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What Mrs. Heaton Did for Summer Vacation

Jambo!!! (That’s “Hello” in Swahili.) This past summer, I had the privilege of traveling to Kenya, Africa, with a non-profit organization called Seeds to Sew International (  This organization was founded by a former teacher at Willow Creek Elementary School, Jan Ito, and her daughter, Ellyn Ito.

I was asked to teach in an African girl’s school (grades 3-7) and give a workshop to the teachers at that school. Additionally, I was invited to be involved with the Kenyan Ministry of Education to lead a workshop for 120 regional teachers, introducing them to the use of differentiation with students.  I was gone for 15 days and when I returned, it was with new appreciation, new insights, new excitement and new commitment (plus a slew of new stories and pictures).

My adventure began when I met my travel companions in New York City and flew  to Nairobi, Kenya.  After 36 hours of travel, I was thrilled my 170 lbs. of luggage had made the journey.  Most of that weight was school supplies that had been donated by students, parents, staff and friends.

photo of school supplies she took to Kenya

After collecting the baggage, I met our van driver, a native of Kenya, who remained with us from the beginning to the end of the trip. He was a source of great wisdom, safety and information!

We stayed a day in Nairobi and visited the David Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage where rescued baby elephants are brought, usually because their mothers have been poached.  We also had the opportunity to visit a giraffe sanctuary and I kissed an endangered species, the Rothschild’s giraffe. She felt like she needed to shave, with a prickly muzzle, not a velvety one like I expected.

Then we drove to a small village about 150 kilometers from Nairobi called Enoosaen.  This is where the school and the trainings were located.  It is also where the story for the picture book 14 Cows for America originated. It’s a true story worth reading, and we have copies in our library!

In Enoosaen, we stayed with a woman named Kakenya and her mother and family.  Kakenya has great prestige in the Masaii village, as she is the woman that started the all-girls school there.  She is a native of Enoosaen and as a child, had a dream — she wanted to become educated and be a teacher.  That was about twenty years ago, and it was unheard of for a girl in her tribe to be allowed to be educated beyond 8th grade.  Kakenya was able to convince her tribal leaders to let her attend high school, then leave Kenya to go to college in the United States. There she received her BA, went on to complete a Master’s degree, and has just finished her PhD in Educational Leadership from the University of Pittsburgh.  Three years ago, she returned to her village to extend her dream.  She built a school for girls (see It is a very special girls’ school, as the families must agree to allow their daughters to stay at the residential school and forgo some of the cultural traditions of the Masaii.  This was the school where I taught.

photo of Lisa Heaton and Kakenya Mugoh


My new friend, Kakenya Mugoh

Working with the native girls grades 4 through 7 was such a special opportunity!  One of the things I was struck by was how little they have, but how happy they are!  The school has intermittent electricity and is especially fortunate to have running water! 

photo of girls blowing bubbles

One of the joys of working with the girls was their enthusiasm for things we take for granted.  Books and Bubbles . . . they were fascinated by them!  It was a complete delight to see the girls immersed in the excitement of discovery and awe!  Something as simple as bubbles brought a world of enthralling enchantment.

photo of girls looking at donated book

And the books were swallowed with complete absorption! They were so thankful for the special supplies I brought, most of them donated by Willow Creek Elementary School students, parents and staff!

I was deeply moved by the teachers and their expression of appreciation for our help.  We had a chance to talk about so many student and curricular goals, as well as ways of presenting curriculum that help students learn.  It was just the beginning of what I hope is a long-continued relationship!

As we left the village, I was struck by the simplicity of their lives . . . not simple in the sense of easy, but uncomplicated in what makes up their daily schedules.  They almost all walk where they need to go.  They grow what they need to eat.  With no electricity, evening entertainment was to sit around a table in the glow of solar lanterns, talking and laughing and sharing.  This sounds somewhat glamorous, but the reality of the hardships they face makes one realize how fortunate we are.  Unemployment is 56% + in Kenya, and the average wage of a Kenyan is $1 per day.  Mothers struggle daily to feed their children.

photo of boy with homemade soccer ball
Boy with a homemade soccer ball

While there, I was able to spend some time with the Seeds to Sew group, as they taught women sewing skills to create recyclable gift bags. These bags are then sold here in the United States and the money is returned to the women in need.  This money is used by the women for their children’s basic necessities, with their highest priority being food and tuition for schools.

photo of woman sewing

The last two-and-a-half days of my experience in Africa, I had the incredible opportunity of going on safari.  I saw wildlife on the roadside like we see cattle in a field.  I was especially thrilled with the zebra, giraffe, gazelle, waterbuck and lion sightings!  I was very thankful to have good cameras to capture the amazing animals!!

photo of impala
Impala (African Antelope)

photo of pregnant lioness

A sleeping pregnant lioness resting in a tree

photo of waterbuck
Majestic male waterbuck

photo of zebras


Overall, my travel was an experience that is hard to try to articulate in few words (as is evidenced by this lengthy piece).  I think I learned more about the world than what I was able to share.  I am currently in conversation with the Seeds to Sew organization to figure out a way for Willow Creek Elementary School to partner with them for a global awareness opportunity.

Asante Sana (“Thank You” in Swahili) for taking time to read about my 2012 African Adventure!

Photo of girls working in a classroom
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