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World of Difference in Kenya: Hold a croc, kiss a giraffe

NAIROBI, Kenya (ABC 4 Utah) - While on a humanitarian expedition with World of Difference, a non-profit foundation based in Utah County, team members get close to giraffes. Real close.
Reporter’s note: The horror that played out in a Nairobi mall has focused the world’s attention on Kenya. This week ABC 4 Utah is also focusing on Kenya, but for a very different reason. World of Difference, a non-profit foundation based in Utah County, recently organized an expedition to Kenya to build a school in a poor neighborhood of Embakasi. The founders of World of Difference, Dr. Richard and Jodi Nielsen, of Salem, have a track record of success in Kenya and were honored this year as “International Heroes” by the Utah Chapter of the American Red Cross. These reports are my first hand account of the work they do and the lives they change.


NAIROBI, Kenya (ABC 4 Utah) - The World of Difference expedition to Kenya is the trip of a lifetime for the volunteers. With only a few exceptions, they were college students. Most had not been out of the country. None had been to Africa.

Half of the team worked fulltime at the school site. The other half was also assigned to Nairobi hospitals. The hospital teams were made up of second year doctoral students of physical therapy from Rocky Mountain University of Health Professions in Provo. They shadowed Kenyan physical therapists when they weren't working construction.

During the week, the team members put in long days that usually began before 7:00 a.m. with breakfast at the Amani Center, a guest facility at the monastery of St. Benedict’s Catholic Church. They packed their own lunches and were off either to the construction site or the hospitals by 9:00 a.m. Work didn’t end until around sundown.

On weekends, though, they played tourist.

The first weekend in the country, they went to see the animals in parks outside of Nairobi.

At one park, team members got “up close” with giraffes. I mean really close. The park had an observation platform where they could look eye-to-eye with the animals and even feed them.

And those brave enough, could put a food pellet between their lips and invite the giraffe to take it – and in the process the giraffe would give them a sloppy kiss with its considerable tongue.

“I got kissed by giraffe!” exclaimed Melanie Yakemovic, a Rocky Mountain University student from Georgia.

In fact Melanie kissed or touched several difference animals during that day. While thrilling, she said you probably shouldn’t try it at Hogle Zoo. “In the states the zoos are like, ‘don’t touch the animals, that’s crazy.’ But here they were actually bringing the crocodiles out of the cages and handing them to people, so we were all like, ‘hey, take my picture with the croc!”

Of course the crocodile she and others got to hold were relatively small – 3-4 feet long. What’s more, the keepers did give them some basic instructions: 1) don’t hold it by the jaw (it can still bite) and 2) watch out for the tail.

For those World of Difference team members who preferred something slower that didn’t bite, there was a tortoise available. Kenzie Weeks of Lehi got to hold the tortoise and discovered it presented its own hazards. The tortoise relieved itself as she held it. Aside for getting her shoes wet, it was something else to make Kenya “the trip of a lifetime.”

Later this week, I show you the team members on safari in the world famous Maasai Mara.

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