After one trip to Africa, Jennifer Watson knew she had to find a way to go back.
A three-week trip to Kenya last summer has turned into a three-year teaching stint for the Hannah McClure teacher.
“Once I¿got back, I just loved the country, and I tried to figure out how to go back and support myself,” Watson said.
Watson said that, since teaching is her career in America, it made sense that teaching also would be a way to live permanently in Africa.
In January, she was accepted to teach for three years at Rosslin Academy, an international Christian school in Nairobi. However, Watson said she “wouldn’t be surprised” if her stint in Africa extended beyond the three years.
“It’s just a beautiful country … . The people are very welcoming. It definitely puts life here in perspective,” Watson said of her experience in Kenya.
But Watson wasn’t satisfied going back to Africa alone. She wanted her friends and family to experience Africa’s unique culture along with her.
On Thursday, when Watson makes her big move, she will be accompanied by 12 members of Calvary Christian Church.
“I just fell in love with the country and wanted to take people back,”¿Watson said.
The Winchester team, along with four volunteers from Colorado, will be working in Mukutano, Kenya, for two weeks, as part of Village Project Africa. Watson’s aunt, Margaret Lewis, is president of the non-profit organization, and Watson’s first trip to Africa also was with Village Project Africa.
She and her fellow church members began planning the trip in January, and donations have been collected from throughout Winchester. The Calvary Christian Church college and career class raised enough money to build a new home for a villager, and the Clark County Homemakers Association donated dresses made out of pillowcases for the girls in Mukutano. The children’s classes at Calvary collected shorts to take to the boys.
Watson was especially impressed with the efforts of George Rogers Clark High School students Ryan and Katy McKinney. After the entire McKinney family, including parents Diane and Greg McKinney, committed to the trip, Watson suggested that Ryan use his experience as a soccer player to work with the village children. Fourteen-year-old Ryan began collecting soccer equipment from GRC, Conkwright Middle School, Clark Middle School and the Winchester Youth Soccer League, and the team now has more equipment than they can take with them. Currently, Watson said, they are looking for other places to donate what they cannot use.
Katy McKinney, 17, decided to get the dancers at her clogging school involved in the project as well. Katy performs with Taps in Motion in Owingsville, and the students at the studio collected hairbows, nail polish and other beauty supplies so that Katy could organize a spa day for the girls of the village.
“We’re very excited about doing this as a family,” said Diane McKinney. “We just thought it was a very appropriate time to give them some perspective on the world before they’re up and out.”
The team also plans to host a vacation Bible school and Calvary Christian School teachers Julie Carpenter and Judy Mohr will be helping to train local teachers.
Kelsey Palmer, a rising sophomore at Vanderbilt University, said that she has always wanted to visit Africa and is looking forward to the opportunity to help with the group’s projects.
“I’m really excited,” Palmer said. “I¿heard about this and it sounded pretty fun. I didn’t have anything esle to do this summer, I thought this would be a great way to spend it.”
She is the daughter of Rebecca and Dennis Prater and Craig Palmer.
Other team members include Robert Mohr, Chris Carpenter, Makayla Carpenter, 7, and Ben Carpenter, 9.
Although Watson will be working full-time as a teacher, she hopes that living in Africa will provide her with new ministry opportunities.
“You see people with almost nothing, giving the little bit that they have because they’re so grateful,” Watson said.
She also is grateful for the opportunity to live and work among people that she has come to care about so much.
“Once you go to Africa, it just gets in you. It got in me, and I can’t wait to go back. It’s really special,” Watson said.
Contact Rachel Parsons at email@example.com.
Teacher returns to Kenya with 12 members from her church
Packing for Kenya (James Mannfirstname.lastname@example.org / June 29, 2011)