UT Twins Teach Orphans in Kenya

Published: Sep 3, 2013
“We never had a free finger,” said Samantha Taranto ’15, describing the children’s eagerness to hold her hands.
“We never had a free finger,” said Samantha Taranto ’15, describing the children’s eagerness to hold her hands.
“They just wanted to be loved,” said Nicole Taranto ’15, of Staten Island, NY. “They didn’t know what tickling felt like or even a hug.”
“They just wanted to be loved,” said Nicole Taranto ’15, of Staten Island, NY. “They didn’t know what tickling felt like or even a hug.”

Watch two videos from Nicole and Samantha Taranto's trip.

For a month this summer, Nicole and Samantha Taranto taught elementary school lessons at an orphanage in Kenya. Their early mornings started with a 1.5-hour walk from their host mother’s home, and before they could reach the top of the hill where the orphanage was perched, a sea of orange sweaters would come running toward them.

“We never had a free finger,” said Samantha Taranto ’15, describing the children’s eagerness to hold her hands. To accommodate so many, she would offer up each of her ten fingers. The Tarantos learned there are many orphans in Kenyan, due primarily to the 2007 post-election violence.

The children in the Tarantos’ orphanage couldn’t get enough touch. At naptime they’d lay as close as possible, draped over the twins. When one of the girls would read to the class, she’d have a child on one side twirling her hair and a baby on her other hip.

“They just wanted to be loved,” said Nicole Taranto ’15, of Staten Island, NY. “They didn’t know what tickling felt like or even a hug.”

While heart wrenching, the Tarantos left Kenya filled with love and admiration for the children they worked with. What brought them to the east African country was a long-time desire to help children on the continent. When a friend introduced them to the International Volunteer HQ, they found a way to get there with an organization to support their journey.

The twins joined about 80 other volunteers from around the world for the month-long experience. They were scattered across the country doing projects that covered everything from women’s empowerment to urban and rural teaching to HIV/AIDS work. The Tarantos worked in an orphanage with 88 children ages 1 to 14. They were the first foreign volunteers ever in the small community, a couple hours outside Nairobi.

The Tarantos, who are majoring in finance, spent a year fundraising to cover their costs and to purchase books and supplies for the orphanage school. They even took over some donated UT folders. On the weekends when they weren’t teaching, they backpacked to local slums to participate in feeding programs.

“It was so sad, but amazing to see kids so happy,” said Samantha, who along with her sister is a Gateways mentor and member of Delta Sigma Pi business fraternity. “It’s a whole new definition of grateful.”

Saying goodbye was the hardest thing Samantha said she’s ever had to do. One month created a bond and a desire to stay involved. The sisters hope to use their business degrees to work in philanthropy after graduation. Until then, they are staying connected to the Kenyan orphanage by trying to secure funding for the children through U.S. Embassy programs.

“You feel so small there, realizing how big the world is,” Samantha said. “This experience changed my life.”

For information on study abroad opportunities, consider attending the Study Abroad Fair, Sept. 19, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the Vaughn Lobby.

Have a story idea? Contact Jamie Pilarczyk, Web Writer 
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