The latest installment in the Spotlight series features an insightful Q&A with Carol Wright, the wonderful ambassador behind one of our most popular projects — the Tenderfeet School in Kenya. For five years, she has thrown herself into this project to help children in Kenya — and the rewards have been both emotional and tremendous. Here’s Carol’s story…
Why did you apply to be part of the Collette Foundation?
My own inability to have children was the driving force for me to apply—I wanted to help other children since I could not have any… The Tenderfeet kids are “my kids.” I will do everything in my power to make their lives as great as possible, to give them more opportunities in life to excel — the way I would with my own kids.
How did you find your project?
After months of searching — Google became my new best friend — we had found a few that we could have helped, but we had a sense that they really did not need us, one of which had the backing of Hillary Clinton – even in their response time back to us was very poor. So we wanted to keep looking for someone who Collette could make a big impact on… someone who needed us the way we needed them. A few months later we found the Tenderfeet School. They were a perfect fit. I know we have made a big impact on them. But it’s nothing compared to the impact they have made on me. On all of us at Collette, really.
What is your project?
Tenderfeet is a school for children who do not have the means to pay for school. They have lost one if not both parents to AIDS. In Kenya, children have to pay to attend school, they also have to wear a uniform, and a special uniform for PE class. It all adds up and some kids simply cannot afford an education at all because of it.
What is the single most rewarding experience you’ve had as ambassador?
I’ve had three—I heard from our contact here in the US that our first group of travelers visited the school and loved it. I was sitting at my desk and when I saw that email and I cried it meant so much to me that our travelers had been able to visit (prior to that time there had been unrest in the area so this accomplishment took about a year to happen). To hear that they got there was music to my ears, and to hear they felt so strongly about their visit made me cry. These kids are so special. I really wanted the travelers to see that. And they absolutely did. Every group since then has also felt the same kind of powerful, emotional connection.
Another rewarding moment: The Collette Foundation funded the building of a school for the kids. Once the school was complete I received a photo, and I saw the blue roof with the quote “blue like the sky” from Mama Margaret. I was so proud! Margaret said she had wanted the roof to be blue just like the sky and I know it meant a lot to her. To see her excitement and to see that the plans were followed through with her goals in mind really meant a lot to me.
The last – possibly MOST rewarding experience for me… I was able to visit Tenderfeet for myself! I got to actually see the school meet Margaret and the kids. This experience meant more to me than I could ever put into words. My 16-year career at Collette has taken me around the world, to so many amazing countries and places. I’ve taken 11 trips and I’ve met wonderful people and built the best memories. This trip to Kenya, though, topped them all. It meant the world to me. In just about every way, this trip was the best one of my life — meeting my kids. I cannot wait to go back.
How often do you talk to the contacts at the school and get updates?
We receive a monthly newsletter, and we hear from our US contact. We have had a few conference calls with Margaret who is in Kenya during the construction of the school. It’s not that easy to get her on the phone as the phone connection can be spotty in Kenya. The relationship is ongoing and strong. We work together toward one mission — to help these children.
What do passengers think of the school?
The passengers who visited with me loved it. We did not want to leave. We have heard from others who say it was the highlight of the tour! Some have
felt so strongly they have come home and made very generous donations.
Have any of the children made an impact on your life? If so – who?
Honestly, they all have made an impact on me. If I’m having a bad day—or if something is not going my way—I look at a photo of them, and remember how happy they are—and my troubles don’t matter anymore. They put a smile back on my face!