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Lending a helping hand in Kenya

staff photo by amber kispert-smith Woodbury resident and Convent of the Visitation School junior Mary Sicoli will be traveling to Kenya with her father Rob this June as part of the school's Team Mutomo mission trip. The mission trip will see participants helping at the Sisters of Mercy orphanage and working with children and adults who suffer from HIV and AIDS.

Woodbury residents Rob and Mary Sicoli will be taking a not- so-traditional father-daughter vacation this summer - Kenya.

Rob and Mary will be traveling to Kenya June 12 to June 28 with a group from the Convent of the Visitation School, in Mendota Heights, where Mary is a junior

"It's a unique opportunity for me and my daughter," Rob said. "It's a great opportunity for us to do something special together."

Now in its second year, Team Mutomo will send 10 students and five chaperones to Kenya on a mission trip where they will be working with children who have HIV and AIDS at the Sisters of Mercy orphanage.

In addition, Team Mutomo will help out at the hospital and at various HIV clinics.

Woodbury resident Abbey Casagrande will also be participating in the Team Mutomo trip this summer.

Last year's group performed such tasks as caring for the children, organizing medical records, building a playground, cleaning the hospital and other errands.

This year's group will do much of the same work and possibly even assist with the building of a well.

"It's a wonderful opportunity to serve," Rob said. "You end up getting more than you actually give on these things."

New opportunity

Mary, who has participated in mission trips in the past, said she decided to go on the Team Mutomo trip because it would expose her to a different culture and take her outside her comfort zone in Minnesota.

"I'm hoping to get a new appreciation for what we have," she said.

Rob said he decided to accompany his daughter because he never had an experience like this before. He said it seemed like the perfect opportunity.

"I've always wanted to experience another culture," he said. "This was kind of on my bucket list - I want to give back."

Another added incentive for Rob is the fact that he is a physician with Children's Hospitals in St. Paul and the Team Mutomo trip would provide him with a unique opportunity to put his medical knowledge to use.

Rob said he has had some experience with malaria and HIV, but those cases have always been treated.

Kenya will be an entirely new experience, Rob said, since many of the people they will be working with don't have the means to receive treatment.

"It will be educational and eye opening to see some of those diseases we don't see here," he said. "I'm looking forward to using some skills and maybe do some good."

Prepping for Africa

In order to prepare for their trip to Kenya, Rob and Mary will have to receive all of their vaccinations before leaving - in addition to reading up on the culture.

In fact, Mary is in the process of reading a book about Kenya in English class. She is also studying HIV and AIDS in her biology class.

Whereas Rob is a little nervous about traveling to Kenya, Mary is ready for the experience.

"This is all new to me so I think the conditions and the way these folks live and some of the challenges they endure are going to be eye opening," he said. "I think we'll adapt, we'll deal with it."

Mary said she's ready for whatever the trip brings.

"I think it helps that my dad is coming with," she said.

Both Rob and Mary said they are excited for the new experiences they will have in Kenya.

"I hope to pick up a little Swahili," Mary said.

"I want to better understand the culture and the people," Rob said. "That's one of the great things about traveling; you get to meet people in their own environment."

Convent of the Visitation, and Team Mutomo, will be holding a 5K run/walk fundraiser at 10 a.m. March 31 to help raise funds for the Kenya trip. Team Mutomo is hoping to raise $13,000. The cost per person for the run/walk is $20. Everyone who signs up will receive a Team Mutomo t-shirt and snacks.

To register visit, enter Team Mutomo in the search box, and click the 5K registration link. Participants can also register on the day of the event is $25 per person. Team Mutomo will also be hosting an auction for an iPad later this spring.

Amber Kispert-Smith

Amber Kispert-Smith has been the schools and Afton reporter at the Woodbury Bulletin since 2008. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota. She previously worked as a reporter for Press Publications in White Bear Lake.

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