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Student 'Plays it Forward' in Kenya
Fourteen-year-old uses win from country-music star's charity to help children in Africa

Evan Kiyoshi French
Northern News Services
Thursday, September 3, 2015

The smile that broke across the face of a Kenyan child shown a photograph of herself for the first time, has inspired a series of smiles for one Sir John Franklin High School student.

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Lauren Seabrook, 15, right - seen here with an 8-year-old girl outside of Nairobi, Kenya - said she has new reason to smile after a six-week volunteer gig handing out bed supplies to needy children in the African country. - photo courtesy of Lauren Seabrook

After a six-week stint handing out supplies to needy children in Kenya, 15-year-old Lauren Seabrook said she's been smiling a lot. Seabrook - who won $10,000 for her fundraising work at country-music singer Tenille's Play It Forward Tour concert in Grand Prairie, Alta., in 2014 - said she used some of her winnings to pay for an African adventure, handing out bed supplies for the Sleeping Children Around the World (SCAW) charity group, where she gained a new perspective on life while interacting with Kenyan children.

"The people in Kenya are the most amazing people I've ever met," she said. "I was expecting them to know that they're needy. But they're totally content with what they have."

Seabrook said she's always wanted to visit the continent, but she was nervous about her trip before she left in February. She said she was a bit anxious about coming face to face with poverty.

"I've never been outside North America," she said.

In that country, she heard stories about people walking 20 kilometres in order to receive the bed supplies.

"They have kids who have malaria, kids who have never slept on a mattress before," she said. "They have kids who need wheelchairs but don't have them so they just walk on their hands."

The trip took her from Nairobi to within just under 50 kilometres of the Ugandan border, said Seabrook, handing out mattresses, pillows, new clothes and school supplies to young Kenyans between the ages of five and 14.

Seabrook said the experience has her rethinking values on this side of the Atlantic ocean.

"I look around here and I see people complaining that they don't have the latest gadget or they don't have more of what they want. These people have nothing but they're so happy. One kid, I showed her and picture of (herself) and they'd never seen themselves before. The look that came on that child's face, I'll never forget that."

The group also took some time to go on a safari ride.

"We saw everything," she said. "We saw lions, elephants, giraffes, zebras, everything."

Seabrook said the experience has her thinking about careers.

"I like helping people and animals," she said, adding that she divided a chunk of her winnings between the SPCA and the Ronald McDonald House of northern Alberta before taking her trip. "And I definitely want to travel again. I think I'd like to be a vet."

Proud father Jeff Seabrook, principal at William McDonald Middle School, said his daughter made the trip with her grandmother, Carol Rolph, who works for SCAW, so he wasn't too worried about her safety while she was abroad. He said the organization usually takes volunteers at age 16 but made an exception for his daughter because she'd done so much fundraising work already.

"She's a fairly mature student," he said.

He added it's nice to hear his daughter talking about the inspiring things she saw.

"That's what was really powerful. Hearing her come back and talk about the smiles on the kids faces, I think she was taken aback by that."

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