Sitting on the runway in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, Steve Brown was a little nervous.

Sitting on the runway in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, Steve Brown was a little nervous.

The director of the Department of Emergency Services for the Blue Springs School District has made the trip to Africa almost 15 times in the last 20 years. But he has never been on a plane that hit a bird on take-off before.

“We heard this terrible booming sound,” he said. “We were seconds from being off the ground, but then, I guess, we hit a bird. As the plane was trying to stop, two of the tires caught on fire. I had never had that sort of problem before.”

Brown, along with his wife Jody and their three sons – Justice, Zane and Jake – were on their way to Kenya for a three-week stay when the bird accident happened. Although it delayed the family one day, Brown said once they arrived in Nanyuki, a town about the size of Blue Springs with 50,000 residents in Kenya, the family got straight to work.

“I was working with the Mount Kenya Baptist Academy, a boarding school there,” he said, “primarily working with the teachers in professional development strategies trying to get them to think outside of the box. It is similar to what we will do with our teachers during in-service days.”

This is the second consecutive year Brown has visited the school, but the first time his sons have gotten to experience the African culture. As a former youth pastor in South Africa, Brown began to make trips to Africa in 1986, traveling to Zambia and Tanzania. It was then, he said, that he “fell in love with Africa.”

The most recent trips have been focused on helping teachers in Kenya understand that each student is different, so the same curriculum or technique cannot be used on everyone.

Modeled on the British education system, Brown said teachers tend to teach in one style to every student. He said the goal is to help them learn different strategies to use to help all students succeed.

“Every kid is different. That is what I try to get across to them,” he said. “Each student has their own talents and gifts. They have to be careful not to put so much pressure on them.”

But the educational system in Kenya is vastly different from what is in the United States. During the eighth grade year, students study for national exams, similar to those in many European countries. The scores from this test determine what kind of high school they will attend.

“There is so much pressure to do well,” he said. “If they don’t score well, they don’t get into the good academies. It is very competitive.”

Despite the educational differences, Brown said he was happy to see how well his own three sons fit into the culture.

“They enjoyed themselves,” he said. “They got in there and played with the kids. I think they really liked being there.”

Jody Brown said what surprised her the most was how easily her children interacted with the Kenyan children. She said it was always she and her husband’s intention to take the boys to Africa, but she was still surprised to see how even a language barrier did not sway them from making new friends.

“They just jumped right in and started playing as if there were no cultural and language barriers. They loved being a part of this,” she said. “I didn’t know how they were going to respond to different situations, but even when they were given goat meat to eat one night, they actually ate it.”

Steve Brown said he enjoys visiting Africa because of the people. He said even though many of the families are “poorer than poor,” they are some of the happiest people he has ever met.

“They are so very thankful for everything they have simply because they do not have a lot,” he said. “They don’t have a lot of material possessions, but they are beautiful people.”

Jody Brown said she thinks it is amazing that her husband has such a heart for the children in Africa. She said he does what he can to enrich the teachers’ lives, so they can do better for the children.

“They are such happy people,” she said. “We have so much here that we take for granted. But to see that on the other side of the world that they are generally happy people even without all these material things that we think we need, is absolutely wonderful.”