Tag Archives: teen travel

Changing lives through Solar Power

Sam Cary, a student from the USA on an Adventures Cross Country Gap trip to East Africa talks about his experience working with Napenda Solar Community in Kenya.

Before going into these homes and seeing the situations that these families were in, my anticipation and excitement for installing the panels was almost unbearable. Knowing that I would be able to have an immediate impact on these families’ lives was the reason why I came to Kenya. Rafting on the Nile, a safari in the Masai Mara were both unbelievable adventures, however being able to improve the lives of people who live in the middle of such poverty, is what makes experiences like this as rewarding as they are.

When we arrived at the first house, I was shocked to see the conditions these families lived in. A family of 9, all cramped in to what seemed like no more than a 30 square foot structure with two beds, seemed impossible. Compared to the living situations of these families, extreme poverty in the western world seems luxurious. This house was crawling with all sorts of insects. They had chickens, stray cats and dogs, all running in and out of their home, bringing in all sorts of bacteria into their house.

The kitchen was unlike anything i have ever seen, I am amazed that anyone could think it would be okay to be in a kitchen like this for any amount of time. The second i walked in, I was hit with a blast of dense smoke and kerosene lamp fumes. My eyes felt like they were on fire, and I went to take a breath but my body didn’t let me, knowing that it would fill my lungs with toxic smoke. I was shocked to see that pushed up against the walls of this kitchen, were two beds where the younger kids slept. Even with all of the smoke and fumes, there were two infants sitting on the beds next to their mother who was cooking us a meal of chapati and vegetables, using no more than the light from a kerosene lamp to light her dark and smoke filled kitchen.

Before Sam and the rest of the gang installed solar power to this home kerosene lanterns were the only option for this family.

Before Sam and the rest of the gang installed solar power to this home kerosene lanterns were the only option for this family.

Once the panel was installed, and the lights and battery were all connected, we flicked the switch and pulled the light cords, lighting up what was once a dark house with an even darker kitchen. What I saw was unbelievable. In the darkness of the kitchen without the light, I couldn’t see the amount of flies that were swarming the food, and the babies’ faces.

Shortly after the light was flicked on, all of the flies started to swarm the light, getting them all close enough to the makeshift door for them to be wafted out, away from the food and the kids.

This one solar panel really did create a remarkable difference in the quality of this family’s life. Solar electricity removes the need for kerosene lamps and wood fires for light, giving the kids a chance to work on schoolwork, and for the parents to continue their crafts and professions at night. In turn, this would improve the kids performance at school, and increase the amount of money these parents will make, which will allow them to provide even more for their family.

Sam testing his handy work after installing a solar power system to a poor rural home in Kenya

Sam testing his handy work after installing a solar power system to a poor rural home in Kenya

Napenda Solar Community brings solar power to poor rural families in East Africa. An initiative that is supported by the local community, visiting tour and student groups and Africa Expedition Support.

Go Green, Go Solar ……. Napenda Solar Community

For the past few months our focus has not always been on our overland safaris and guided self drive expeditions but on Napenda Solar Community.

What is that I hear you ask?  For those who have been on a safari or expedition with Africa Expedition Support and have met Thiemo or I probably recall at least one conversation about solar power with us.  Yes, solar power, this is not a misprint.  This is a topic we are pretty passionate about, we believe in it and proved that it works time and time again.  After all we could not run our workshop or office without solar power.  You see we are based only 1 hour from Nairobi, Kenya yet we don’t have any mains power – so for us to run our business we rely on the sun – solar power.

In addition to our guided self drive expeditions we also run a number of, what are called, “service trips” for school, university and teen groups.  These are tailored trips with all the usual Africa bells and whistles (game parks, beaches etc) with service projects – projects where students have the opportunity to give something back to less fortunate communities while learning about their culture and experiencing their lives.  It is not uncommon for families and couples to also want to participate in a community service project.

Our area is pretty underdeveloped in every way, there are very few schools, dirt roads that are lucky to see a grader once a year, no electricity, no clean water and the list goes on.  Hence Napenda Solar Community is a way to bring solar power to our local community by involving students and tour groups in solar power workshops that result in solar power systems being installed by the students and tour groups in poor rural homes, schools and clinics.

teens hard at work building a solar power system

teens hard at work building a solar power system

A clear win win for all.  Let’s face it, with the depleting world resources, there is a strong focus on clean renewable energies.  Throughout the USA, Australia, UK and Europe there is a push to go green – the recent People’s Climate March was testimony to this.  In Africa there is no choice, with very limited infrastructure and high cost of mains power the most economical way to go is solar power.  Although not expensive the costs of setting up solar power even in a small home are  prohibitive especially for those living on less than USD$2 per day.

