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Local family lands in Kenya days before crisis

Before Canadians started to read of violence erupting out of the Kenyan presidential election last December, Sheri Davis watched smoke rise out of Nairobi's largest slum from a porch.

Before Canadians started to read of violence erupting out of the Kenyan presidential election last December, Sheri Davis watched smoke rise out of Nairobi's largest slum from a porch.President Mwai Kibaki had just been controversially declared the winner over opposition leader Raila Odinga, who in turn was quick to charge Kibaki with rigging the election.

"I just had this feeling of dread in the pit of my stomach," said Sheri of hearing the results. "I went outside and sat on the porch and about 15 minutes later the plumes of black smoke started rising out of Kibera."

The ensuing politically charged fighting between gangs from rival tribes has since left more than 1,000 dead and 350,000 displaced. Three days earlier on election day (Dec. 27), Sheri arrived in the country's capital with her husband Ian, sons Aiden and Nigel, and daughter Teri-Rose to visit the Emmanuel Boys Rescue Center. The centre provides food, shelter, education and care to about 45 of the estimated 250,000 street children in Kenya.

For the three teenaged volunteers, the trip was a chance to play soccer with pen pals and strengthen personal connections with peers growing up in a developing country. Meanwhile, it was Sheri and Ian's third journey to the centre they have helped since 2006 along with a number of other Squamish residents, including EBRC's North American head. But this time emphasized just how important the centre is for protecting the wellbeing of the eight to 19-year-olds, said Sheri."It was such a good eye-opener to see how the rest of the country was responding and how the boys at the center were responding because there were boys there from many different tribes...but they're not fighting with each other."

Centre director Daniel Nduati educates the boys to be tolerant of other ethnicities and their political beliefs, said Sheri's husband Ian. And those who are fortunate enough to gain a spot at the centre are not screened by their ethnicities - a point Ian was careful to ask Nduati."I think he's setting a good example that way," he said.

The family came in direct contact with Kenya's ill-fated youth during an outreach mission on the streets. Usually busy with kids of all ages looking for income in some form or another, the streets were only occupied by older teens and men in their early 20s because the younger kids had fled to refugee camps. Many of the young men were high on glue and stressed from the lack of traffic and tourism, said Ian. Sheri said she was talking with a young man when another confronted her yielding a metal bar and shouting frantically. "He was so wasted and he started ranting that he had seen us there and he had come over for war. It was terrifying. I was thinking 'Oh my God he could kill me'. I also thought this could be anyone of the older boys at the centre if they hadn't been taken off the street and given this opportunity."

The young man eventually backed off, perhaps realizing that he hadn't found an enemy. Later that same day (Jan. 10), Teri-Rose celebrated her 13th birthday with her family and Kenyan friends in the safety of the centre. Despite the charged day's events, the Davis's finished their trip without directly encountering conflict. In the early parts of the trip they traveled through Rift Valley towns like Naivasha and Nakuru on the way to visit wildlife at national parks, but at the time, fighting had yet to escalate, said Sheri.

"We didn't see any horrendous things but it was nerve-wracking being a traveller because you knew that it could happen anywhere at anytime and we just happened to be lucky."Indeed, the violence soon intensified. Two weeks after the Davises' Jan. 15 return to Canada, Reuters reported the death toll in Naivasha and Nakuru approached 100.

There will be an EBRC update session on Thursday (Feb. 21) at Gelato Carina at 7 p.m.

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