MAQUOKETA, Iowa — Families and friends tearfully reunited Sunday with 26 Maquoketa High School students and chaperones who were stranded in Kenya. "We all knew we were safe. We just wanted to get back to see our families," Club hOpe member Marissa Till said.

The student mission group left July 29 and had spent about a week in Maasai Mara helping build a school as part of an every-other-year program through Me to We, a national organization.

However, last Wednesday, a fire at the Nairobi, Kenya, airport delayed their trip home by three days.

Mindy Orris, Club hOpe adviser, said they had not arrived at the airport when the fire started. The Me to We program hosted them in their compound in Nairobi. Then KLM Airlines housed them in a nearby hotel.

"We had first been told we couldn't leave until Aug. 18. But we couldn't wait that long," Orris said. District classes start Thursday.

"They also wanted to split us up, and that wasn't going to work," Orris said.

"Thank goodness for Sen. (Chuck) Grassley and Congressman (Bruce) Braley's offices who got this to work so we are all home."

Till said the trip was "wonderful."

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"We all felt something there. We played with the kids, and we help dig the foundation for a school," she said. 

About 50-75 friends and families greeted the students as they returned at 7:40 p.m. Sunday to Maquoketa High School. Their chartered bus was led in by a Maquoketa firetruck driven by Jerry Bowen.

The group arrived at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport after a long day of traveling and a layover in Amsterdam. 

The students spent two years raising money for the trip.

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