IT’S a rare sort of journey that can break your heart twice but entice you back for more - as was discovered recently by one Creetown man.
Having visited Kenya in 2011 to help out at a community centre and school in one of the country’s most deprived areas, the sights and people Eddie McGaw saw and met moved him to tears on several occasions, and he made it his mission to encourage the people of Galloway to join him in seeing first-hand how different life can be.
And so, in October, Eddie and three Wigtownshire volunteers took the decision to offer their help by flying to Kenya to offer their services within the poverty-stricken community of Nakuru.
Sandi McKinnon, Jamie McFadzean and Jimmy Gibson, along with Eddie, landed in Kenya on 24 October with several others from the Celtic Charity Fund, the organisation which inspired Eddie to go last year, including Colette Green, Geri Mullen, Leonie Coyle, Liam Robinson and Yas Bramme.
Jamie’s first trip on an aeroplane was so momentous for him that the group managed to convince the pilot to let him visit the cockpit once the plane had landed.
Arriving at The Walk Centre where the group would be volunteering, Eddie - whose trip touched his heart even more for having recently become a first-time grandfather - said he was thrilled the kids there remembered him.
Die-hard footie fan Eddie said: “The Celtic songs started and everyone was in full flow.”
One of the main jobs to be carried out was fitting a set of swings, climbing frame, and a set of goalposts in the grounds.
Sporting their football strips, Eddie and crew were an immediate hit with the locals who all hero-worship Kenyan-born Celtic player Victor Wanyama. Eddie said of the locals: “One word of Victor and they were off - he is their hero, and not just at the school. They all love him in Kenya.”
“The kids by now were all singing songs and everywhere we went we were greeted like lords. The children have absolutely nothing and anything you give them is cherished. Friendships were renewed and others started.”
It took the team a week to fit the play equipment which was an instant hit, and they also taught in the school in between their outside work.
What followed was a devastating trip to a neighbouring dump which reduced the group to a teary mess.
Eddie explained: “All the group, including those who had been last year, were in floods of tears at the sights. We saw kids walking about looking for any old scrap of food, houses built onto piles of rubbish no bigger that 15 square feet housing families of 12. It hit home again. There were also kids that we were teaching walking about in this area and to see them live like this made us all worse.”
Colette was so moved by the state of one house that she vowed to pay for a brand new home to built for the family living inside it - one of the most overpopulated of the homes on the dump.
The group then returned to the centre and handed out all the donated clothing from the people of Galloway they had taken with them.
Each of the 240 children received at least three items of clothing - and of course, Celtic kits were the most in demand!
Eddie and crew managed to see a bit of Kenya’s beauty too, to remind them how the country should be, and a safari trip took them to the Thomson Falls by the equator (which Eddie regretted deciding to hike to the bottom of - he quickly realised that what goes down, must come up!).
A two-and-a-half hour local church service also highlighted the improtance of religion to the impoverished locals before the crew managed to fit in a Kenyan premier league game.
Before leaving, a fun day was held with face painting and games and the Galloway visitors handed out juice, sweets, chewing gum and host of other treats kindly donated before they left for Kenya.
Eddie continued: “On our last day at school, again there were many tears and much sadness but also a great deal of pride because as a group we had gave these people much happiness and left them with many happy memories.”
As a reminder of the organisation that motivated our Scottish team to undertake this heart-wrenching journey, a flag pole was nailed to side of building and a celtic flag was raised on it which Eddie says is still flying now.
“The goals were painted green and white and the songs are sung daily by the kids,” he added.
The team thanks everyone for their overwhelming donations towards the trip, including clothing, glasses, toys and cash, amongst others.
And once again, Eddie is determined to make a difference next year and has already started recruiting for the return visit - which will also consist of the same people whose lives were changed by volunteering this time.
But of course, the trip will have to be carefully planned this time for the man who eats, sleeps and breathes football. Eddie said: “It will be when there’s an international football break in November. As much as we loved Kenya we hated not seeing Celtic play.”