Napenda Solar Community heavily subsidise these costs enabling communities to get connected to power.  A way for tourists and student groups to experience and learn from a local Masai community, go back home with greater understanding and appreciation of renewable energies; and valuable skills to set up their own solar power system if they choose to.

Who would have thought you could come to Kenya to learn amazing new skills?

For more information on our solar power workshops check out


If you would like to add a solar power workshop to your safari or expedition email me, Debs, at info@africaexpeditionsupport.com or Anne at solar@africaexpeditionsupport.com

Don’t forget to like us on http://www.facebook.com/napendasolarcommunity (tell your friends to like us also!) The more who know about Napenda Solar Community the more poor rural communities in Kenya will benefit!

Working in partnership with The Born Free Foundation

Check out this short video of Africa Expedition Support and The Born Free Foundation working in partnership to save lions in Kenya.  This program gives students a rare and unique opportunity to work side by side Masai and to be involved in a project that is effective and sustainable.


For more information about this project or how you can be involved contact Debs info@africaexpeditionsupport.com or have a look at http://www.africaexpeditionsupport.com


Teens taking on the World

taking some time to connect with some of the younger members of the community

taking some time to connect with some of the younger members of the community

When I was growing up the only travel I did as a teenager (apart from the odd family trip to country Victoria to collect or deliver brood mares!) was year 8 camp to the coast and year 11 geography camp!  How things have changed, how the World has opened for travel of all ages across the Globe!

Teen travel these days is far more sophisticated from when I was growing up.  These days schools take skiing trips to the snow, partake in adventure activities from abseiling to white water rafting to orienteering.  Travel abroad has also increased in popularity over the years.  It is not uncommon for schools to organise 1-2 overseas trips per year for students to Africa, South East Asia and India to name a few.  There is now an entire industry dedicated to teen travel specialising in providing teens with unique and totally different experiences.  These specialists range from companies offering summer camp and Gap travel like Adventures Cross Country based in San Francisco to on the ground operators like us at Africa Expedition Support who connect directly with communities to provide real life enriching experiences in a safe and supportive environment.  Other companies such as World Challenge link with local operators and encourage schools and students to fundraise to fund their trips.

Being introduced to some local delicacies by the Masai elders

Being introduced to some local delicacies by the Masai elders

There are a number of reasons why schools and parents encourage their teens to travel abroad.  One fundamental reason are the changes in how top schools and universities assess for entry.  In days gone by top schools and universities looked solely at top scoring, highly academic students; while academic performance still plays a large role in entry, these top institutions are now looking for something that makes potential entrants stand out from the rest.  Overseas service, volunteering at home, dedicating time to community service and bettering the lives of others all rate high.

Let’s face it prospects for young people these days are very competitive.  The competition to be accepted into the best institutions is incredibly tough.  Parents and schools are constantly looking at ways to enhance their teenagers’ prospects by involving them in activities that stand out from the norm.

taking some time out to from working on projects to enjoy some of Africa's wildlife

taking some time out to from working on projects to enjoy some of Africa’s wildlife

Future prospects are not the only reason parents and schools invest in overseas travel for teens; as the World has got smaller it has become easier to travel to other parts of the world and in particular developing countries.  This travel challenges teens to think about where they have come from, where they are going and how they can apply external non-academic experiences to everyday living and succeeding in a tough competitive world through challenging current values and belief systems.

An emerging popular reason to invest in teen travel is to remove students from peer pressure to partake in risk taking behaviour.  Activities like “schoolies” where teens celebrate the end of their high school by going to popular locations to party with other teens.  Unfortunately  “schoolies” not only attracts school leavers but also an older crowd who prey on school leavers taking advantage of the party atmosphere to sell drugs and alcohol resulting in devastating  effects on young lives.

