Harford Habitat volunteers return safe from home-build in Kenya, finally

After being stuck in Africa as a result of a major fire at the international hub airport in Nairobi, volunteer members of a Habitat for Humanity Susquehanna contingent known as the Kenya Krew said they could not have been happier Monday night to finally be sitting in Washington, D.C.

After a fire at the Nairobi airport shut down all air travel, the nine volunteers were stuck in the city four days beyond their planned return home.


Then, Habitat Susquehanna Volunteer Coordinator Abrielle Willis' mom started a prayer chain that stretched across the country.

"Within hours of her starting it, we had a flight home," Willis said.

Still, even with the news they would be leaving Nairobi Sunday, the group, which included two others from Harford besides Willis, wasn't getting hopes up until they were on the plane.

The volunteers - Carol Deel, of Bel Air, and JD Snyder, of Belcamp; as well as Eddie Jenkins, of Baltimore, Lizz Bondarenko, of Perry Hall, Tom and Jackie Shaffstall, of Elkton, and Bob and Gretchen Hyneckeal, of Boyertown, Pa. – had been told before they could be leaving.

The group left Maryland July 27 and was supposed to return Thursday, Aug. 8. Because of the delay, they didn't end up getting home until Monday night.

After an eight-hour flight from Nairobi to London, where they had a five-hour layover, then an eight-hour flight to Washington, "I feel like I've been hit by a truck," Willis, who'd been awake since 4 a.m., said Tuesday morning. She made it back to her house in Fallston at 6:30 p.m. Monday.

When Willis, who led the group to a village outside Kisii, Kenya, to build a house for a farmer, his wife and their several children, woke up in Nairobi last Wednesday morning, the day they were supposed to leave, she saw on TV news of the airport fire that destroyed the international terminal, and learned that flights were canceled indefinitely.

"I thought, 'Of course, this would happen to me,'" she said. "For a moment I was very panicked, but Habitat for Humanity had an emergency plan in place for something like this."

The volunteers hung around Nairobi for the day, doing some sight-seeing and "hoping for good news," which didn't come.

Habitat put them up in a hotel overnight while they waited for any news of when they might leave. One extra night turned into two, then three, then four.

"I thought 'This isn't good,'" she said.

They were told the earliest they could be guaranteed a flight to London (they were flying British Airways) was at the end of August, so Willis began to look for alternatives, such as flying out of other cities.

She said she recalls thinking: "How are we going to get out of here?"

The four days waiting were an emotional roller coaster; they'd get a little good news and a glimmer of hope, then it would turn out they couldn't get on a flight because it was full or it wasn't coming at all.


"I'd be sharing good news, then an hour later, bad news," she said.

Then the prayer vigil, and soon their flight was scheduled.

There is one thing Willis learned from the ordeal.

"Before I doubted myself. How would I react if things went wrong? If there was an emergency. Would I make the right decisions?" she said. "This trip taught me absolutely I can. Now I know what to do in situations like this in future, if they happen again, which I hope they don't. But that's a risk you take when you travel."