Michelle Anderson, center, is shown with a group of girls from the Traveller’s Oasis Girls School in Kenya, Africa. SUBMITTED PHOTO
Michelle Anderson, center, is shown with a group of girls from the Traveller’s Oasis Girls School in Kenya, Africa. SUBMITTED PHOTO
Earlier this summer, a group of Poet team members traveled to Kenya, Africa, to help build a dorm for the Traveller's Oasis Girls School.

Michele Anderson, quality manager at Poet Biorefining in Preston and a resident of Saint Charles, participated in this mission trip, from June 6 through 16.

"I felt like we really did a lot of good in our short amount of time spent there," she said.

The group worked on a new school dorm for a week.

"The work was physically very challenging, but after getting to meet the girls and learning about them, it really motivated us to get a lot done," Anderson added.

Most of the girls at the school are orphaned due to famine, disease or poverty. Roughly half the population of Kenya lives in absolute poverty.

The Traveller's Oasis School (TOC) currently enrolls 173 girls and when the dorm is completed, that number will double. Besides providing food, shelter and clothing for the girls, the goals of the school include providing basic and advanced education, teaching the girls to be entrepreneurs and self-reliant and ultimately alleviating illiteracy, poverty and disease.

"I have children that are ages 9 and 12, the same ages as many of the girls I met. I felt like the TOC girls were the fortunate kids that have been rescued by the school and given a shot at an education and a way out of poverty," Anderson said. "I saw many more kids on the streets that weren't going to school, sometimes rummaging through garbage or just sitting listlessly."

Anderson said that was hard to see because she has children and it made her realize how fortunate those who live in the United States really are.

"All children here can get an education," she continued. "That's not the case in Kenya where parents have to pay for school. The average income in the area we were at was less than $350 per year and school costs around $60 per year. The people that I met that had 'good' jobs, such as being a teacher or a head Mason earned between $60-$100 per month and that doesn't buy you very much. They were very intelligent and hard workers, working long hours each day. It occurred to me how nearly impossible it is to get out of poverty for people born to that country."

While on the mission trip, Anderson and the group had many opportunities to get to know the girls.

"At the end of our work day, we would have an hour to be with the girls. We played them in soccer (football to them) and they were tough," she added. "Members of the Saint Charles United Methodist Church donated materials to make friendship bracelets which the girls had a lot of fun with."

Anderson also organized a letter-writing project between the Saint Charles Elementary School and the Traveller's Oasis School. Third and sixth graders wrote letters to the girls at TOC which Anderson distributed the girls. The girls at the school were so excited to receive their letters and to respond back that the teachers altered the school schedule so they could work on their letters. Anderson then brought the responses back to the students.

"Our students here were equally excited to receive their letters back from Africa," Anderson added. "It's really cool to see these friendships form and for kids from different cultures have the chance to connect."

Anderson concluded by saying she is sincerely grateful to have been given the opportunity to go on this mission trip.

"I appreciate working for a company, Poet, that supports those that are less advantaged," she said.

Poet paid for part of the mission costs and all of the dorm material costs. "Also, I could not have gone on this mission without the financial support of our plant shareholders, vendors and team members," Anderson said. "I am truly appreciative and I hope to be able to help another team member from our plant go on this trip next year."

Poet is planning to send another team in 2015 to work on a second wing to the dormitory.