Blog | The HALO Awards
- Posted on 09/20/2013 by Rachel1016
Photo Credit: Benjamin Kay
As you've probably heard, the 2013 HALO Awards are coming this November! Since 2009, the HALO Awards have recognized outstanding teens who go above and beyond to make the world a better place. One of the coolest things about the HALO Awards is being able to see the amazing work of past honorees long after they've been recognized by TeenNick. So this week, we caught up with 2009 HALO Honorees Team Marine, a Santa Monica-based student environmental science and advocacy group, and we learned that they're about unveil a mind-blowingly AWESOME project.
Photo Credit: Benjamin Kay
Four years in the making, the all-star students of Team Marine have completed the conversion of a '71 Volkswagen Bug into an all-electric vehicle. Basically, this means this cruiser can take on the freeway without relying on gas. The record-breaking car is the first known 100+ mile range plug-in retrofitted by high school students, and when it comes to incorporating sustainability into our everyday life, electric cars are a large part of the solution.
Photo Credit: Benjamin Kay
So, just how did these environmental whiz kids make it happen? Former Team Marine co-captain, Ivan Morales, gave us the lowdown: "This project began in 2009 when the Poon-Fear family donated the Bug to Team Marine for a gas to electric conversion project. Team Marine members from different years have worked on making this conversion a reality. The first step was removing gasoline related components. Another team purchased and installed the motor while another performed measurements to find how many batteries could fit in the car. As such, this project was a collaborative effort among different students over a span of 4 years."
Being that the team is comprised of high schoolers, the number of students that make up Team Marine varies from year to year. Angelina Hwang, current co-captian of Team Marine gave us some insight on how different members take on different roles: "As members graduate and new members join the organization, we adapt to different roles. For members such as myself who have been part of Team Marine since the initial stages of the car, we have had the chance to work directly with the car conversion process. Members who recently joined Team Marine have been focusing on the media coverage and publicity aspects of the car project."
Photo Credit: Benjamin Kay
The team plans to debut the car, cleverly named Volts Wattson, at the Santa Monica AltCar Expo this weekend. But their initiative doesn't stop there! Team Marine member Katie Oran says, "After the debut of the car at the AltCar Expo we plan on using the car as a 'lesson plan on wheels' teaching as many people about electric cars, renewable energy, and the effects that combustion cars have on the environment; especially ocean acidification and climate change." That is a mighty check-list, my friends. As if you needed any more convincing, these kids are doing big things.
Photo Credit: Benjamin Kay
We asked the members of Team Marine what advice they might have for other students who are interested in becoming involved in environmental advocacy, but may not have an outlet like Team Marine. They said that activism doesn't necessarily mean that you have to join an official organization; it starts with lifestyle changes. Whether it's buying a reusable water bottle or cutting down on your plastic use, small steps can make a big difference. And we couldn't agree more.
Feeling inspired by the superstars of Team Marine? Want to show us how YOU work to make the world a better place?! We're collecting videos of teens giving back and we want to see you! Show us your HALOing moves by uploading a Vine or InstaVid to Twitter @TeenNick using the hashtag #HALOawards. There's even a chance your video could appear on air! Be sure to come back soon for more details about the 2013 HALO Awards coming to you in November!
- Posted on 09/17/2013 by Rachel1016
We're collecting videos of teens giving back and we want to see you! Starting now, we're asking all you amazing do-gooders to show us your HALOing moves by uploading a Vine or Instavid to Twitter @TeenNick using the hashtag #HALOawards — tell us, show us, inspire us! There's even a chance your video could appear on air! Be sure to come back soon for more details about the 2013 HALO Awards coming to you in November!
- Posted on 11/19/2012 by Lisa
We'll be live-tweeting the TeenNick HALO Awards tonight (8pm on Nick@Nite)! If you're on Twitter, please join us, using the hashtag #HALOawards.
