The Combustible Lemons, an award-winning technology team from Davenport West High School, took robots and know-how overseas last summer to teach in Kenya.

A team of nine students and teachers from the school spent two weeks in Africa, showing the Kenyan youth how to use solar power to run motors at an elementary level and robotics at the secondary level.

The Lemons also passed along science lessons in a curriculum format and hosted a competition that attracted students from all around Kenya.

Teacher Greg Smith, a coach for the Lemons, and his wife, Alicia, were with the school contingent that also included Noah Douglas and his father, Greg, as well as David Vick of Davenport.

Several Lemons  were in support roles last school year and took part in a presentation to the Davenport School Board on Oct. 10. That group included Brandon Seamer, a sophomore from Davenport, and Kailey Fellner, a senior from Blue Grass. 

Both Seamer and Fellner helped the club raise money for the trip and also wrote lessons. They created about 20 basic lessons, such as how to use pulleys to manipulate Legos. The lessons were bound in booklets and given to Kenyan teachers.

The Davenport contingent visited private boarding schools in Kenya where the students are in school almost all year long.

Smith got the idea for the trip through an organization, For the Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology, or FIRST, founded by Dean Kamen, entrepreneur and inventor of the Segway two-wheeled vehicle.

The Combustible Lemons were competing in a FIRST challenge when Smith met Kathy and Matthew Collier of Colorado. The Colliers have taught robotics in Kenya's private schools for four years and suggested West's team might become involved. The Colliers led the trip.

Smith got approval for the trip from Davenport Community School District officials a year ago, and fundraising work began.

The trip cost about $28,000, raised by a combination of grants, donations and fundraising events. Each student also paid $500 and got a passport and the necessary inoculations.

Most of what was raised went to transportation, Smith said. The contingent flew to Doha, Qatar, and then to Nairobi.

Many of the students were impressed by the sights and sounds of Kenya. As soon as they got off the plane, Noah Douglas said the air smelled fresh and the trees were different, like palm trees.

The Davenport group also was impressed by the hard-working students.

"They were so interested in learning," Noah said. "The kids there are very grateful to be in school."

Davenport students spent about a day at each private school to explain their lessons.

In addition, the Combustible Lemons hosted a robotics tournament, which attracted about 100 students, some from towns several hours away. Kara Poppe, a 2011 West graduate who was in Africa on a fellowship, also helped with the tournament, Smith said.

The tournament was designed especially for the Kenyans, and it focused on project ideas and on-the-spot innovations, Smith said.

The trip wasn't all work. The Lemons also went on a safari and visited a Masabi tribe in a remote Kenyan village.

Noah called the safari a "once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," and Vick said a highlight came near the start of the trip, when they spotted a pride of lions  eating a water buffalo.

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"We were like 10 feet from that scene," Smith said.

When it came to visiting the Masabi village, Smith said the group "drove two hours on a main road, 45 minutes on a dirt road, 20 minutes on a cowpath and then had a 15-minute walk. We were in the middle of nowhere."

The Masabi killed a prized goat for the tourists and ate it in a ceremonial manner.

"This was an interesting and pretty neat experience," Smith said.

Both Noah Douglas and Alicia Smith were impressed by the masses of people in Kenya.

Alicia Smith said the people would walk along the roads, such as dirt roads, in high heels and suits, on their way to work. Laborers with hand tools toiled in the ditches.

Transporting more than a dozen Iowans around the country efficiently was a challenge. But most everyone spoke English, so language was not a problem, Alicia Smith said.

Noah, a senior at West, is ready to do it again.

"If I had a chance, I sure would return to Kenya," he said.

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