Olivia Holt on the Week in Kenya That Changed Her Life

Olivia Holt
Photo: Courtesy Juozas Cernius

This year was a busy one for me. I’ve spent a lot of time promoting my music and working on all of my projects, so I decided early on in the year that I wanted to do something for somebody else. Whether it was helping out in my community in L.A. or taking a trip abroad, I didn’t know.

Coincidentally, the same week that I was talking to one of my friends about what I wanted to do, the WE Movement team reached out to me and asked if I wanted to go to Africa with them. I was actually just about to leave for a few months to shoot on location, but my gut and my heart and my mind were all on the same page, so I knew I wanted to make it happen.

I learned about the WE Movement two years ago when I participated in WE Day, one of the events that they do every year. Their mission is amazing because they work to make an impact both locally and globally in communities that need to have a voice. It was there that I found out about the trips that they go on every year to three different villages—one in Ecuador, one in India, and the one in Kenya that I visited called Maasai Mara.

Our group was small—just me, my friend, and a couple of faculty that work at WE—but we were able to accomplish so much on our trip. In one week, we helped build wells for clean, filtered water, as well as some buildings for a girl’s school called Kisaruni All Girls Secondary School.

While we were there, we got a tour of the campus, which was one of my favorite parts. The girls showed us the cafeteria and the lab rooms and all of the things that they have been learning. It was incredible to see everything that they’ve soaked up by being at that school. Probably 99 percent of the girls said that they now dream of going to a university one day because of it.

I was able to meet so many amazing people, who openly welcomed me into their village. They taught me what it was like to hunt for food back in the day, and how to make rafikis, the beaded bracelets that the mamas create to make a living.

I gained so much perspective from being around them. There are a lot of things I feel like we take for granted, and that could be something big, like our education, our health, the air that we breathe, the water we drink, or it could be something small, like the shoes that we wear or the clothes on our back.

When we first arrived, there were all of these little kids that were running after the vehicle we were in and they were grinning from ear to ear, with these massive smiles on their faces, saying, “Jambo!”, which is hello in Swahili. They had no shoes on their feet, and very little clothing. During the night, it gets cold there and there isn’t a lot of shelter. So it was an eye opener for me.

It definitely made an impact on the way that I cope with things in my life now because I know that there's so much more going on in the world than the challenges that I struggle with.

It sounds cliché to say the trip was life-changing, but it’s true. I remember thinking, I'm going to help these people and I'm going to make a change for them, not realizing that they were going to help me and make such a change in my life.

—As told to Jennifer Ferrise.

To see more snaps from Holt’s trip, keep reading. And for more information on the WE Movement, visit we.org.

01 of 11

THE WATER WALK

THE WATER WALK
Courtesy Juozas Cernius

“Thankfully wells are being built in the villages now, but the mamas sometimes still have to walk miles to the Maasai Mara River to fill these jugs of water. I only carried one jug, and believe me, it was not easy. Often the women carry three or four with a baby also strapped around them.”

02 of 11

BUILDING TIME

BUILDING TIME
Courtesy Juozas Cernius

“We helped make wells for clean, filtered water, as well as a girl's school. It's definitely a lot of labor, but we were so happy to be doing it.”

03 of 11

SCHOOL DAYS

SCHOOL DAYS
Courtesy Juozas Cernius

“It was amazing to see inside of the school. It’s a boarding school and the girls are there year-round, so they have dorms. We also got to go inside the classrooms.”

04 of 11

THE VEGETABLE GARDEN

THE VEGETABLE GARDEN
Courtesy Juozas Cernius

“This is right off campus and the girls showed me how they grow and take care of their fruits and vegetable gardens. I thought it was incredible because I never learned to do that.”

05 of 11

THE CAFETERIA

THE CAFETERIA
Courtesy Juozas Cernius

“This one was of my favorite moments of the trip. We all went around the table and just talked about our favorite foods and our favorite music. It was so cool to see that even though we live two completely different lives and we're on two opposite sides of the world, there was so much that we had in common.”

06 of 11

SING ALONG

SING ALONG
Courtesy Juozas Cernius

“At school, they have days there where they can either watch a movie or a read a book or listen to music, and a lot of them love music. John Legend was the one artist that they were obsessed with, so we sang a lot of his songs, which was really fun!”

07 of 11

Yoga Moves

Yoga Moves
Courtesy Juozas Cernius

“I met a man named Cheloti who is from Kenya, but now works with the WE Movement and travels with them as a motivational speaker. He teaches yoga every morning in the village and showed me how to do acro yoga, which is one of the most peaceful experiences I’ve ever had. It was like pure meditation.”

08 of 11

TARGET PRACTICE

TARGET PRACTICE
Courtesy Juozas Cernius

“I also learned what it was like to hunt back in the day for food. We had a bow and arrow, a conga, and a spear. I wasn’t very good with the bow and arrow, but it was still fun to try!”

09 of 11

JEWELRY MAKING

JEWELRY MAKING
Courtesy Juozas Cernius

“The mamas in the village make bracelets called rafikis, which means friend in Swahili, and they sell them to make a living. You can buy them though WE Movement to support the community.”

10 of 11

Beads Galore

Beads Galore
Courtesy Juozas Cernius

“The bracelets are not easy to make either. There are just so many beads! You could easily pick colors at random to make it go faster, but I wanted to design one, and it took so long. The mamas in the village were so much faster at it.”

11 of 11

Finished Product

Finished Product
Courtesy Juozas Cernius

“I kept a bunch of the bracelets that I made. At first I wore them all the time, but then I had to start filming, so now I keep them in a special place in my room so I don’t lose them.”

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