Here's a pic of this year's honorees on the orange carpet at the HALO Awards ceremony. From left to right: Kylie Lan Tumiatti, Taylor Waters, Matt Ferguson, and Allyson Ahlstrom. Doesn't everybody look fancy?
Check out more pictures from the orange carpet, including Nick Cannon, Neon Trees, Ne-Yo, Carlos Pena, Jr, James Maslow, Lucy Hale, and Victoria Justice in this flipbook.
- Posted on 11/19/2012 by Lisa
I spoke with Taylor Waters, who volunteers with the Red Cross to help people prepare for -- and recover from -- disasters. Learn more about Taylor, and see her reaction to meeting Josh Duhamel, in this video:
Can you talk about the very first steps you took when you decided to get involved with the Red Cross?
In January of 2010, my grandmother's house burned down. I saw the assistance that the Red Cross gave her, and I really wanted to help people through the Red Cross, because they were such an amazing comfort for her. Not only did they help her out financially, she was able to get clothes and that kind of thing. They were also like a rock, not only for her, but for my family, because we were all in so much shock and we wanted to be there for her. They were able to provide amazing support during a personal disaster for her. A lot of times you see disasters on the news, but house fires are just as devastating.
Does the Red Cross encourage young people to volunteer?
As an organization, they definitely encourage youth involvement, and there's TONS of youth involved in the Red Cross. My age wasn't an issue, and they had open arms to welcome to me.
What kinds of stuff have you done with them?
Right after my grandmother's house burned down in February, I raised over $30,000 for disaster services. That was just having different fundraisers: holding a concert, having a spaghetti lunch and dinner, making bracelets, selling cookies... things like that. A bunch of things that went on throughout the month of February.
That's really cool. What have you found challenging about your volunteer work?
Yes. I think one of the most challenging things that I've done with the Red Cross was work on the tornado in my hometown, because it really was devastating to see all the things that you see all the time, just flattened. That was really, really hard for me. It was so amazing and so rewarding to give people a little peace of hope after that happened, but it was really hard, emotionally.
Out of all the time you've spent working with the Red Cross, are there any moments that really stand out?
Gosh, there's so many. After the tornado, there was this family that we were working with, and their house was literally gone. There were steps going up to where their house should've been, but there was no house there. And this little boy... he was like 5 years old, and he and his dad hid under a mattress, and pretty much them and the mattress were the only things that were left. So he was scared and he was upset, and we were working with the family, and I found a stuffed duck that was underneath some rubble in the road. It ended up being his duck, and it was amazing to give that to him. It was like I'd just handed him hope in the form of a stuffed duck. He had something familiar, and he knew that he could make it to tomorrow. To be that person, in such a hard time, for such a small child was amazing.
I am totally crying over the stuffed duck. That is so wonderful.
I'm tearing up explaining it to you.
I feel like the HALO awards probably inspire so many young people to get involved for the first time. What advice would you give someone -- another teenager -- who maybe wants to get started, but doesn't know how?
I think a lot of teens want to get involved, but 1. They don't know how, and 2. They don't think they can. You can make a difference and change the world. I know it sounds so clich�, but I really feel that if you want to do something, you can. For the Red Cross -- and other organizations, too -- all you have to do is call. The worst thing anyone can ever tell you is "No." And when you work with the community like that, you don't realize it at the time, but you're changing yourself, too. There are so many great opportunities that can come out of it, and you grow as a person. It's really a great thing. When you're working with the Red Cross, people are amazing. They're so supportive, and so nice, like a family unit. You may walk in and have your reservations, but they'll make you feel so at home and so comfortable. In one sentence: You can make a difference, and all it takes is a phone call.
That's so true. Can you tell me a bit about your HALO hit?
It was crazy. I had no idea whatsoever. Usually, I'm pretty good at telling when people want to surprise me. I'm usually that person that ruins the surprise because they figure it out. But I had no idea. So I was holding a Red Cross interest meeting at my university, and we were having a scavenger hunt... [SEE THE REST TONIGHT AT 8PM on NICK@NITE!]
