SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. - "It has been a fantastic experience for all of us involved, and we will be forever connected to our Hekima friends," wrote Noreen Herlihy, SRU's head women's soccer coach and organization adviser, on behalf of the members of the Slippery Rock University Athletes for Forgotten Angels. The service organization spent 10 days visiting the African city of Kiserian in Kenya teaching sports clinics and handling service projects.
The SRU group headquartered at Hekima Place, an orphanage for African girls.
"To the beautiful girls of Hekima Place, thanks for the joy you gave us during our time here, the trust you placed in us, and the unspoken reminder of the power of a simple smile and a warm embrace. You are beautiful young girls, sincere, kind, funny, strong, proud and smart. Keep up the good work in school, continue to dream big and believe in yourself. We love you and are so very proud of you," Herlihy wrote as part of the group's daily blog report.
"We have experienced firsthand the power of love shown to young children desperately in need of that sense of belonging and self-worth, and it starts there. Love, compassion and education will pave the way for them to grow up and know that the cycle does not have to continue. Central to it all, is their faith and that gives them comfort and hope as they live day to day. This is the mission of Hekima Place," she wrote.
The final blog added that the group came to learn that "the education of young girls is vital. It is said that women make up 70 percent of those living in poverty across the globe. Education is the stairway that can lead them out of poverty, empowering young girls to be better than how society often views them. One thing we heard that struck us is that we are not better than the people here in Kenya, and we are not smarter; it's just that we are luckier. And it is so true! Talent is universal, opportunity is not."
Those participating from SRU had the opportunity "to see daily the plight of young children and adults on the streets and the devastating conditions they are constantly faced with in an underdeveloped country such as this and driving by the slums of Kibera opened our eyes for sure. The challenge will be, as we go back into the comforts of our lives and far away from seeing it, that we don't forget that somewhere in the world, our fellow human beings are suffering in horrific poverty. We can all make a small difference, and it can be as close to home as in our own neighborhoods and local communities, or in another part of the world."
Kiserian is a settlement in Kenya's Rift Valley province. It borders on Ongta Rongai, Ngong Town, Enoomatasiani town, and Kisamis town.
Seven SRU student-athletes, five women's soccer players and two softball players, along with Herlihy, participated in the organization's fourth international trip since 2008 and the first to Africa. The group previously visited Haiti twice and St. Lucia once in addition to its New Orleans service trip to assist in the 2009 Hurricane Katrina clean up.
Soccer players participating this year were Dana O'Neill, a physical and health education major from Leonardtown, Md.; exercise science majors Izabel Scott from Port Matilda, Nicole Krueger from Scottsdale, Ariz., and Shannon Mahoney from Port Jefferson Station, N.Y.; and Brooke Edwards, a recreation and tourism major from Huber Heights, Ohio. Softball players participating were Kalli Wakefield, a special education major from Avon Lake, Ohio, and Emily Lobdell, an early childhood education major from Warren, Pa.
Along with teaching sports clinics and playing various sports with the girls at Hekima, the student-athletes also lent a hand in gardening, food preparation, academics and various service projects around the orphanage.
Their duties included helping with "the shamba," a vegetable garden, working with the site's animals and tidying the compound. The shamba is designed to provide nearly all of Hekima's food, including potatoes, which the SRU students planted. Others in the group pulled weeds or turned soil in preparation for cabbage plants.
Kate Fletcher, who still lives at and operates the orphanage as its director, founded Hekima Place in 2005. Along with providing a safe place to live for the girls that attend, the facility provides education for all its 24 girls in secondary school, 36 girls in primary school and five in preschool.
Additional details and photos from their daily blog are available from: Rock Athletics
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