Each summer, Q (Mr. Clarke) takes a trip to Kenya to deliver clothing, medical supplies, and other items to two schools he helped create. Started as a Blair service trip years ago, Blair In Kenya “has grown into a significant player in the Kenyan scene.” This year, he once again opened the trip up to Blair students, and I interviewed him about his latest student trip over spring break, along with some of his favorite memories and hopes for the future of the organization.
SD (Savannah Doelfel): What is the general overview of what you did on the trip?
QC (Quint Clarke): We did two things. We visited one of our Blair in Kenya schools where a major focus was teaching the students and teachers how to play basketball. We had just built new basketball courts, and we had three basketball players, two basketball coaches, and Ellie Chi. And then the second major thing we did was go on a safari.
SD: What was it like interacting with the children at the school?
QC: Well, it’s an incredible feeling. I have an advantage over everyone else, as I’ve known these kids now for years because I go twice a year. We tend to work with the same kids, so I know a lot of their names and a lot of their faces, and I have a relationship with most of them. It’s an amazing experience to be able to do something for somebody else and make them smile and laugh. They’re so excited to see us–it’s sort of like being a celebrity, in a weird way. You walk in, and everyone’s staring at you, they’re running up to you, they want to hang out, and I think it’s really a special, amazing experience for us.
SD: Do you have a favorite memory with them?
QC: No, probably not. I don’t think there’s one [specific] thing that stands out. And, I mean, it’s not always fun–it’s hard work. It’s hot, there is no running water, the electricity is spotty, it’s dirty, and frequently people violate your personal space. My favorite moment [from the last trip] had to do with basketball. We brought 40 basketballs with us, and I was terrified that [the children] were going to make them into soccer balls and kick them all around. That was going to be my nightmare–when they took a basketball and started playing soccer with it. So, [we were]teaching them basketball the whole week, and on the last day this little girl comes up and grabs a soccer ball and starts dribbling it. And I said okay, we succeeded, because they’re actually trying to play basketball with the soccer balls.
SD: How are people’s lifestyles in Kenya different than in the US?
QC: I think the fundamentals are the same. Everyone wants the same thing. They want their kids to have a happy a life, they want enough food to eat, they want a safe environment, and they want enough money to be able to do things. But the way they get there is so different. They are walking on dirt roads in bare feet, they get their water from a river that runs nearby, and they chop wood to build fires. Life is much harder there. In that sense, it’s almost incomparable. But in other ways, it is like Blairstown–it’s a rural community with farms.
SD: What made you want to do this in Kenya particularly?
QC: Well, I love traveling. I’ve travelled all over the world, and I like new cultures, new people, and seeing different things. But in 2003, I went with Mr. Sykes, Mrs. Sykes, a Blair friend of mine, and another Blair teacher (there was five of us). We went to Kenya, Uganda, and Rwanda. I was blown away by the country and decided to bring students. Then, in 2004, I started taking Blair kids on a cultural immersion experience, and over time, the community service started up.
SD: What goals has Blair in Kenya accomplished, and what do you hope to accomplish in the future?
QC: My main goal is to give these two communities something that is permanent [so] that they don’t need me [to run things anymore]. Eventually I can leave, and there [will be] something there that can last. We’re really working on five different angles. There are two schools that we are building, we have a microfinance project to spark business innovation, we sponsor 150 kids for their education, and we have a medical clinic each June. The schools are ⅔ finished, so my hope is we finish these schools in the near term, and then at some point I can say I’m done with that project. At that point, I totally turn this over to the community and let them run with it. I’ve been really clear in saying that we’ve not been doing it for them: we’re doing it with them and trying to give them a hand-up, but they have to eventually take responsibility.
SD: How can students who don’t go on the Kenya trip help out?
QC: Everybody wants to do things, but the best thing people can do is help us raise money. That is what’s needed to build the school and the medical clinic. I have all kinds of different people who are donating money. You can sponsor a child, but the main thing we need is money, and we’re trying to raise around $100,000 a year, which is a lot of money for this. 100% of the money we raise goes to the cause (we don’t take any overhead), but that’s the main thing. I know people want to hear that they collect clothes or books, but the truth is that money is the main thing that is needed to keep this project going.
Note: Students who are still interested in supporting Blair In Kenya are encouraged to donate any re-saleable items and scrap fabric they have. A tag sale will once again be held next fall, and all proceeds will be sent to Blair In Kenya (and Q will be selling fabrics by the pound). Collection points will be set up in each dorm and the day rooms for students willing to participate. Additionally, more info about Blair In Kenya can be found at http://www.blairinkenya.com/.
(Copyright Savannah Doelfel 2017)