What was it like meeting Josh Duhamel?
He is amazing! He does amazing work for the Red Cross, and he's a real person. [Watch what happened when Josh and Taylor met, tonight at 8pm on Nick@Nite!]
What is one thing you'd like everyone who reads this interview to do?
Get involved! Find something that you really enjoy, and get involved with it.
Are you on Twitter?
I am: @_astoldbyTaylor
I hope you'll live-tweet the show with us! It'll be like we're all watching together. I'm so excited that I got to talk to you.
One last thing I'd like to add if that's okay is that I'm really thankful for this entire opportunity. It's been a really great opportunity for myself, for the Red Cross, for my hometown, and everybody has been so nice and so supportive. I'm really really really really thankful.
Well, I'm thankful you exist! Thanks for talking to me.
Thank you! Have a great day.
For more about how Taylor Waters Helps And Leads Others, don't miss the TeenNick HALO Awards tonight at 8pm on Nick@Nite!
- Posted on 11/14/2012 by Lisa
I talked to Matt Ferguson, one of the 2012 TeenNick HALO Award honorees. He started Matt's Chemo Bags after his mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. Watch this clip to see how Matt reacted when he met Emma Stone:
When you decided to start Matt's Chemo Bags, what were the first steps you took?
Well I was kind of already involved in something similar. From the fifth grade, I was making tie blankets with a bunch of elementary school classes for retirement homes, and so I did that for probably five or six years, until my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. Then I started making those tie blankets for oncology clinics.
When my mom first started visiting the oncology clinic, I started delivering blankets, and it evolved into something completely out of my hands. It's so big, it's crazy. I got the idea for the bags from my aunt, who had given a bag to my mom for Christmas that was full of like, pretty much the same things that I put in my bags. I thought it was just so neat how my mom took that bag with her everywhere she went. It was like Mary Poppins' bag in there -- she was pulling out all sorts of fun stuff, and it seemed like it was just endless.
A big bag of useful stuff!
Yeah, there was a tie blanket in there, a small lap pillow, Sudoku, candy, everything. The idea of the bag is to have all these things that kinda keep one comfortable while they're away from home, and bringing that home aspect with them. When I visited the oncology clinics, I saw that a lot of the ladies didn't have what my mom had with that bag. They just came in with like a book and a blanket or something, and that's it. They were all alone, and I wanted to give what my mom had to everybody.
That's so cool. What has been your biggest challenge so far with this project?
The most challenging part is getting it spread out, getting it to other states.
And how do you do that?
It's mostly just through school, with the OASC and 4H and stuff like that. It's just word of mouth. I would deliver the bags, and every bag has a little pamphlet on my story and what I want them to get out of the bag. A lot of times, people will contact me asking how they can help, and they're involved with so-and-so organization, and they can do something for the bags... and that's usually fantastic. Like, I've had people from quilting clubs and girl scout troops contact me, and they've made like 40 or 50 pillows and really nice quilts.
I love that you're getting other community groups involved in it, too.
I've kind of evolved from just some kid making blankets in a basement for oncology clinics to something that has the entire community involved. So many different members of the community come together for this common purpose, because so many people have been affected by breast cancer, and cancer in general.
Do you have any one single moment from this project that you're really proud of?
I receive a lot of thank you letters, I try to take the time and read every single one, and reply to the emails. I received a letter from the oncology clinic, from a lady's daughter, and the letter pretty much said that the daughter was upset that her mom couldn't have written the letter. She said when her mom received the blanket, it was the first time she smiled in months. She wore the blanket with her everywhere she went, she always had it around her, and I later heard from the oncology clinic that the lady died in the blanket that I gave her. It's that stuff that lets me know that I'm doing the right thing.
I think a lot of people are interested in getting more involved in their communities, but they don't know where to start. What advice would you give someone in that situation?
