By Claudia Mathis
SUN staff writer
Nicholas Wan, a senior at Seton Catholic Central High School in Binghamton, said his life will never be the same after traveling to Kenya on Nov. 7-18. “The experience was truly life-changing,” said Nicholas. “After comparing Africa’s culture with America’s culture, I saw that the people of Kenya found true happiness while living in great poverty. It changed my outlook on life. I began to look at life more optimistically because we have every reason to be happy in the U.S.”
Nicholas traveled to Bungoma, Kenya with a 30-member team of volunteers from the Mission of Mercy, Inc. organization. The group, which included doctors and construction specialists, traveled to the small, bustling town located two hours away from Nairobi with the intent of renovating its medical clinic. The volunteers wanted to make it possible for the clinic to provide medical care for a greater number of people more efficiently.
Nicholas said he decided to participate because he wanted the opportunity to connect with people in a different part of the world. In addition to installing ceilings in the health clinic, Nicholas painted the clinic’s interior and exterior and installed plumbing systems in the building. Nicholas said he also played the piano at the local church.
It was through his interactions with the people of Bungoma that Nicholas’ perspective on life changed. “The kids had smiles that were unforgettable and their happiness was truly inspiring,” said Nicholas. “The people of Kenya sincerely touched me in a way I cannot completely explain. I connected with them, and when it was time to say good-bye, I felt like I was leaving life-long friends, although I had only known them for two weeks. I hope to visit them again in the near future.”
When Nicholas returned home he presented photos of his trip and told of his experiences in Kenya to his fellow classmates at Seton Catholic during the school’s Thanksgiving Liturgy on Nov. 20. “Everyone enjoyed the presentation,” said Nicholas. “Many people knew about my trip and they were excited to hear all about it.”
Nicholas conveyed the Kenyans’ sense of contentment and appreciation he witnessed when he was in Bungoma to the school community. “Americans have a lot more dollars,” said Nicholas in his presentation “but in many ways, Kenyans have a lot more happiness.”
Seton Catholic Central Principal Kathleen Dwyer encouraged Nicholas to give the presentation as well as to be interviewed by the local Binghamton newspaper as a way to encourage the students to reach out in similar ways, either locally or world-wide.
“I think this is an exceptional young man who wanted to make a difference in a global way,” Dwyer said.
As a result, Nicholas’ volunteer experience inspired students at his school to become involved in the Teen-to-Teen Christmas Gift Drive. The drive provided an opportunity for the students to donate Christmas gifts to teenagers in their community.
Nicholas offered his thoughts on the attainment of happiness. “Americans struggle to find happiness today because they are looking in the wrong places,” noted Nicholas. “The children I met understand something that many Americans fail to realize. The young Kenyans know that they would never find happiness and joy if they are searching amongst material things. They knew that joy comes from the relationships they have forged and that is why you always found kids together. They were always laughing and playing, enjoying life. Watching them released any stress I had because it put everything in perspective. As Americans, we all have busy schedules, college applications and work to do, but we should never allow that to rob us of our joy. I urge everyone to make sure they develop and maintain the close friendships in their lives because when the money is gone, friends always will remain.”