I’ve been watching closely as kids let down their guard. Last night, four of the Saints in one vehicle opted to all squeeze into the back seat so they could stand out of the same sunroof on the game drive. Their laughs and whispers reminded me of the students at Leparua School. When we first arrived, the primary students hid behind whatever they were holding, one even crying (likely out of fear). But within a few hours, that same student extended his arms to our Saints to be picked up and swirled around. By the time we left them yesterday, we were moved to the point of tears as two of the kids handed Cotter and Mackie necklaces to remember them by, and wouldn’t take no for an answer. The Principal of the school has more passion for his work than anyone I know, pleading to us and our Saints to come back and to stay connected. He gave us personalized certificates to thank us for our work there. He seemed well aware that our busy lives pull us away from even the most meaningful connections, and he did everything in his power to build a bridge between our schools that could not be forgotten. It is my hope that we will not forget, and we will all be back again.
It was a stark contrast to then visit with the CEO and be taken to Lewa Wilderness, the home and resort of the original owners of Lewa. The opulence wowed is, especially in contrast to our minimalist tents on this trip. Perfectly manicured lawns and gardens, warm and dimly lit lighting, an infinity pool, ping pong table, tennis court, rooms and dining patios looking out over an elephant grazing... it was proof that the conservation business is thriving and it can be even more sustainably lucrative than inhabiting this land and endangering these animals. Our Saints bought some mementos from the gift store after they enjoyed tea and cake, each remarking that they’d do anything in their power to own or stay in the 1k+/night rooms. After pictures, ping pong, tennis, and laughs it was clear that their friendships are cemented by this trip.
Watching barriers break down yesterday reminded me that all kids are just kids, and novel experiences can be frightening. But if you pursue them anyway, they can expand your world view, and build meaningful connections that can change your life.