One thing I say when I speak to schools is that it doesn't matter what you're given in life, what walk of life you're from... if you have time, you can give back to your community. I strongly believe in that. You don't have to have money or anything like that. It can be as extreme as starting your own nonprofit, or just going and helping at a soup kitchen in your community. If you have a passion for something, you've got to find how your passion can help people.
Ooh, I love that! This is a more personal question, and you don't have to answer it if you don't want to. After everything you've been through, what advice would you give a teenager who just found out that their mom or someone they love has cancer?
It's actually really hard, because everybody takes it a different way. I've spoken to a few kids who went through what I went through. I'm one of those people that tries to stay strong for the people around me. I bottle up my emotions. I would say to channel what they feel and make good out of it. Take your family's adversity and make it into an opportunity to do something awesome. Whether it's helping out your mom at home, or volunteering to help out at a clinic... just don't turn it into something bad. Don't channel your anger into doing something bad. That's not the right way to handle it. In the end, it just makes it worse.
That's a great answerSo let's talk about your HALO hit. How did that go? How did Nick Cannon surprise you?
It was actually really cool. We were all sitting around making bags and blankets, and Nick was filming, but I thought it was just a normal thing. Then... [WATCH THE HALO AWARDS on Nov. 19th FOR DETAILS!!]
What was it like meeting Emma Stone?
At first I didn't recognize her because of the blond hair, but then she started talking and I could tell it was her by her mannerisms and stuff. She's exactly the same in movies as she is out of movies. She's, like, a really funny, goofy person. She's a lot of fun to talk to. It was awesome.
Did anything about her surprise you?
It surprised me how down-to-earth and cool she was. Also, she's really short! I honestly thought she'd be taller.
What is one thing you'd like everyone who reads this interview to do?
Find your passion and use it to your advantage. Help people through your passion.
Are you on Twitter?
Yes! I'm @matthew_fergie.
Thank you so much for talking to me! And please livetweet the show with us when it airs on Nick@Nite!
Yeah, that'll be really cool. Thanks for interviewing me!
For more about how Matt Ferguson Helps And Leads Others, don't miss the TeenNick HALO Awards on Monday, November 19th at 8pm et on Nick@Nite!
- Posted on 11/10/2012 by Lisa
I spoke with Allyson Ahlstrom, founder of Threads for Teens, an organization that collects clothing and distributes it to disadvantaged girls. Watch this video to see how she reacted when she met Tyra Banks -- and read the interview below for Allyson's tips on getting more involved in your own community.
Can you talk a bit about how Threads for Teens got started?
I read a book called Generation Change by Zach Hunter. It's about different service projects that other teenagers have done. I've volunteered my whole life, and I wanted to do my own service project, but I kept thinking I was too young to do anything. Reading this book, I was like "Oh my gosh, a 12 year old started an organization to stop human trafficking. I'm two years older and I can definitely do something."
On January 17, 2010, I came up with the idea to do a clothing project, and it was Threads for Teens. In the next week, I sent out over 300 letters to different companies that I found online. Within the first couple hours of sending emails, I had my first donation.
That's awesome! It's interesting to me that at first, you thought you were too young -- until you read that book. But do you think being young also helped you get attention for the project?
Oh yeah, of course. In the letter I send out, the first sentence is "Hi, my name is Allyson Ahlstrom, and I'm 17 years old." So when I started, it said "I'm 14 years old." So, I'm definitely going to be a little bit sad when I turn 18!
Awww! I'm sure you'll still be amazing when you're 18. When you decided to do a service project, what drew you to fashion?
At the time, I was super into fashion design. I wanted to be a fashion designer really badly. I've always been into knitting and sewing and crocheting and whatever, so I was taking a lot of sewing classes and drawing classes. When I first read Generation Change, I thought "OK, what can you do?" and I immediately thought of fashion. Then I started thinking about foster kids, and how clothing is definitely a needed item... I think it was just the right timing.
I love that you're helping people find clothes that really work for them, and that build their self-esteem. Can you tell me one or two items that you think EVERY girl should own?
