Sarah Kenney, a Bellbrook High School graduate and Wright State University student, set out to find herself in the valley of Ecuador, through a gardening-work vacation offered by the Tandana Foundation. Working in the hollows of two lush and beautiful mountain peaks, Kenney found the importance of her life and a dream that will never be deterred.
“Gardening is really just a hobby for me. My mother was an avid gardener and I’d garden with her every summer, which is where almost all of my gardening knowledge came from prior to this trip,” Kenny said. “I’ve always felt the need to have plants and flowers wherever I live, because it just makes everything seem so peaceful and beautiful.”
Kenney’s passion is music. She is studying music with an emphasis on the flute. In her spare time, she volunteered at the Family Violence Prevention Center in child-care for a time, but had to take a break due to her school schedule. Missing the feeling of giving back to the community, she sought avenues to give back. Some of her friends had been going overseas to donate time for great causes and were able to see the world. Like any 20-year-old, Kenney was looking for the meaning of her life and thought volunteering overseas would be a great way to do just that and give back.
“I’d originally found a two-month trip to Ireland with another organization,” Kenney said. “In February, I put on a fundraising flute recital at the Bellbrook United Methodist Church to raise money for the trip. About a month later, I received an itinerary and saw that what I wanted out of the trip was not included. I decided to find another organization.”
In her search, she remembered seeing a presentation given by the founder of the Tandana Foundation, Anna Taft, during a church service at Bellbrook United Methodist Church, where she is a member. Taft provides presentations to the congregation upon return from her travels to shows all the wonderful things her organization provides to the natives of Ecuador and Mali.
“I was looking for an opportunity to use my skills, my time, and give my heart to people around the world through volunteer work, and while the Ireland program didn’t offer those things, the Tandana Foundation did,” Kenney said.
Suddenly, everything started falling into place for Kenney. She already had most of the money from her previous flute recital, so, she applied. Her application was quickly accepted and the wheels were turning in the right direction.
“I had experienced lots of volunteer opportunities here around Dayton. When I started getting involved volunteering, I knew from the start that it was for me. Knowing that I was able to make a difference, and have an impact on people who needed it more than me, gives you a selfless sort of satisfaction that you can’t get any other way,” Kenney said. “I knew that if I was as touched as I am just volunteering close to home that taking my love for helping others across the globe could be even more rewarding. And it has been, in so many ways.”
In October, Kenney packed up her essentials, headed to the airport and joined 13 volunteers in a foreign world, so different than her own. During her fall semester break at Wright State University, she spent her time in the mountains of Ecuador where the modern commodities were far behind her and ready to make a difference in the lives of so many.
On the first day, Kenney packet her back with essentials for the day, (sunscreen, hat, sunglasses, extra rain jacket, toilet paper) and took a bus to the gardening location. The roads were dirt, shacks lined the land, animals roamed around freely, and their area was surrounded by barbed-wire fences. But, the living conditions didn’t keep the native’s spirits down.
“They’re simply grateful for the fact that they have land to grow their crops on, a place to live, and food to eat,” said Kenney. “And I think we could all learn from that. I know that I am very blessed to live here in the US. We don’t know how well off we really are.”
“We typically did our most physically intense job in the morning, which varied from weeding or re-supporting the greenhouse at the Vivero, to pruning trees for saplings along a road,” Kenney continued. “One day we went to a cooking class with a young lady who had received a lot of help from the Tandana Foundation. During the cooking class, a baby chicken walked up to me. I picked it up and held it in my lap. Soon, it fell asleep and started purring! My heart, melted. You just can’t get that experience in Bellbrook.”
Kenney and the other volunteers spent four days working the Vivero and greenhouse, weeding and planting seedlings. They ventured up the mountains and planted saplings along the edge of the road to create a windbreak for the community area. The communication was not a problem since translators knew the local language, Quichwa.
“Ecuador is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. The people there were lovely,” Kenney said. “I learned a lot about the people of Ecuador, gardening, and most importantly, I learned about myself. I have beautiful memories of rolling mountains, words of kindness, and hours of hard work to put into my music-making.”
For more information regarding the Tandana Foundation, email them at email@example.com or attend an open house November 23 at 3 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. at 2933 Lower Bellbrook Rd., Bellbrook, Ohio. For information regarding volunteering, visit http://www.tandanafoundation.org/volunteer_vacations.html.