LEMONT – For some people, a mission trip to Africa is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Michelle Awad hopes her recent visit will be the first of many.
The Lemont High School senior spent three weeks during the summer doing charitable work in Kenya as part of a group from St. Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Church in Burr Ridge.
“I had been looking forward to it for a couple of years,” she said. “I decided that this would be a good way to decide if this is what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.”
During her time in Nairobi and Maseno, Awad donated school supplies and clothing to an orphanage and built houses for people whose homes had burnt down.
She also conducted visitations and held Bible studies at homes and at a prison.
Awad said Kenya was different than she expected.
“You see the pictures and you think you know what to expect,” she said. “It’s different to be there.”
It also was an adjustment from her way of life in the U.S.
“If I didn’t know something, I couldn’t just pull my phone out and search for it,” she said.
Awad said she saw the good and bad sides of Kenya.
When making house visitations, hosts would insist on sharing their food, even if it was all the food they would have that day.
She also saw violence, such as fights between men during the night.
The trip has strengthened Awad’s conviction to work in Africa as part of her career.
She said the greatest challenge she faced during her trip has been coming back home. She has a difficult time talking about anything but Africa and believes that is where she belongs.
“I know that I’m going to be back there no matter what,” she said.
Mina Dimitri, one of the organizers and leaders on the trip, said people who go on a mission trip to Africa are excited and want to do it again or never want to go back.
He said he has been able to tell during and after the trip how passionate Awad is about working in Africa.
“She felt a lot of compassion, specifically for the children,” he said.
Awad said she will study to become either a doctor or a teacher and plans to make more mission trips during her school breaks.
She said this summer’s trip to Kenya will have a special meaning for her.
“I’ll remember my first time there forever,” she said. “Because it changes your heart. It changes the way you see things.”