One would be a blazer, because a blazer can really dress an outfit up professionally. Like, as an example, I was at an event the other night, and I was wearing this really cute polka dot dress. It wasn't exactly appropriate for the event, but with the blazer, it dressed it up a bit and made the outfit look more professional as a whole. Also: definitely a black dress, which is so common, but it's so helpful when going to events. I go to a lot of events, and having a go-to thing that's cute and simple really helps out. I think a black dress is great. It's just easy.
What would you say has been your proudest moment with Threads for Teens?
One thing that really sticks out to me is from when the boutique first opened. A girl named Britney, who was really shy -- but nice and smiley -- came in. She was really excited with the clothes she got. What was really a testament to how well Threads for Teens works was, a year later, I heard from her social worker that they'd noticed a change in her after her shopping appointment. Britney had gotten the motivation to be a mechanic, and she's in trade school for that. That's one of the things that I like to think about... that it's a long-term project, not just short-term.
What has been the most challenging part of starting your own organization?
When I first started, I thought that getting donations of clothing would be hard, but I was completely wrong, because I got tons of clothing donations. But what I found out was really tough, and I was not anticipating this, was actually finding girls to shop at the boutique, you know... girls that would be eligible, that need the project, girls in foster care. That was tough at first. I had the opening date set for August 3, 2010, and I was scrambling at the end of July to round up a bunch of girls to come to the shop. It was tough, because I was explaining what I was doing to social workers, and I don't think they really understood it.
And they're probably so busy, too, that you're just adding another thing for them to think about.
Exactly, and it's so different. They're thinking, here's this 14-year-old trying to tell me to bring my kid to get some clothes... It was tough, but luckily I came in contact with a woman who's the head of an organization called CASA, which is Court-Appointed Special Advocates. She came to see the boutique before it started, and she just loved it and recommended it to people in her program, and thankfully ever since then I don't have to work as hard to find the girls. The social workers fill out a form on my website, and then they can make an appointment.
What advice would you give someone who has never done any volunteering, but wants to get involved in their community?
The first thing I would recommend is to talk to friends and family members, because there's gonna be someone that does some kind of volunteering. Let's say they talk to an aunt who's really into working with animals at animal shelters, and that's someone to talk to about volunteering in general. You can find more resources through networking, or just go straight to Google and look for organizations about things you're passionate about. One of the things I always say is that you need to find something you're passionate about -- or else you're not gonna want to go. What I recommend is to volunteer at several different places and figure out what you like, and what you don't like, until you find the perfect fit. That way you have fun when you're going, and that makes a difference. If you're just there because your mom made you or whatever, it's gonna show in the work you're doing. You need to be happy and give your full self. You need to be 100% present when you're volunteering. To go beyond volunteering and start a project, just go out there and do it and don't be afraid to ask others for help.
I love what you said about how you can just go Google it -- that's how I found the organization that I volunteer with! So, let's talk about the HALOs! How did you find out you'd won?
Well, Nickelodeon called me back in August saying they might want to interview me for a blog post about teenagers doing service work. So they got there, and there were like a million people! And then... [WATCH THE HALO AWARDS on Nov. 19th FOR DETAILS!!]
What was it like meeting Tyra Banks? Is there anything about her that surprised you?
I knew a lot about Tyra, but one thing that surprised me was just how much of a businesswoman she is. Behind the scenes, she is so powerful, and always wanting to learn more and do more. That's what I really admire about her... she does so much. She's not like, some puppet being told what to do. She's a decision-maker. I really admire her passion for the Lower Eastside Girls Club and for the Tyra Banks T-Zone.
What are your plans for Threads for Teens in the future?
Next summer, Threads for Teens is going on a 48-state tour. We're outfitting a semi truck to be a mobile boutique, and we're going to do the 48 continental states and D.C. About a thousand girls will receive a new outfit, and I'm really excited about that. We'd love it if people from around the country came out and visited the boutique while we're in their state. My plan for the far-off future is that I want to have brick-and-mortar store in all 50 states.