Overseas travel for teens is a very serious business; parents are prepared to invest in overseas travel as long as their teenager is going to get something of value from it.  Often these overseas trips are more than just a holiday integrating cultural and community service elements.  These elements provide students with a very different learning experience to what is possible within the classroom.  Enabling students to immerse themselves in a cultural unfamiliar to their own, to see how other cultures live and experience other values and belief systems.

learning how to cook local food is all part of the cultural experience

learning how to cook local food is all part of the cultural experience

I have just returned from a few days on the shores of Lake Naivasha, Kenya overseeing a school project for a poor rural school.  The school project consists of putting in a library, and assisting teachers in class.  While you may think this has to be done by experts in the field, actually this project has been completed by a group of teens from Adventures Cross Country Africa Gap program with the assistance of the school librarian and several school kids.  This group of teens have had to decide on the best system which will be the most beneficial to the school, they have been in charge of indexing, cataloguing, coding, and covering almost 400 books.  Up until now Kongoni Primary School have not had books in their library; except for a handful of old torn text books.  In addition to physically putting in the library system the group are also responsible for teacher and student training in how to use and maintain the library.  This is quite a challenge for these teens, but one that has been fully embraced.

A project like this is not only rewarding for these teens but has a lasting impact on the school and community at large.  The teens are trusted to take on a very serious project, with very serious outcomes, that have the potential to truly impact on the lives and academic achievements of primary school students from a poor rural community in Kenya.  The teens have had to work with basic resources in basic conditions, very unlike what they are used to back home.  They have had to deal with the emotional impact of being in an environment where even very basic commodities we take for granted like books simply do not exist.  They have had to overcome cultural and language barriers in order to work in partnership with the school to reach a mutually beneficial outcome.  In short these teens have taken on an enormously responsible role in a mature and professional manner.

showcasing some of the books ready for the shelves

showcasing some of the books ready for the shelves

This is just one example of one project this group of teens have taken in their stride throughout their 3 month trip through Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania.  As this particular trip is 3 months long the group partake in a variety of projects ranging from animal conservation, education programs, public health assessment and development.

Majority of teen groups don’t have the luxury of 3 months to travel East Africa, most groups opt for 2-4 weeks.  Even this amount of time can have an incredible impact on the lives of these young minds.

Teen travel abroad is now being seen as an essential part of growing up and placing teens in a better position for a highly competitive world.

Deborah Thiele from Africa Expedition Support organises trips for schools and teen groups travelling through East Africa for more information email info@africaexpeditionsupport.com

Responsible Travel Policy Into Practice – How Responsible Are We When We Travel?

Responsible Tourism has become one the most important marketing tools for Travel Agents and Tour Operators globally. In every brochure there is undoubtedly a section on how companies employ Responsible Tourism strategies into their tours. When push comes to shove; how many of these Travel Agents and Tour Operators actually enforce and support these strategies on the ground? Or has competition for the tourism dollar resulted in turning a blind eye.

Critically endangered Rhino

Critically endangered Rhino

A clear indication that Responsible Travel Policy is not translating into practice is in Game Parks throughout Africa. Big Cats, like lions and cheetahs, having to change their routine. Instead of hunting in the evening or very early morning they are starting to hunt at midday. This is not a natural wonder nor an adaptation from Mother Nature but simply a matter of survival.

Safari vehicles stalk wildlife. There is nothing more exciting than seeing a lion or cheetah stalking gazelles or zebra in the early morning light. It is not uncommon for one safari vehicle to spot this and drive as close to the action as possible, unfortunately every other vehicle that sees this knows there is something good nearby. Before long there are tens of vehicles crowded around the poor unsuspecting hungry Cat – the prey is alerted and the Cat wanders off; hungry.

The saving grace for Big Cats is that tourists get hungry too; at around midday all the safari vehicles head back to their lodges for a feast while the hungry Cat stays hungry unless she too decides to hunt in the middle of the day.

Leopards are one of the hardest animals to spot and one of the most vulnerable of all the cats

leopards are one of the hardest animals to spot and one of the most vulnerable of all the cats

Hunting during the hottest part of the day is particularly risky for Big Cats. They exert far too much energy, become dehydrated and if they miss this kill may be too weak to try another. Further, with the hot sun beating down they do not have shadows not shade to disguise themselves. There ability to sprint in hot exposed conditions is halved from hunting in cooler conditions. The chances of Cats being successful in their hunt are less than 50% from hunting early morning or evening.

The Cheetah is the fastest mammal on earth. It carries very little reserves and therefore must hunt regularly to keep energy levels high. A cheetah has a 1:2 hunt success rate. If the cheetah has a lesser rate than 1:3 hunt success rate it doesn’t have enough energy for another chase and will starve to death.

Why is this happening in this day in age? Surely humankind has learnt something over the past 100 years about protecting precious species.

