As Anastasia Manziaris travelled through the Rift Valley to a village in the Maasai Mara last August, she was looking for more than a summer holiday. Volunteering in a rural community, she and her husband Ted wanted to give their daughters Suzanne, 15, and Linda,12, a chance to break out of their comfort zones, experience a completely new culture, and “learn a bit about themselves as well.”
From travel preparations to their Kenyan home away from home, every aspect of the journey was facilitated by Me to We Volunteer Adventure specialists. Travelling with her children halfway across the world, Anastasia’s top concerns were, of course, health and safety.
Once they arrived at Bogani Cottages and Tented Camp, they felt very much at home. “I was blown away by the hospitality, professionalism, accommodations, food and security,” Anastasia told us. “Beautiful touches—we truly wanted for nothing. It’s like a 5 star, but done so tastefully.”
It wasn’t simply the accommodations that put them at ease, but also the warmth of the community, who came together to host a vibrant welcome ceremony. During the event, one woman came forward, took off her own beaded necklace and presented it to Anastasia as a token of appreciation. “It touched me so much,” said Anastasia, who felt that her reward was just being there in the Mara and the opportunity to volunteer. “It’s a wonderful gift and an investment in your family.”
It was the school-building focus that first inspired her to make the trip. A teacher by profession, Anastasia knows the value of education, and she was excited by the idea of involving her children in the build. It was a chance to spend time together as a family, mastering a new set of tasks.
Volunteering itself isn’t a new thing for the Manziaris family—each is active in their community. What made the Me to We experience so special for them was working side by side on a shared project. “It was so wonderful to give back together,” Anastasia said. “A definite bonding experience.”
When we asked about the most challenging moment of the journey, she paused. For her, volunteering in the Maasai Mara wasn’t challenging, but “full of privilege.” She felt honoured to be able to better understand the life of people in the region. “I felt more empowered than anything,” she said.
On one occasion, she was invited into the home of a woman from the local community. As her new friend described daily challenges in the village and how Free The Children has helped to improve her family’s quality of life, Anastasia discovered a connection that transcended cultural differences. “A mother is a mother,” she said. “We want the best for our children, and that is universal.”
With this trip to Kenya, Anastasia and Ted wanted to show their children how they could make a difference in the world. “This is what I hoped for, and I can see it happening,” Anastasia said. “Exposing children to a variety of cultures and areas of the world makes them better people.”
The Manziaris family also spent time with the students at Free The Children’s newly built Kisaruni All Girls Secondary School, and Suzanne and Linda quickly found common ground as the girls talked about their favourite subjects and shared their hopes for the future. “At Kisaruni, all the students want to pursue university and have real meaningful careers. One girl wanted to be a journalist and travel the world,” said Suzanne. “Seeing the girls and connecting […] and seeing how much Free The Children has made an impact in their lives, offering such a great school to work in,” she knew then that her family had made the right choice to come to the Mara that summer.
For Anastasia, one of the most meaningful aspects of the experience was working in partnership with the local people, from building up the walls of the new school together to sitting among the artisans during beadwork sessions. “You know who you are helping,” she said. “You understand the impact of your contribution.”