I would be so excited for that to happen, and I believe you can make it happen!
Oh me, too.
What is one thing you'd like to ask everyone who reads this interview to do?
Definitely check out the Threads for Teens Facebook page.
You're on Twitter, too, right (@threadsforteens)? Want to live-tweet the HALOs with us?
Yeah, that'll be cool. I just have to download a Twitter app for my phone.
Allyson, thanks so much for talking to me.
Thanks for taking the time to interview me!
For more about how Allyson Angstrom Helps And Leads Others (and to watch her be surprised by Nick Cannon and Tyra Banks!) don't miss the TeenNick HALO Awards on Monday, November 19th at 8pm et!
- Posted on 11/01/2012 by Lisa
At the fourth annual TeenNick HALO Awards, Tyra Banks, Justin Bieber, Josh Duhamel and Emma Stone will join Nick Cannon to honor four teens who are Helping And Leading Others. The 90-minute special premieres Monday, Nov. 19 at 8pm on Nick at Nite, and will feature musical performances by Ne-Yo and Neon Trees.
"Each year we continue to be inspired by young people giving of themselves and we are honored to give back to them. We applaud these HALO honorees and their outstanding commitment to service on a local and national level." - Nick Cannon, TeenNick HALO Awards creator, executive producer, and host.
If you've seen the HALOs in the past, you know just how amazing and inspiring this show is. Watching Nick Cannon surprise hardworking teens to reward them for their efforts pretty much always makes me cry. I'm so excited to learn more about this year's honorees:
Allyson Ahlstrom, 17, Santa Rosa, California
Allyson Ahlstrom combined her love of fashion and community service to create Threads for Teens, an organization that collects and distributes clothing to disadvantaged girls. She provides one-on-one support to the girls as they shop, bonding over fashion, talking about their lives and sharing motivational advice. Allyson's HALO match, Tyra Banks, started TZONE at the Lower Eastside Girls Club, providing workshops, mentoring, and community activities to help girls develop their self-esteem.
Matt Ferguson, 18, Hillsboro, Oregon
Matt Ferguson was inspired to start Matt's Chemo Bags after finding out his mom had been diagnosed with invasive breast cancer. He started putting together bags of essential items (body lotion, tissues, a handmade blanket, a lap pillow, a pen and notebook, and lots of other stuff) to comfort women who are going through chemotherapy. Matt's HALO match, Emma Stone, is an advocate for Stand Up To Cancer, an organization that raises funds for innovative cancer research.
Kylie Lan Tumiatti, 16, West Melbourne, Florida
Abandoned at birth in Gaoming, China, Kylie Lan Tumiatti was adopted into a loving family that instilled in her a passion for giving back to the community. After watching her younger sister and other adoptees struggle with learning English, Tumiatti partnered with Operation HOPE Florida to create a literacy program that helps children build language skills. Kylie's HALO match, Justin Bieber, is a big supporter of Pencils of Promise, which works to build schools in developing countries.
Taylor Waters, 19, Sanford, N.C.
Taylor Waters' belief in giving back to her community stems from her personal experiences with disaster. She works with her hometown American Red Cross, is establishing her own Red Cross Club at East Carolina University and, networks with teens across the country as part of the American Red Cross Youth Council. Taylor's HALO match is Josh Duhamel, who supports the disaster relief efforts of the American Red Cross and was recently honored by the organization with a "Crystal Cross Award" for humanitarianism.
I love everything about the HALO Awards! I can't wait to see them on November 19th, and I hope you'll all be watching too.
- Posted on 10/16/2012 by Lisa
Once a year, celebrities honor teens who Help And Lead Others, and I watch it all happen and cry. It's that time again!
I think the HALO Awards are one of the most inspiring, impressive, and meaningful award shows out there, and I'm looking forward to watching (and crying) again this year! If you've never seen the HALOs, watch clips from previous HALO shows to see what they're all about.
