11/09/2012 08:54 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

A Smile Is the Universal Language

If I were to sum up my time at Light of Hope (LOH) in one word I would choose the word "smile." Here I am halfway across the world (literally), don't know one word of the local language(s), unaware of what the next 10 days will have in store for me but what I did find out is that a facial expression of a smile can speak for itself. I was about to embark of a life changing trip to see 68 of the most beautiful smiles from the girls at LOH.

Before the story of my experience, it is imperative to tell the story about this hidden gem of a school. LOH came to fruition through their fearless leaders, Boni and Sandy Karanja. Boni grew up in the Niavasha region but moved to the US, where he met his wife, Sandy. Built on 15 acres of land, this school was established to rescue local Kenyan girls from abuse, abandonment, poverty and provide them with a new life, a new beginning and new hope. In addition to a roof over their heads, a safe environment, clothing and education LOH currently provides the girls with a home that they can call their "family." In a country where poverty is the most common status class, this school is the light of hope these girls need to become the women they deserve to be!

After 24 hours of traveling , my friend Joe and I made it to Narobi, Kenya.


We were to meet up with 12 other American's who would be heading to Naivasha to spend time at LOH as well. Traveling 1-1/2 hours outside Nairobi, we had the opportunity to stop at the highest point over the Rift Valley, see the livelihood of these neighboring towns and the people themselves.

As we drove through the poverty stricken region the locals of all ages -- grandparents, parents, teens and kids -- communicated with us. It was through their smiles that let us know we were welcome. The kids themselves laughed, chased the car smiling, waving and shouting "Jambo" to us -- Jambo is a Swahili word that has a number of meanings, all related to a gracious greeting to locals and outsiders alike but is most often used to say hello.

Getting to our new home, Bellevue, for the next week was not an easy task. I definitely realized that I take paved roads in the States for granted -- Kenya does not have the luxury we do for any form of transportation. A choice of model cars is nonexistent, a running car is a luxury, most common form to get to and from a destination is a donkey and a wagon. If the road is not paved, a 5-minute trip turns into an hour journey. Turning off the main road to Bellevue was a mile journey -- and the rain didn't help. Another mile past Bellevue sat LOH school. Absolutely amazed that the kids and staff make this hike to the school often, if not daily. I found Myself obsessed with the conditions of the road during my time at LOH. Only to find out that to pave the entire road -- not just to Bellevue and LOH -- but another 5 miles past that would cost $10k total. That put a smile on my face since I was going to make this a goal for me to work to get done for the kids, the school and the community -- eventually...

The next day was what I have been waiting for, our first day at the school and our first day for meeting the girls! I began my day with a 5am hike up into the hills of Naivasha. We had 2 local guides and 5 of us from Bellevue. The smiles continued from the guides, as we passed the school and for the next 3 hours as we greeted the locals we passed along the way. Although we don't speak the local language, we spoke to the locals in our own way -- with smiles. Knowing that many of them have never seen a "mzunga" (the Swahili word for white person) before, some of the kids were in awe as we walked by... their facial expressions were that of being scared, in awe, confused but none the less happy -- smiling along the way.

Right after breakfast we made the trek back to the school for the first time. Due to the road conditions, going to and from the school was a mile walk on foot. Security let into the gates of the compound as the school stays under lock and key all day/night. It was Sunday, and Sunday means Church, so all of the girls were in their church dresses oppose to their standard school uniforms. Seeing all 14 of us enter the school, the girls looked on with awe and followed us to the "dining hall" which was a room probably 25 ft. x 15 ft .with a tin roof. The girls run the church sermon and began as soon as we got settled in our seats. No words can describe how happy and powerful their words and songs where to each of these girls. The laughed, cried and smiled throughout the sermon -- as if to truly make it their own.


Our first day included a number of activities so that the girls had a chance to meet us and allow us to become accustomed to their individual personalities. Each of the Volunteers were divided up to tour the grounds of the school with a group of girls; we saw the kitchen, classrooms, medical center, girls dorms, outside play area, fish pond, gardens and a greenhouse. Each class of girls are responsible for growing a specific vegetable - as they are served with every meal. The best way for me to explain the overall interaction of the girls with each other is to say they are like a college sorority -- everything they do is for each other.

This title of this blog explains my first 48 hours at LOH, "The Smile is a Universal Language"...although I didn't speak the language, the Locals /Girls and all of our Volunteers spoke to each other through our smiles...