Jonathan and Cynthia Austin got what they had hoped for. And much more.
The couple made plans to take their four children to the slums of Nairobi, Kenya, to show their children how blessed their lives are in Lexington and how great the need is for children in other parts of the world.
"We told them, 'This isn't a vacation,'" Cynthia Austin said. "'This isn't fun.' When they had worked hard that first week, they said, 'We want to come back.' They were just troupers."
The family — Jasher, 17; Jaden, 15; Zion, 13; Gracyn, 9; and their parents — traveled with the World of Difference, a Utah charity that takes volunteers to Kenya to build schools, provide school supplies and train teachers. The excursion began May 21, and they returned June 7.
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The couple selected that organization because the founder, Kendee Dixon, had been one of Jonathan Austin's students when he taught at Southern Virginia University, and Jonathan knew she had made frequent trips to Kenya.
Jonathan, coordinator of religious education for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said he wanted the children to have more of a connection with other children of the world.
Volunteers are required to raise money for the trip and for their stay there, about $3,700 a person. They also are asked to collect school supplies.
The Austins raised nearly $19,000 by forgoing Christmas gifts in 2007 and by selling handmade items to friends and classmates, donating Jonathan's bonuses, and wrapping Christmas packages at Amazon.com.
The trip was scheduled for 2008, but unrest in Nairobi delayed the trip until this year, giving the family more time to save.
They carried 12 suitcases of school supplies donated by Rosa Parks Elementary School and Paul Laurence Dunbar High School, or collected by the Austin children. Amazon.com donated 75 cents to World of Difference for each package Jonathan and Cynthia wrapped.
Other members of the group brought 46 more suitcases of school supplies.
The Nairobi schools are in Kibera, the second-largest urban slum in Africa, home to more than a million people. The region has some of the most extreme poverty on this planet, and the children are often orphans because their parents died of AIDS-related illnesses or they are children of struggling single parents.
"It was the most amazing experience," Cynthia Austin said. "There was such a sense of gratitude and love of God and gratitude for God. There was no sense of anger for their situation."
Some of the schools her family worked on would have been condemned in the United States, she said.
All the schools are private, charging as little as $5 a month. Even that amount is out of reach for some families. The school day starts at 7 a.m. and ends at 5 p.m. Some students live an hour's walk away.
"They get home at 6 at night and then they had homework," Austin said. "But it is their way out of their poverty situation."
The volunteers would leave their work areas before dark to return to their living quarters at a Catholic conference center that tried to provide them with familiar foods, including noodles and rice. A frequent side item was ugali, a starch made from corn flour and water.
They also ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches every day. Their treat was getting back to the conference center in time to buy mangos and fresh pineapples from a peddler.
Perhaps the greatest accomplishment, at least as far Jonathan and Cynthia are concerned, was that their children developed relationships with people of another culture, people whose names they know and remember and who know the Austin siblings.
"There is far more happiness to be gained from working hard to serve others than in working hard to serve oneself," Jonathan Austin said. "I was most pleased when the children began talking about going back in the future, when all they had done for the first week in Africa was work hard. I think they learned that there is joy in the service of others."
After that week of hard work, the family was able to travel the region, visiting schools in other cities.
"We would love to go back as soon as possible," Cynthia Austin said. But that might be a couple of years from now, after they've had a chance to raise enough money and school supplies for the trip.
The family was surprised to learn hakuna matata — or "no worries" — was not just a phrase created for the Disney film The Lion King.
"It is a very common phrase there and very descriptive of their lives," Austin said. "They don't worry about the unimportant things."