- Posted on 11/09/2011 by Lisa
You know that HALO Effect banner you've seen across the top of the site lately? On behalf of all the online HALOers who viewed and shared HALO Awards posts, quizzes, and videos during the past few weeks, TeenNick gave $15,000 in donations to DonorsChoose.org! Thank you for helping us make that happen.
DonorsChoose.org is a website where teachers post requests for supplies they want to use in their classrooms (books, art supplies, computers, science lab equipment... anything), and everyone who redeemed their points during the HALO Effect promotion earned a $5 donation to the classroom of their choice.
Visit the HALO Awards page to watch the 2011 TeenNick HALO Awards online, and learn more about how you can help and lead others in your community.
- Posted on 11/08/2011 by Lisa
If you watched the HALO Awards on TeenNick, you saw footage of Degrassi's Ray Ablack (Sav) and Charlotte Arnold (Holly J) on a trip to Africa with HALO contest winner Kerri Solitro. I interviewed Kerri to find out more about the trip.
Watch more videos about the Kenya trip.
So tell me about Kenya! Did you have to get a bunch of shots before you left?
My boyfriend and my friend Jessi went on the trip with me. The first day we went to get our shots they gave us four, and they really hurt. It was really intense. Then we had to go back and get follow up rabies shots, and get a certificate for yellow fever, or they wouldn't have let us into the country.
How long did it take for you to get to Kenya?
It was 7 hours and 20 minutes from Boston to Amsterdam, and then like 8 hours from Amsterdam to Kenya.
When did you first meet Ray and Charlotte?
Our plane landed in Nairobi first. We met two of the facilitators for the trip, and as we waited for Charlotte and Ray to arrive, I got to hold the sign that had their names.
My boyfriend was looking over everybody, and he's like "I think I see Ray! I think I see him!" Charlotte ran right up to me and gave me a huge hug, and she was like "Oh my gosh, aren't you so excited?" Ray was like, gonna shake my hand, and I was like "Can I hug you?"
The first night we stayed in a hotel. In the morning we took a small 18-seater plane from Nairobi to the Maasai Mara, where we were staying for the whole trip. The plane ride was like a bus ride. We went up, and then came down like 15 minutes later to let people off and have people come on. It would go up and down, and we were the last stop. At one point, we were landing and there were all these wildebeests on the landing strip, and the plane just kept landing anyway, and we could see all these wildebeests running away from the plane.
The cottages we stayed in were nice, very homey. They had flush toilets and all that stuff. We could only take hot showers at night or early in the morning, because they used the same fires for cooking food and heating our water. It got pretty chilly at night. We had mosquito nets over our beds and they would come and put hot water bottles in our beds.
Can you talk about the volunteer work you did with Free the Children?
They told us we were going to be working on a school, but it was actually a dorm room for teachers to stay in for the girls' high school. They're trying to get teachers from the city to come in, to give them a better education. A lot of teachers don't want to travel that far, so they want to build a dorm so the teachers will be able to stay there. We worked on building the walls of the first dorm. They give you a wheelbarrow with dirt and cement, and they mix it together with water. So you take the trowel and you put the mortar in between the bricks, which were stone. The first day we were there, we did four layers of the brick, and the guy who was the construction head was surprised at how fast we worked. The next day we went back and he was excited, because he knew that we were hardworking. The third day we went, it was raining, and we mixed cement for the floor of the second dorm.
We also went to visit the school that Ray and Charlotte worked on when they were there the last time, and now it's a big community of schoolhouses. They were excited to see how many more buildings there were, and we planted trees down a hill from there.
We also built a chimney. They have fireplaces in their homes, but no way to get the smoke out of the houses, so the kids have respiratory problems and are getting sick from breathing the smoke. So what they're trying to do now is build a chimney in every house. It kind of looks like a stove when it's done -- there are little rocks you can put a pot on, kind of like a four-burner stove.
What kinds of food did you eat in Kenya?
