Tuesday, June 30, 2015


One of the most rewarding aspects of each project trip is seeing or meeting the people that our designs will directly impact. The People are ultimately why we do this work. The reality is that the buildings will eventually turn to dust (if they are even built)…but our influence on people (and theirs on us) could last an eternity. For this reason, the IAA project trip was a unique blessing. For the first time, I was on a site with children! A lot of English-speaking children! And it was so much fun.

During our week on site, I got to know a pretty awesome kid named Jacob who had been at the orphanage almost his whole life. Although he was abandoned at birth, his umbilical cord was enough to sustain him for two days until he was found by the police. When he was rescued and brought to the hospital, the nurses thought he was a hopeless case and left him on a table to die. Coincidentally, IAA's volunteer and in-house grandmother Donna had just helped her daughter nurse her severely underweight baby to health for the past several months. With the strength and preparation Donna felt that God had given her through that experience, she decided to give Jacob a chance. Now he's the coolest kid ever. Look at this face!

We also had the rare opportunity to see a child come to IAA while we were visiting. After staring for hours at my computer screen, Jane (the founder) asked if anyone was interested in picking up the kids from school. I jumped at the chance to take a break and see more cute kids. When we arrived at the school we were greeted by an extremely touchy headmaster and asked to meet a girl that they desperately wanted the orphanage to house. Her name is Christine, and she was being fed and clothed by a teacher because her mother is mentally ill and her brother can no longer take care of her. She was beautiful and quiet and longed to hold anybody's hand. It seemed that the process would take a long time since she still had living family. The next day, however, her brother came to sign papers and photos were taken of Christine with everyone involved. He was relieved and she was excited. Over the next several days we saw Christine blossom. She started learning some English and was constantly laughing. The other kids took her in as their own little sister. It was an amazing transition, and even better to know her brother could still come visit anytime he wanted!

And then, of course, there is the team! (Top Row) Our trip leader was Brad Crawford, the very same Brad that was in the UK office, leading my Uganda trip, and ultimately responsible for my return to EMI after my internship (ok, only slightly). His wife and my favorite mentor, Alisha, came along as well. In all of their years with EMI it was her first trip! Heather was a former intern in the Uganda office when Brad and Alisha lived there, so they had a happy reunion. Scott is a civil engineer that has actually been supporting the orphanage for many years through his church in Indiana. Coincidentally, he wanted to join an EMI trip and saw that we were going to see the very kids that he has been in contact with. Greg was the other architect on our team, and lives here in Colorado Springs! (Bottom Row) It was both Alex and Kyle's first trip with EMI and they killed it. Fantastic CADers and all-around cool guys. (Myself). Jenni had a unique situation, because her husband is on staff and was at another orphanage in Kenya at the exact same time as us...but they couldn't see each other. She claims it was better for her to focus on her work, but they were excited to reunite at the Safari. Jane Gravis is the founder of IAA and lives near my parents in Texas! I felt like we really got to know her and her ministry very well on this trip...maybe because she stayed up until the wee hours with us! Marisa is our intern this summer. She is in school in California, and will finish up before [most likely] spending the rest of her life with EMI. Austin is the quietest team member, but a super deep thinker that brought up great ideas during our devotionals. Lastly, Ruedi Tobler tried to save a bird's life that the cat carried in. He has about 100 birds at his home arboretum in Hawaii...but was unable to save this poor bird. He's still a good guy, though.


Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Cold Africa

My first trip to Kenya, and I discovered that there is such a thing as cold in Africa! We were working for Into Abba's Arms (IAA), an orphanage in the Kinangop region situated at over 8,000 ft. elevation. The site sits between the Rift Valley and the Aberdare mountain range. The land is lush and green, and once again blows my perception of the dry, hot landscape that I always assume Africa should be.

Our goal with this project is to increase the site's capacity from the 40 children that currently call IAA "home", to 75. Such a realistic and tangible benchmark was only the first thing that impressed us with the organization. Throughout our week on site we took notice of the personal and intentional care of each child. Not only are the kids provided with a Christian family-like setting in childhood, but they are supported financially, spiritually, and emotionally as they go to boarding school from ages 11-17 and college after that.

IAA seems to do an awesome job of reversing the hands that these kids were dealt. As far as we could see, they really encourage and assist big dreams. One of the reasons this touched us so deeply, is that a similar philosophy has become a large part of our EMI mission. We don't want to be the ones to fully sustain the communities that we enter, but rather to encourage and assist the communities to sustain themselves. God blessed us with an awesome opportunity in Kenya to work toward this goal.

Before our arrival we asked around for any Kenyan engineers or architects that wanted to come work with us during our time on site. IAA founder Jane Gravis immediately thought of Nelson, the oldest "son" from the orphanage and a Civil Engineering student at a Kenyan university. Not only did Nelson want to join, but he wanted to bring 10 friends and a professor for a week! Although the orphanage couldn't host so many people (an example of why new buildings are needed on site!), he did bring a few of his classmates.

Our Philippino-Canadian Electrical Engineer, Coloradan Architect, and Kenyan Civil Engineering students
While site visits are always critical for project design, I think God's plan for this trip centered around discipleship and training opportunities. In many African cultures, knowledge is the only guarantee of one's livelihood. Therefore, people can tend to cling tightly to their skills and expertise. In the same vein, our junior electrical volunteer from Vancouver said that his workplace makes it difficult to develop professionally because his superiors won't take the time to mentor him.

"Be generous: Invest in acts of charity. Charity yields high returns. Don't hoard your goods; spread them around. Be a blessing to others. This could be your last night.
Ecclesiastes 11:1-2 (The Message Translation)

In Ecclesiastes we are encouraged to be openhanded and generous. It says that wherever we are in the present is where we are to giveI think the opportunity for our team to share technical knowledge without boundaries is what made the trip most fruitful. Nelson said that he learned more during a week with us than he had in two years of engineering school. I don't know if that's true since he was already a super smart guy, but I know that he and his friends came in as sponges, and soaked up a LOT.

Nelson (left) with our project leader Brad (center) surveying the site
(photo from team photographer Jenni Keiter)
In addition to the Kenyan engineers, I loved watching our senior electrical engineer (Ruedi Tobler of Toblerone chocolate!) mentor our junior electrical, Alex. They probably finished the electrical component of our project with 3 or 4 days to spare, but Reudi never stopped teaching up until the day we left. Alex was so invested in everything Ruedi had to say, he never even noticed how we loved to watch them work!

I'll leave off with the Lion King's "Circle of Life" lyrics. While being in Kenya felt a lot like the Lion King, these lyrics felt a lot like my life. There is far too much to see, and with every trip I realize just how little I will ever come across! But at least I can fit into my own little place on the path unwinding :)

There's far too much to take in here
More to find than can ever be found
But the sun rolling high
Through the sapphire sky
Keeps great and small on the endless round
It's the Circle of Life
And it moves us all
Through despair and hope
Through faith and love
Till we find our place
On the path unwinding