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Father and daughter return from eye-opening mission trip to Africa

Maggie Pfeffer, an Alexandria Area High School student, teaches students in a Boma, which is a village in Africa. Pfeffer traveled to Africa with her father, Pete, on a mission trip. (Contirbuted)1 / 3
Pete Pfeffer and his daughter, Maggie, handed out soccer balls to children in an African orphanage while on a mission trip. (Contributed)2 / 3
Pete Pfeffer, a chiropractor in Alexandria, does adjustments on children who live in orphanages while on a mission trip to Africa. His daughter, Maggie (in the background), reads to the children. (Contributed)3 / 3

An Alexandria father-daughter duo — Pete and Maggie Pfeffer — recently had the opportunity to go on a mission trip of a lifetime. The Pfeffers left Alexandria on Jan. 12 and returned home Feb. 3.

They took their trip through Dreamweaver International, a nonprofit charity that provides vital and necessary education, health care and more. Projects include the Kimana School of Leadership and Professional Studies; the Kimana Christian Academy, which is a school for pre-K through sixth grade; the Kilimanjaro Mission Hospital; and Gear for Goals in Africa.

Here is what they each had to say about their trip:

Pete's perspective

What was your mission in Africa, and do you feel you accomplished it?

My mission in Africa was three-fold: 1. Provide Maggie with an amazing cultural experience in a faraway land. 2. In a Franciscan manner, live out and share God's message of love by giving and serving with my hands and my heart. 3. Taste and enjoy Kenya by living in and amongst its people and sharing their day-to-day experience. I was lucky to accomplish each of these things and leave with even greater gifts than I left behind or could have expected.

What was the best part of your trip? Most difficult?

The best part of the trip was watching Maggie engage and make friends with African children, with our lodging staff and with the other doctors and volunteers. To see that her mother and I truly raised a citizen of the world who can handle adversity and thrive anywhere. The most difficult? Saying goodbye. Seeing the abject poverty and reconciling this with the pure happiness of the children living this life, and, during the Kilimanjaro climb, making the decision to send Maggie down at 18,000 feet, then honoring her wish to continue on to the summit. Those final hours were perhaps the most physically and emotionally taxing moments of my life.

Did you ever feel it was unsafe for you or for Maggie?

Perception is everything. We were never in danger per se, but leaving the airport compound and staring into a sea of African faces, a palpable language barrier, and men with AK-47 rifles everywhere gave me pause, and I thought to myself, "What have you done?" Rapidly, we picked up a few words of Swahili and learned some basic customs and rules, and these fears abated. I have to admit, I was always on my guard, always alert to my surroundings and was well aware that we were not in the U.S. We were visitors and in the minority. Despite these perceptions, we were always welcomed, always honored as guests and highly respected by virtually everyone.

What was it like being on this trip with your daughter? What do you think it taught her? Do you feel it changed your relationship with Maggie?

Maggie is an amazing girl. Intelligent and insightful, she made observations and comments about the cultural differences we witnessed and the human similarities we shared. I watched her interact with orphans, filmmakers, doctors and Maasai warriors. She was gracious and well received. She made me proud. She has grown into the young woman her mother and I had hoped she would become. It was amazing, and I am lucky to have spent 21 days with my daughter in such an interesting, challenging environment and watch her rise to the occasion again and again, ever the kind, beautiful, young woman we had hoped to raise. I think Maggie was able to realize that happiness comes from within, from gratitude. I think she realized firsthand that we are all one family, and education is perhaps the greatest natural resource. I think we both realized what is good for people should be good for all people. We are all connected, and this planet is actually quite small. I think she realized she is a lucky lucky girl ... in many ways.

Do you feel it changed you? How? What did it teach you?

I have been a student all of my life, always hungry to learn and make distinctions. This trip was no different. I always learn more about my home when I travel. I learned the old African proverb is true: The lion doesn't turn around when the small dog barks. I learned that simplicity rules the day, and food, water and friendship trump material things. Even though I love my soft bed and my car and my home, I realize they are temporary things, nice but temporary, and friendships made under stark conditions last a lifetime. I love the curiosity of children. I will never forget the small, brown hands rubbing my hands and arms to see if the white would rub off and the smiles, laughter and squeals of delight when it didn't.

