The last couple weeks of summer holidays are typically a time when young people look ahead to the upcoming school year.
But for local teen Tionna Nashiem and her mother, Kelli Kitzul, they were helping young people on another continent, and learning more about another culture.
Nashiem and Kitzul were in Kenya for two weeks in late August through a Me to We humanitarian trip. When they weren't constructing the dormitory of an all-girls' school, they were in small neighbouring communities, where they saw first-hand how difficult life can be for many in Kenya.
Kitzul and Nashiem spent three days at the Kisaruni all-girls school in Bogani, which is near the capital of Narobi. Kitzul said that the work at the school was the hardest thing she'd ever done in her life, since they didn't have cement mixers and other modern technologies found at construction sites.
"What we did in one hour … it would take them three days," said Kitzul. "It's the mixing of cement that takes so much time, because it's all done by hand and wheelbarrows. It was totally different."
They built a back floor, applied the cement to the walls, and worked on the beams. Kitzul said the project organizers didn't think that the team would get started on the beams.
"They said we worked extremely fast," Kitzul said.
There were 21 people on Kitzul and Nashiem's team.
Kitzul said they marveled at the work ethic and the studious nature of the children at the school. Classes are from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. each day.
"They wanted to do more hours, but the government wouldn't let them," Kitzul said.
Nashiem, who is now in Grade 9 at the Estevan Comprehensive School, couldn't believe how much time the Kenyan girls spent in class.
"That's too long," Nashiem said. "What I have now is just right. I can't believe that they want more hours in school."
The students at the school know much about Canada thanks to Me to We's presence in the region, too.
"They're very smart," said Kitzul. "Their English is very good. It's amazing to hear them speak English. It's hard with the accent, but … the education is very good for the girls that do go to school."
When they weren't constructing the dormitory, Kitzul, Nashiem and the other team members learned more about Kenya. In one village, Enelerai, a community leader, Mamma Jane, explained life before humanitarian teams arrived.
"You can tell where Free the Children and Me to We have been, and where they have made their impact," said Kitzul. "There's fresh water. The (water) stands are everywhere. They still have to pay for their water, but it's not much. It's clean. The garbage is being burned. It's better for the environment.
"They wash their clothes in the water now. They don't leave them on the ground; they hand-wash them. The agriculture – they're planting fruits and vegetables, and it's amazing."
Residents have also started to use cell phones.
But they didn't see any children with a toy. The young people were running around in their bare feet. And poverty is still prevalent.
The women they encountered didn't have to travel far to fetch water, but Kitzul said they still have to tote 40-pound jugs, which is hard work, especially in the African heat. Women tackle most of the other household tasks, too, she said.
Team members also toured two schools; visited the Baraka Medical Clinic, which serves over 40,000 community members and is sponsored by Free the Children; went to the Olesleshwa Farm and Greenhouse; travelled to a market; and experienced other African cultural traditions.
And they attended the opening of the Oleleshwa Girls Secondary School, which received a $1 million donation from Canadian singer Nelly Furtado. Fertado attended the opening, and stayed at Me to We's Bogani cottages at the same time as Kitzul and Nashiem.
Kitzul said Furtado was very easy to talk to, and was willing to interact with everybody.
Spending time in Africa has given them a greater appreciation for everything they have in Canada, including water, electricity and education.
"Something as simple as clean water … we've had it forever," said Kitzul. "But for them, it was amazing. Our medical system is unbelievable. We're pretty lucky to have free health care."
People have to drive up to two hours to see a doctor, she said.
Their time in Kenya has inspired Kitzul and Nashiem to take another trip through Me to We; but they haven't decided on a location. They might return to Kenya, or they might head off to another locale where humanitarian assistance is needed.