From Kenya, with love

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GUILFORD — A brief, narrated slideshow offered a glimpse of the gratitude that a group of volunteers felt and the fun they had while helping schools in Kenya.

"People don't necessarily ask for your life-changing experiences when you get home," the Rev. Lise Sparrow told more than 30 attendees at the Guilford Community Church's pews on a recent Sunday afternoon. "We're a group that represented a lot of different towns and churches."

Payton Lawrence, a senior at Brattleboro Union High School, has gone to the African country with Sparrow's group twice. The best parts, she said, are "the people, the community and the connections that I've made over the years."

"I'd really like to go again," she told the Reformer. "With college coming up, I'll have to plan around it but I'd love to go back."

The latest trip saw the group installing a water filtration system inside a school, painting a mural, teaching classes, giving out medication to fight intestinal parasites, and building a cowshed. The volunteers were there Feb. 16-28.

Brian Morgan, of Putney, said he wanted to go to Kenya, but not as a tourist. He considers service the "most important" aspect of the trip.

While he did get to go on a safari, Morgan embraced the opportunity to see how community members worked to feed and teach each other. He recalled watching one of the men faithfully milking the cows three times a day.

"It was a wonderful experience," he told attendees.

His wife Joyce Morgan, an educator since 1968, witnessed "the power of connecting with schools."

"The power of what schools can do in their communities has always been an inspiration to me," she said. "They were more than schools."

Cathy Reynolds, of Tinmouth, believes her husband Doug Fontein was recruited for the trip because he is a builder.

"I'm a competent person who can do lots of stuff but didn't end up with a particular mission," she said. "The thing that made the trip easier, but also more important and meaningful for me, was Lise had spent a bunch of time with us as a group so we kind of knew each other but we also had reading and context for the trip."

The Kibera slum "blew her mind."

"It's a million people living so basically," she said. "We visited two schools there and I think an overwhelming theme of the trip was the emphasis parents put on the value of education."

Her daughter Amelia Fontein, who teaches at Hilltop Montessori School in Brattleboro, saw students similar in age to her students.

"The girls in these classrooms were so obviously committed and invested and really privileged to be in the classrooms," Amelia said. "And they were so polite and so excited to be there."

Amelia heard from students who aspired to be astronauts, bankers, nurses and attorneys who could fight corruption in the government. She said a ukulele brought a lot of fun to the trip and called "Jingle Bells" the "hit single."

Terry Sylvester, of Brattleboro, said Sparrow was "inducted into the hall of amazing women" on the trip.

"It was the most moving ceremony and it was such a surprise to her as well as to us," Sylvester said. "She was given this incredible robe with incredible beads and music."

Lawrence said she had fun talking with a group of girls about pop stars and boys. She danced even though she did not feel she was very good "because it was what I was asked to do."

Richard Davis, a registered nurse who lives in Guilford and writes a column for the Reformer, said the group met its goal of treating 125 kids for intestinal parasites.

"The amazing thing is these kids didn't know me. They didn't know any of us," Davis said. "But after a few days, they were coming up to us with questions: 'I've got this problem. I've got that problem.' We did the best we could."

One girl had been afraid to go home because "boys were trying to force her to do things she didn't want to do," Davis told attendees. He said Sparrow connected the girl to resources for help.

Members of Sparrow's congregation provided funds to buy red polo t-shirts that could be considered a second uniform for students. Also, 150 Leland & Gray Union Middle and High School t-shirts were donated to African kids because "gray" had been misspelled and the shirts were not being used here.

Gender boundaries were crossed, Sparrow told attendees. One of the volunteers cooked with women in a kitchen and African women helped build the cowshed.

Photographs showed antelope, elephants, giraffes and a tiger. The group also saw a cheetah, and a monkey stole a paintbrush from one of the volunteers.

Reach staff writer Chris Mays at cmays@reformer.com, at

@CMaysBR on Twitter and

802-254-2311, ext. 273.

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