What do you want the community to know about this mission trip?

I would like the community to know that education, which we take for granted, is the difference in a third-world, emerging nation, like Kenya. That schools are available but out of reach for many families in rural Africa. We can make a huge difference by contributing to the education of children in these areas, and the price is so small that most of us wouldn't even notice the contribution. I realized that in "bush" medicine, the chiropractor really has a leading role. The procedures we can provide by hand, and teach locally, are far reaching in a region where electricity and prescription medicines are few and far between. I want to thank this community for the support, the interest and the contributions. They have reminded me what it looks like to love your neighbor and have given Maggie a head start on remembering we are really all one big human family.

Maggie's perspective

What was your mission in Africa and do you feel you accomplished it?

My mission for this trip to Africa was to learn, to serve and to make friends. I accomplished more than I thought was possible. I learned lots about Kenya, but I feel like I learned more about my own home. I am satisfied with what we were able to do in the villages; more can always be done, but I have a feeling Africa will see me again soon. I made so many friends while I was there, with our team and with people who lived in Kenya, too.

What was the best part of your trip? Most difficult?

The best part of the trip was spending time with the children at various schools, orphanages and villages. The kids there are so happy, and it made me really happy that it wasn't based on material things. They were just truly happy. The most difficult part of the trip was saying goodbye to kids who had nothing, knowing I was going home to a safe and privileged life. We spent the day at an orphanage in Loitokitok. Kids were in this orphanage either because they were HIV positive or had been abused or neglected. I spent most of my day playing with a little boy named Zakaraya. We played soccer, a game we both love, and read books. Hand in hand, he proudly gave me a tour of the orphanage, a tin shed similar to something we would keep cattle in. He didn't say much, not because he couldn't, but because he didn't need to. His presence said so much more than words ever could. When I told him it was time for me to go, he held my hand tighter. He didn't understand why we had to leave. The goodbyes were the hardest part for me.

Did you ever feel like you were in danger or not safe?

Actually, no. There wasn't a time when I felt I was in danger. It was a really strange feeling, though. Everything we were experiencing was so different than anything I have seen before. It was eye opening being immersed in a different culture and being the minority, but it wasn't scary.

What was it like being on this trip with your dad? Do you feel like it changed your relationship with him?

I have always been close with my dad, so our relationship didn't really change. What did change is what we have experienced together. For instance, I don't usually see my dad adjusting people. It was really interesting to see him doing his thing, hands-on healing and teaching. He was such a natural with the kids, and I just loved to watch that.

Do you feel it changed you? How? What did it teach you?

The way I look at things has changed ... one thing I noticed in particular was our high school. I always knew that our new school was a state-of-the-art facility, but I definitely took it for granted. When I walked into school the first day I was back, I was shocked. The boys and girls in Kenya go to school in brick structures with tin roofs and dirt floors. Our school is a palace. This trip made me realize that I should be more appreciative for the things I do have. It taught me how useful chiropractic care is in developing countries, perhaps more than medicine. It is more useful because it deals with a person's natural ability to heal, it doesn't require medicines and prescriptions, which aren't readily available in Africa. The trip also taught me how sport, in this case soccer, is universal. You can communicate, speak the language of the game, and that was really cool to me.

What do you want the community to know about this mission trip?

I think it would be really awesome if people knew how neat of an experience it was and, if they ever get the opportunity, to take it. It would also be great if people knew that you can send an African child to school with lunch and a uniform for $450. School, something that many take for granted in the States, is so important in Kenya. Kids in school have a better chance of success and escaping poverty.

Celeste Edenloff

Celeste is a reporter for the Alexandria Echo Press and has lived in the Alexandria Lakes Area since 1997. She first worked for the Echo Press as a reporter from 1999 to 2011, and returned in June 2016 to report on the community she calls home. Besides writing articles for the Echo Press, she has a blog, “Newspaper Girl on the Run.” Celeste is on a continuous healthy living journey and loves to teach bootcamp fitness classes and run. She has participated in more than 200 races with her husband, Al, covering the 5K, 10K, 10-mile and half-marathon (13.1 mile) distances.

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