If there’s one Instagrammer you must follow this week, make sure it’s Greeny Nomad. This Italian explorer is all about eco travel and inspiring adventures. And her latest adventure took her to Kenya where she spent a day volunteering at a small school and giving back to the community.
It’s this kind of travel I love the most; off-the-beaten-path experiences you can’t book in advance or find reviews on TripAdvisor.
Wanting to make a difference while traveling through Kenya, Alessia reached out to a guide and asked if she could visit a local school. You can read more about Alessia’s incredible experience here.
I needed to know more, though! I wanted to know how Alessia got to Kenya. Why Kenya? How did she get involved in helping communities along her travels? So I asked her a few questions…
Tell us why you started traveling and what motivated you to travel responsibly?
I grew up listening at my father’s stories. He is a research geologist and he literally traveled the world with his job. As a researcher, obviously, he had to travel in a particular way, he had to live with locals and in their way, he has never been a tourist and I decided I’ll never be a tourist too.
I fell in love with his experience with locals, the amount of things he learnt is incredible.. sadly, in my live I had no one with whom to share my passion, everyone wanted to stay at a hotel, with comfort and luxury.. I didn’t, I don’t even like these things.. but one day I met my actual boyfriend, and everything changed! He shares exactly my idea of travel and finally I’m able to live the experience I dreamt about when I was a kid.
Regarding the “responsible travel”, well I realized that if I want to travel and bring home something special that is not just a souvenir, I have to respect the place I visit and especially the people who live there.. it comes natural to me.. my motto is “the beauty of the Earth is the reason why we travel, and we must preserve it!”
That’s a good question. I have this problem with the “bucket list” as mine is something like.. the whole world! I’m very curious and I truly want to see the entire world and meet as many different cultures as I can. I think that the main reason I ended up in Kenya is because of my boyfriend, he always told me that his dream was to see the sunset while doing a safari in Africa, and that he would have wanted to share that moment with me. I am an animal lover, I hate zoos and circus, I hate the cruelty of humanity against them.. so you can imagine how excited I was when he asked me to go with him to see all those wonderful animals in all their freedom! Plus, I was particularly intrigued by this people called the Masai, that have resisted the modernization and have maintained their lifestyle, cult and everything as the origin. I saw them at their cattle market (they traditionally live with livestock farming), I saw them in their villages… they are incredible and make you feel the real Africa!
Was it easy to get a visa for Kenya and to travel there?
I think nowadays traveling even for long distances is way simple. I’m Italian, but I had no problem in organizing my trip and flight. We never use travel agencies from Italy, we do it by ourselves and everything worked out. Getting the visa was easy too, you just have to go on http://evisa.go.ke/evisa.html, create an account, follow the steps and here’s your e-visa! Once you arrive in Kenya, if you want to move from Nairobi to Mombasa, or vice-versa, the first thing you’ll find are the internal flights. But, as a responsible traveller should do, we took the train! Yes, in 2017 the new railway service was launched! In just 6 hours you reach the cities, view wonderful landscapes and spend only $8 for the incredible second class section with air conditioning and comfortable seats!
Tell us about your visit to a local school in Kenya. How did this opportunity come about?
As I said, I made myself the promise to travel in the way my father did, and what place better than Kenya to do that? As I was traveling with other people, I couldn’t do days and days of volunteering or any other big things I had in mind.. I did some research on the internet but the activities proposed by agencies and local guides were too “touristy” and none of them were actually doing anything useful for locals. As I’m not a quitter, I decided to reached out to a local guide asking if he could let me visit the school where he was carrying out his project and he was glad to involve me!
As you can imagine, this experience changed my life. I’ve always wanted to volunteer, but I’d never had the chance until that day. Before reaching the school, the guy took us into some shops. We bought a lot of biscuits, as they were for all the children, then we went to another shop where we chose gifts like balls, reusable water bottles and notebooks. He told us that notebooks are something not everyone can afford, so giving students a notebook can be a great gift, especially for their families, but after that, he said another thing that made me remain speechless. I asked him why we were taking just those gifts, that clearly it wouldn’t be enough for all the children and he said “here, children are not so motivated to complete their studies, they do not have all the possibilities you have. So, to motivate them, every year while celebrating the last day party, teachers reward the 3 best children of each class. In this way, the children who have not received the award will study more the following year.”
We finally arrived at the school while the children were already performing their shows—from poems, to choir songs and typical dances, those children were so magical.
I loved their traditional music, and seeing the smiles in parent’s faces made me feel a joy I can’t even describe.
The ceremony was touching… the teacher began to call the 3 students with the highest grade for each class, starting from the classes of the little ones (there were children from 3 to 16). While I was delivering gifts, I noticed that none of the children were smiling; they actually seemed scared and this made me think “maybe I’m doing something wrong”. But then I realized they were just too happy to react; they were frozen. When I remember that moment, I feel something incredible inside, like a force that reminds me that happiness is made by simple things, but we are too spoiled to appreciate it.
When they showed us their school, they were so excited and happy, we were some strange people who gave them attention and importance, and they could feel it!
I loved spend that day with them, they filled my heart with joy and hope; hope for a better world where everyone recognize the importance of little things and that the happiness is in those things.
This initiative I took literally changed my whole trip in Kenya. Without this experience I’m almost sure that my bag of memories would not have been so full and excitement. This is why I hope that my story can encourage you to do the same. If you want to make the difference, if you want something more than just the usual organized trip made by everyone else, just act. Think of what you really want, ask around and find a way to do that! Trust me, you will not regret it!
For other travelers wanting to make a positive impact while traveling, what are your tips?
As I say in my #GreenyTravel section on my blog, if you want to start traveling more consciously and deeply, you do not have to do impossible transformations or give up all the things you usually do and you like but, on the contrary, you just have to change the way you look at the world and at your trip; you can do the same things, but with a different and better visual. Being a responsible traveller does not only bring benefits to the place and people we are visiting—it gives you a chance to bounce yourself from your routine and normal life, and you can be the true version of yourself, and open your mind and your heart to understand the beauty and every little shade of the culture you are a guest of.
So, here my SUPER EASY 5 advices to be a responsible traveller without any effort!
1- Collect as much information as possible about the culture and habits of the country before leaving; this way you can avoid behaviors that could offend locals.
2- Interact with locals, respect them, the environment and the animals.
3- Minimize your waste and do not dispose of it in the environment—this is something you should do every time, not just while traveling. Always bring your reusable bottle with you, as well as filters to purify water, and a bag in which store the waste you produce.
4- Support the local economy: go to local restaurants, choose local agencies and shop artisanal souvenirs.
5- Educate others on becoming responsible travelers too, share your experiences and demonstrate that traveling consciously is a wonderful thing for ourselves too!
Rachel Ruiz-Oakley is the Managing Editor of Slide Night.