A team of teachers who were in Kenya to support the works of Action For God’s Love had their trip shortened by the COVID-19 pandemic.
In February of this year, the Mail reported retired teachers, Irv and Corrine Gerling were setting out on their fourth trip to Marimba to volunteer at the Our Lady of Grace Home and School. Former Drumheller resident Rita Balachandran, nee Rovere, founded the charity. This year Lynn Hemming joined the Gerlings for the second time, as well as Lynn’s daughter Ashley Green.
They headed out on February 24 and were supported by local students who donated funds as well as school supplies for the children served by the school and orphanage. This was before many international travel restrictions were in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Irv tells the Mail they arrived home last Sunday, March 22, and while they were in Kenya, so far there had only been 5 positive tests for the virus.
“But between the Canadian government wanting us home and Kenya closing their schools, followed by planning to close all flights by Wednesday, the 25th, there seemed little choice but to return while we could,” said Irv.
It took a Herculean effort in logistics to book, rebook and get a flight home.
“Our planned Sunday flight with Lufthansa was cancelled, re-booked to Saturday, a day earlier, but when we arrived, we found out there were 71 people overbooked for that flight alone. So as a result, our connections from Frankfurt with Air Canada to home were gone as well,” he said. “We ended up in a line waiting for a clerk and eventually ended up on a British Airlines flight to London just after midnight. A seven-hour stopover there and a new flight to Calgary got us home without any more flight changes...relieved and exhausted.”
Despite this, the trip was rewarding.
“Working at the orphanage and school was very good for as long as it lasted. The students, teachers, and management were very appreciative of the talents, school supplies and efforts of the visiting Canadian volunteers. Throw in the Covid-19 virus affecting many aspects of life worldwide that we normally take for granted, and the unverified Chinese proverb/curse, “May you live in interesting times”, really did seem to capture the moment.”
Hemming and her daughter also had quite an experience getting home a week earlier than they planned.
“We had a great experience once again at the school and orphanage. It made it worthwhile, but a little extra effort to get home,” said Hemming. “I think we got out just in time.”
She said while the situation in Kenya appeared fairly safe with only a handful, of positive cases, they had Internet and were able to monitor the situation around the world. “We were in such a peaceful rural place. Where we were at, it was hard to imagine the world was falling apart around us,” she said.
They too had their work cut out for them to depart Kenya early, knowing conditions were changing by the hour. They did manage to make arrangements.
During their travelling experience, the airports were like ghost towns, with closed restaurants and coffee shops. The flights were staggered so there would be fewer people in the airport.
“I have flown in and out of Amsterdam and it is a busy vibrant airport and it was just dead, it was kind of eerie,” she said.
They arrived home on Monday, March 23 and now all are in self-isolation. Despite the emergency return, the trip was a success.
“We would have liked to have another week there, but we were able to provide some more materials of the school, textbooks, and books for the library, and do some team teaching and mentoring,” said Hemming, adding that many of the new books were to update the school to a new curriculum. While the government sets the curriculum, they don’t provide the materials.
Hemming was able to see some of the improvements to the school that were implemented the previous year including proper washroom facilities. She is concerned about how Kenya will fare in light of COVID-19.
“The thing about it is when it spreads there, they don’t have the infrastructure like hospitals to support people, plus people don’t have money to get the medical attention they need,” said Hemming. “It is worrisome if it spreads to those African countries, there is going to be some real hardship.”