A simple answer would be to blame the local operator. Obviously, if you book your safari through a Travel Agent the contract is passed to a local African operator. It is far too easy to blame the little guy – the African driver/guide who only wants a great tip at the end of the safari for getting you close to a lion kill. However, it is far more complicated than that.

The tourism industry is very competitive and each Agent and Operator is looking for a way to outdo his competitor. The magic words Responsible Tourism plays straight into the hand of the consumer. Everyone wants to feel the product they purchased will do some good or at very least no harm to the environment, people or culture.

Marketing and advertising are directed to play on the consumers inner emotions and feelings, over and above conscious thought processes.

Even with responsible travelers intentions being nothing but honorable at time of booking their African safari there seems to be a monster that unleashes itself when face to face with the perfect photo opportunity. Often this is a subconscious reaction to the environment. Try to remember since childhood how many wildlife documentaries you have seen. Impossible. But what you can recall is that in every documentary there was the animal kill – the lion taking down wildebeest in the Serengeti; Leopard taking the jugular of a gazelle in South Luangwa and Cheetah sprinting at incredible speed to outrun the springbok in Chobe. As a society we have been conditioned that Africa means Kill and no safari is complete unless we have seen one.

This pressure is placed on the driver/guide of the safari. If you ask anyone fresh off the plane in Nairobi about what their number 1 desire to see in Africa – a kill is invariably the response.

Walk with lions is a great conservation and education strategy.

Walk with lions is a great conservation and education strategy.

Local operators are constantly placed under massive stress to deliver the product and ensure clients have a once in a lifetime experience. Contracts are too easily won and lost over such trivia as one client complaint to the Agent that the safari did not deliver the goods. Excellent service, food, facilities and organisation do not count for much if the clients do not see the Big 5.

Agents and Foreign Tour Operators place enormous pressure on local operators to deliver above expectations. Resulting in local operators breaking fundamental rules like following Cats while hunting, driving off designated paths and driving far too close to wildlife – all in the pursuit of the perfect photo and all in breach of Responsible Tourism policy. This dilemma local operators face is simple. Break the rules and keep the contract or stick to the rules and lose it.

Booking tours through Agents has been the norm for many years and smaller operators selling their product through Agents have become more and more popular for maximum exposure and ultimately bums on seats. However, when a tour is booked through an Agent the consumer rarely knows who the actual Operator at the other end is. The Agent is there to make sales and often, sadly, will give miss-information to the potential client in order to sell that safari. Empty promises are made about the animals that the client would see and of course may even promise a lion kill in the Masai Mara. The client is nothing but disappointed at the end of the day.

Way Forward
The simplest solution to ensure Responsible Tourism Policy translates into Practice is not to expect to see the Big Cats in full flight. If you see one stalking potential prey… drive away. It is important for consumers to take responsibility and not insist or put undue pressure on local tour operators or their driver/guides to deliver the ultimate. African game parks are a natural refuge for wildlife, while everyone wants to see a lion kill, or a leopard up the tree or cheetahs hunting down a gazelle, what we must never lose sight of are game parks are there to protect wildlife for generations to come. Unless tourists and agents start taking an active role in responsible tourism we risk losing these already critically endangered animals forever.

Welcome to Africa Expedition Support Blog

Debs and Thiemo from Africa Expedition Support have been overlanding and 4WDing across Africa for many years. Although originally from Australia and Germany respectively we have made Kenya our home since 2003.

Debs and Thiemo cooking up a storm on an overland tour.

Debs and Thiemo cooking up a storm on an overland tour.

Whether it be trip reports, preparing your 4WD for an African expedition, taking teens on tour or social and political topics, this blog will give a broad range of topics and discussions that are often overlooked or ignored by tour operators and the media.

This blog is about informing, maybe at times a little controversial, but overall it is about offering an honest, open and straightforward discussion platform to many aspects of travel in Africa and related topics.

Over the years we have been published in many magazines from the UK, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand, while this has been fabulous exposure, we feel using the web as a platform has greater reach and offers more interactive discussion.

Teens on safari

Teens on safari

At the end of the day our blog is not just about getting on our high horse but is about information sharing, ideas and discussions.

We hope you enjoy reading our blog as much as we do!

Debs and Thiemo

Guided 4x4 self drive expedition group in Namibia (p.s. the hippo is not real!)

Guided 4×4 self drive expedition group in Namibia (p.s. the hippo is not real!)