*Trigger warning: this post covers topics of trauma, please proceed with caution.
It has taken 3 months for me to write this article… struggling to wrap my head around what to say and how to describe exactly what happened. In short my dream quickly turned into a nightmare and it’s taken some time to heal physically, emotionally and mentally.
Our trip to Kenya in July started much like many other international trips. Meeting the rest of the team in the capital city of Nairobi and then connecting with the local staff to discuss the schedule for the week. We had an amazing couple of days traveling north to Samburu and visiting with the child that the Stuart family sponsors. The purpose of this trip was for the entire family to travel together and experience what life in Kenya was like, specifically for their sponsored girl Naanyu.
Our founder Justin Willet was assigned to this trip as a photographer / videographer and was tasked with the following:
Document photographs of individual children and families
Film the multiple aspects of ChildFund’s programs and the impact they have in the community
Collect b-roll footage to supplement the final project
Film Mark Stuart and family visiting with their sponsored child
I’ll never forget walking through a dry river bed when we heard the sound of thousands of hoofs and looked up to see a herd of goats come running down the bank of the river. We later found out that they had walked 6 hours in search of water for the communities goats. Initially shy and a bit frightened by us and our camera equipment, we later got to hear some of Kumontare’s story. She was 16 and already a widow, raising 2 young children on her own. Her job was to tend to the livestock for the community and would walk 6-8 hours, 3-4 days a week in search of water. She was proud of her job and thankful to be put in charge of so many valuable animals. When asked what she did for school she looked at us with a puzzled expression and responded “what’s school?”
We also had the opportunity to return to the Gichohi primary school that we had visited earlier in the year where we watched as they hand dug a new well for the school. This well was funded by Lauren Daigle and it was amazing to return to this community and see a fully functional water system for the school! Previously students would carry jugs of water (sometimes for hours) from home so they could wash their hands, drink and clean the classrooms. This new water well was transforming the school and surrounding community.
On July 20th we had just finished visiting a hydroponics program and were en route back to Nairobi before flying home. We were traveling on a 3 lane road (left for traffic going up the hill, the middle for passing going up, and the right for traffic coming down. For the first time this whole week I had switched vehicles and rode in the truck with some other staff members and the entire Stuart family rode together in the Land Rover. While going up a steep incline the Land Rover attempted to pass our truck and another semi. At the same time a truck hauling a shipping container was coming down the hill and moved into the center lane. The 2nd vehicle was now surrounded with semi trucks on 3 sides and we watched as they hit head on, forcing their Land Rover backward and down over the ravine on the side of the road. As quickly as we could myself and everyone in our vehicle ran down the embankment to start assisting with everyone who was injured. I’ll spare you the gory details but there was a quick realization that we were hours from a hospital and there was no ambulance or helicopter coming. We did our best to help everyone out of the vehicle, dress wounds and come up with a plan to get help as quickly as possible. Mark Stuart had suffered the most severe physical injuries and had lost a lot of blood. I later sent a message back to the States that you hope to never have to make, “I’m fine but please pray, the other vehicle was in an accident and the Stuart’s are hurt bad. We’re headed to the hospital as quick as we can”
Thankfully the local partners were quickly notified and they arrived with additional vehicles and we were able to send the most injured ahead for treatment. Over the next several days we would sit bedside waiting for updates and hoping for the best. Thankfully everyone was able to return home and although some of the injuries are still lingering overall it could have been much worse. For the first time in my life I remember calling my wife and saying “I need to come home.” Something that I loved being a part of so much had quickly turned into a traumatic experience. I’m so thankful for all of the staff and doctors who were able to provide treatment and everyone who stopped what they were doing to pray, organize meals, and make preparations for the return home. We’ll never know all of the stories but the one’s we’ve heard are incredible of how why spread this news traveled and the amount of people who were there for us.
In hindsight there were so many incredible moments during this trip, prior to the accident, and while it’s something I’ll never forget, I continue to be committed to sharing stories from around the world and through time, healing and therapy believe we will continue to do just that.