of a larger community that stretches beyond Vail, beyond Colorado, and beyond the United States.

Emily Bandoni is a senior at Vail Mountain School.




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