Sometimes, when Ali Hartwick takes her daughters to run errands in Vancouver, they get impatient. They ask, "Are we there yet?" But on a recent family trip to Africa, they didn't once string those words together, not even during a seven-hour-long truck ride. Ali said, "Even the adults got tired but we didn't hear a word from the kids."
Ali's father-in-law, Brian Hartwick, organized the tour. He said, "The kids did better than the adults. They looked out of the truck and what they saw was like a movie playing all the time."
Ali explained, "The little kids ran alongside the truck. They waved. And then we saw them carrying water on their heads. And they carried their little brothers and sisters." And then there were the animals. Ali said, "They were so close. It was amazing."
Brian Hartwick said, "The program is called Study in Africa. Originally it was a field school. In 2006/2007, we shifted to standard safaris and most recently to family programs. This time, we've had four families from Bowen, and six from Vancouver."
The trip was four and a half weeks long and the group spent two weeks inland and on safari where they stayed five nights at a bush camp. The last two weeks, they relaxed on the coast. The company's group sizes vary. On this trip, there were 35, or as Brian put it "two truckloads."
Brian had decided to build his business in Kenya back in 1991. His reasons were the diversity of the environment, the wildlife, the culture and the relative safety and security. In all those years, he's never had any trouble. He feels it is good for kids to travel to a different culture. He said, "Here, everything is provided for the kids, everything is comfortable."
Ali said, "When we were planning the trip, we were a little concerned. Our eldest is 10 and she was fine. Nana and Papa always go to Africa, so it was part of her culture. It was a little more difficult for Maesy who is five. But she adapted well. She didn't watch any TV and played with the other kids amazingly. They would spend hours just talking and playing games with the Kenyan kids."
When asked about the highlight of her trip, 10-year-old Teagan said enthusiastically, "The hippos!" Ali explained, "We were camped right beside the hippo river and we could hear them all night. We also saw lions, cheetahs, leopards, giraffes, everything. And we had Maasai warriors in traditional dress guarding the tents. Even when you had to go out, you felt safe. There wasn't any point on trip when I was worried."
Ali had a funny story to tell. "We always had a Canadian flag up. Once, we were watching six lions, there was this fellow in a hot air balloon who came right down and he yelled, 'Are you from Winnipeg? I am from Winnipeg.' Of course the lions ran."
Brian said, "We had a Maasai and a Samburu guide on the trucks and they were able to interact with the kids a lot. At one time, there were ostriches running alongside the bus. The kids asked, 'why are they running?' And the Maasai said that the ostriches were running to tell the school that the Canadians are coming." Ali added that everywhere they went, they got a warm welcome. She said, "Canadians are so loved. It seems they support a lot of schools and families."
Study in Africa also strives to make a difference. The groups visit primary and secondary schools in Nakuru, Laikipia, Samburu and the Maasai Mara and present the staff and students with school supplies. In 2009, the company organized the purchase of a generator for a school in the Maasai Mara.
At one school, the visitors were put on the spot. Ali said, "All the little kids performed. They did their song and a dance. That was adorable. And then we had to sing." She shrugged, clearly not happy with her group's performance.
Teagan is preparing a slide show for her classmates. Although she missed a few weeks of school, Ali feels that the trip was a great educational experience, "The Maasai taught us Swahili, they told us a lot about the wildlife, the plants and the birds. We thought that the kids would miss their electronics and creature comforts but they didn't complain."
The kids' dependence on electronics wasn't the only thing that changed, their sense of style was also affected. The colours there are so beautiful. "The girls suddenly wanted to wear dresses and bright colours."