Ridgefield residents gather donations to bring on safari to benefit Kenyan nonprofit

En route to their 17-day safari in Kenya and Tanzania, a group of 22 travelers led by Ridgefield resident Linda Haines checked an extra suitcase filled with needed items to donate to the nonprofit Arrive Kenya, founded by former Ridgefield resident Brian Ash.

En route to their 17-day safari in Kenya and Tanzania, a group of 22 travelers led by Ridgefield resident Linda Haines checked an extra suitcase filled with needed items to donate to the nonprofit Arrive Kenya, founded by former Ridgefield resident Brian Ash.

Linda Haines /

RIDGEFIELD - Combining being able to give back along with vacationing, Ridgefield resident Linda Haines encouraged nearly two dozen people to collect donations for a Kenyan nonprofit to bring on their safari trip to Kenya and Tanzania.

Founded by former Ridgefield resident Brian Gregory Ash, the nonprofit organization Arrive Kenya is “dedicated to improving the lives of the most vulnerable children around the world,” according to Arrive Kenya’s website.

Path to Kenya

After graduating from Ridgefield High School in 2009, Ash attended the University of Colorado and in 2012, he embarked on his first trip to Africa and headed to Kenya and Tanzania.

After climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, Ash said he decided to head to Kenya to volunteer. It was during his volunteer experience that Ash was introduced to street children between 4 and 17 years old, homeless orphans that were living in the streets, numbing their pain with drugs and diving through dumpsters to find food.

After meeting one of them and bringing him to the children’s home where he was volunteering, Ash said, “I knew from that moment that we could do this (help children) on a bigger scale.”

Ash was in his senior year of college when he decided to start Arrive Kenya, and after graduation, he returned there to set his plans in motion.

Today, Ash said Arrive Kenya partners with local nonprofits, individuals, organizations and companies to provide local aid and empower people to improve their life..

To find children in need, Ash created a questionnaire he takes with him when he visits the local cities in Kenya.

As he interacts with the cities’ street children, Ash said, “You’d get a trail of 100, 200 kids from 4 years old to maybe 15, 16, begging us to take them back to our children’s home because they knew it was their only hope of getting off the street.”

After interviewing many of the children, Ash said Arrive Kenya chooses those they think need help the most.

During his nine years in Kenya, he said he became normalized to some of the realities of the work involved in rescuing children from the streets.

Since Arrive Kenya is on a limited budget, he said they try to find a balance between how many kids they can help and how much aid they can be given.

Collecting donations

Since 2006, Haines has partnered with EF Tours (which gives educational tours) to organize private tours for students and adults.

As a group leader and local ambassador with EF Tours, Haines said she initially started organizing student tours and has taken hundreds of students on international trips every year directly through the tour company.

More recently, she said she started organizing adult trips - such as the recent safari to Kenya and Tanzania - through EF Go Ahead, the adult division of EF Tours.

A total of 22 travelers - half of whom were from Ridgefield - signed up for the 17-day safari trip to Kenya and Tanzania.

Before embarking on the safari, Haines decided to get in touch with Ash last spring to see if there was anything he needed for Arrive Kenya. Ash had graduated with Haines’ son Kevin from Ridgefield High.

Ash gave Haines a list requesting backpacks, dry-fit clothing, art supplies, books, shoes, soccer balls and other items. Haines then reached out to the group’s other travelers to ask who’d be interested in bringing a suitcase of items to donate to Arrive Kenya.

“Of course, everybody wanted to,” she said. “Some people filled the cases themselves, others reached out to community members. I had other suitcases that I filled, so I reached out to the community.”

Haines also reached out through the “Buy Nothing Ridgefield” Facebook page and collected between eight and 10 suitcases donated and filled by community members.

Each of the trip’s 22 travelers left for Nairobi, Africa, on July 1 with an extra suitcase checked. Haines said she traveled two days early to visit a cousin of hers in Nairobi.

In the middle of their tour, Haines said she worked it out with the tour director to revise one of their tour days, so they could visit with Ash.

“We stopped and spent a little bit of time with him that afternoon, met his wife and his daughter, and it was wonderful. When we got to his home, he had laid out all the items on the lawn, and when you laid it out from all the suitcases, it was really overwhelming to see how much we had brought.”

Ash said the group’s donations went to three different groups, including the children with Arrive Kenya; the girl escapees from Nashipai Maasai Community Projects, which Ash’s wife founded; and around 10 to 15 local children in need of supplies.

He said about 75 children benefited from the donations.

“It means the world to me,” Ash said, “and the fact that she was willing to organize and draw up support for people to bring these amazing items we cannot find in Kenya, it’s huge. I’m grateful and I’m honored, but that, to me, is much less important to how I feel than the kids who’ve got this stuff.”

Throughout the rest of their trip, Haines said they had a phenomenal safari.

“There was one day we were in the Serengeti and we saw 24 lions on the same day, and then another day we saw 17 lions,” she said. “The people in Kenya and Tanzania are so humble and so grateful for the tourism, grateful for people coming and sharing their beautiful country, beautiful culture. We spent one morning in a Maasai village - they brought us into their homes, we bought their crafts. Just to understand the different cultures is such an important piece for me and the travelers.”

Haines said she was grateful for the generosity of everybody who filled the suitcases. In addition to fellow Ridgefield residents, the other half of the group was comprised of people from other states like Texas, California, Maine and Virginia.

For her next group trip, Haines plans to head to Scandinavia and then to South America. She said it’s her intention for the next trip to do something similar to what her group did in Kenya.