Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Student's volunteer trip moves her to action

By Courtney Westlake

It started out as a joke between friends but eventually led Shana Stine to experience a trip that would change her life.

Stine, a junior at UIS, repeatedly told a friend and former co-worker, mostly kidding, that she wanted to accompany him when he returned to his native country of Kenya in Africa. As time drew nearer to his return though, she began to make tentative plans to go as well.

“I’d always wanted to go to Africa since I was little,” Stine said. “So I decided to go. And the more I got to thinking about it, the more I thought that I didn’t just want to go as a tourist; that would seem really empty. So I thought I would do two weeks traveling with my friend and two weeks volunteering at an orphanage.”

A little research put Stine in contact with a Kenyan volunteer organization called Fadhili Helpers. When she arrived in Kenya, Fadhili placed her at Gathiga Children's Hope Home, outside of Nairobi in Kenya. She made all the arrangements herself, received the required vaccinations and filled out her visa. And when she got to Gathiga in June 2007, she didn’t want to leave.

“I got to Kenya and fell in love with children at the home, so I actually stayed about three weeks there,” Stine said. “Because I went on a mission trip to Mexico, I knew it was going to be hard, and I would see kind of the worst of humanity. But I wasn't prepared completely for it. It was rough to say the least, a pretty hard experience.”

Although the poverty broke her heart, the bright spots in Stine’s work at the orphanage were the children. She became especially fond of an eight-year-old boy named Joel, whom she later found out has HIV. Joel’s situation, as well as the other children’s, moved Stine into action.

“Joel is easily a favorite; you can't not like him,” she said. “When I found out he has HIV, that just broke my heart again, as if the poverty wasn’t enough. So Jump for Joel is a project I started in his name to help the orphanage there.”

With help from other friends and family members, as well as the campus community, Jump for Joel has taken on a life of its own since its beginning, Stine said.

Through the organization, Stine has been able to raise more than $5,000 for the children’s home, providing food, a second toilet for the residents, a roof over one of the “sleeping” rooms, assistance to get some of the children back in school and more. Jump for Joel was also accepted through the Applied Study Term at UIS to allow Stine to earn academic credit for her work on the project.

Stine said she is so grateful to the support Jump for Joel has received. And she can’t wait to do more.

“Words are great, but if you're not going to back it up with action, what's the point?” she asked. “I came back from Kenya knowing I couldn't just tell the stories; I needed to do something. I couldn't sleep in my dorm bed with my own bathroom when there are kids sleeping 20 to a room with one toilet for 96 kids. I think Kenya changed me in that way; it solidified that I need to do.”

For more information about Jump for Joel, visit