CHAMPAIGN (WCIA) — A summer service trip to Africa changed the lives of three Illinois football players. Tip Reiman, Isaiah Williams and Kenenna Odeluga spent a week in Nairobi, Kenya in May, visiting the Maasai tribes and giving back to several African communities.
“Jason, our team chaplain, came up to me during a lift and was like, ‘Hey, you want to go to Africa in May?'” Reiman said. “And I was like, ‘Yeah, for sure.'”
It didn’t take long for Reiman to agree to make the trip halfway around the world. His wife Maddy joined, along with Illinois women’s basketball player Genesis Bryant. The group was led by Jason Epperson, life coach for the football team.
“Seeing their culture, seeing their way of life, seeing the way that they interact with each other and interact with people that they don’t even know about and we’re strangers to them, but the amount of love, the amount of hospitality was something I’ve never experienced before,” Odeluga said.
The group was immersed in African culture by dancing with natives, praying with others or just having simple conversations.
“I wasn’t trying to hold an image or be this football player, be this guy,” Williams said. “I was just being Isaiah and I enjoyed it. I had fun and I was just embracing the African culture.”
The Illini players also gifted goats to the Maasai community as a way to give back.
“Just being thankful for the little things,” said Williams. “Them people didn’t really have much, but they were thankful for what they had and whatever they received they were thankful.”
“We think that we have some hard stuff, they have steps beyond that,” Reiman added.
Through all the experiences, the Illini players say they grew closer to one another, in a unique international bonding experience.
“You just take that to another level when you go to another country with people,” Reiman said.
“Early on, didn’t really talk much, I didn’t really know nothing about KO (Kenenna Odeluga) that much, he was just my teammate, honestly,” Williams said about Odeulga. “Then we ended up being roommates and then we ended up talking every single night and we just grew a bond that’s so strong and it was just based off this trip.”
“Those small moments, whether we’re in the hotel room just talking, talking about our day, talking about life, talking about things that we’re going through,” said Odeluga. “You’re able to really see the person for who they are.”