The first night we were there, my boyfriend and Jessi ordered burgers and it was actually bison meat. So that was unexpected. But while we were at the cottages we ate pretty normal food ... pasta, rice, chicken, lots of vegetables. The last night, we had a Kenyan barbecue, and we had goat. It was really good. It kind of tasted like chicken, but more like... flavorful. The very last night in Kenya, we ate at this restaurant called the Carnivore, where they serve all these different kinds of meat. They come around with, like, a whole animal on a sword, and they carve the meat off and it falls onto your plate. They came around with normal stuff at first, and then like, ostrich meatballs! Camel, goat, lamb... The most unique tasting meat was crocodile. It tasted like chicken at first, and then like fish.
What did you do for fun?
We learned how to make rungu, and how to make these little blessing sticks. The rungu is a weapon the warriors use to throw at animals that are far away. They're made of wood, but the top is really heavy and it has a little point on it. They make them and sell them at the market. There are a bunch of different steps, and to smooth them, they use leaves from a sandpaper tree. I didn't believe it at first, but the leaves of the tree really feel like sandpaper.
Our last night there, we did warrior training and we got to shoot arrows and throw those rungu things, and they had machetes.
I love your safari pictures! What was that like?
We went on two safaris! We saw hippos, and we saw lions a few feet away from us. They were eating a wildebeest. There were hyenas behind them, waiting for them to be finished, so they could eat the rest... and there were little jackals around, which sound like chihuahuas, like barking dogs. We sat there for like ten minutes watching them eat.
We had a snack while we were out. We put blankets down and ate cookies while there were animals running by. There was a giraffe eating off of a tree a few feet away from us. We also went to a giraffe center. You can put food in your mouth, and the giraffe will eat it out of your mouth.
Wow! What was that like?!! The giraffe's tongue felt like a cat's tongue, like it was really long and kind of slimy. Charlotte was sitting there, like "Did you know giraffes have really clean mouths? Their spit is antiseptic." and I'm like "The giraffe is licking my face!!" Ray wouldn't do it. My boyfriend wouldn't do it either.
I feel like if life gives you the opportunity to kiss a giraffe on the mouth, you kinda have to go for it. That's what I said! I was like "How many times is a giraffe gonna kiss you on the mouth?" and Charlotte said, "Um, that would be twice," because she had been there before.
Aside from kissing a giraffe, what was the most surprising part of the trip? I wasn't expecting everybody to be so nice! And I was really expecting to be homesick the whole trip, because I was going to be so far away. We couldn't call home, because there was no cell service. They had a satellite phone, but it was $5 a minute. But everybody was just really nice, and even like, the people on the side of the road were all waving. They made us feel right at home. I could probably live there. They were so excited to have us there. When we pulled up to the cottages, they were singing. When we went to visit the first school, the kids were singing and dancing for us, and they gave us necklaces. The last night we were there, they sang to us again and gave us a cake.
What were your impressions of Charlotte and Ray? I was expecting them to be more celebrity-ish, but they were just so nice and welcoming and open. They were down to earth, just like "Oh, we're friends!" After dinner at night, we'd just sit there and talk, and it felt like I'd known them for a long time. Every time we got in the car, we'd put on my iPod or Ray's phone and he and I would sing My Chemical Romance songs and stuff. When Charlotte and I were walking back from dinner to our cottages, we sang the songs from Rent.
Do you think you'll do more with Free the Children? I want to. It's a good feeling. The people in Kenya don't have what we have, but we're helping them be more healthy and have a nicer house to live in.
They have a shop there that sells all the Me to We artisan items, and I want to maybe get a stock of them and go to one of the colleges in my state, and talk about Free the Children, and promote that if you buy this stuff it goes back to the community in Kenya. The people who make the jewelry get a salary, and it helps them improve their lives.
I want to know how it works out. Keep me posted!
More pictures from the trip:
p.s. If you're on Twitter, follow Kerri: @Starsncyanide