New Degrassi star helps build school in Kenya

Tyrone Warner, CTV.ca

She might be playing a mean girl on Degrassi next season, but Charlotte Arnold has a heart for charity.

Playing transfer student “Holly J,” Arnold is ready to ruffle a few feathers in the halls of Degrassi. But before that, fans of CTV’s hit drama are going to meet Arnold when MTV airs a special documentary about Degrassi’s trip to Kenya.

MTV Canada will be airing “MTV Presents: Degrassi in Kenya” on Thursday Oct. 18 at 7 p.m. ET.

When the cast and crew of Degrassi filmed the upcoming season of Degrassi, they began fundraising to build an addition to the Motony Primary School in Africa.

The initiative was a smashing success and some of the Degrassi gang decided to pay for their own trips. Flying out of Toronto, they headed to the village, located in the middle of the Masai Mara in Oloomirani, Kenya.

Arnold chatted with CTV.ca about her experience in Africa.

What inspired you to embark on this trip to Kenya and help build the school?

I was on board right away because I really love to travel. It was a no-brainer.

Initially it seemed like a lot of the cast was going to go. But it ended up being mostly new cast members that went, with the exception of Jake Epstein, who has been there since practically day one.

What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you reflect back on your experience?

Building the school itself — that’s something that comes to mind right away. It was hard and a lot of work, but it paid off in the end when we saw it all finished.

So have you ever built a school before?

No! I’ve never even picked up a saw or anything before, but I think I held my own. I’d love to go back and do it again. Building a school felt good and I felt proud when I was done.

How did it change your perspective on life here in Canada?

Going to Kenya is a culture shock – but coming back is even more of a culture shock. It’s strange to go from a place where we were drinking just water and conserving everything. Coming back, everything seems so extravagant and wasteful.

You also gave a talk to the girls of the camp with Nina Dobrev. What did you say?

“Free the Children” asked us to make the speech together to tell the girls about how female empowerment is an issue that should be addressed.

Nina and I were the only girls that ended up going in the entire group and we talked about how this is a school for boys and girls alike, to work and learn together.

We also told them that we hope that girls benefit from this because they normally wouldn’t get the chance to.

One of the things that “Free the Children” does is put wells near the schools so girls who have to do the chores of going to the river to get water and go to school and get the water.

You speak English and French. Did you learn any Swahili when you were in Kenya?

We learned basic stuff like, hi, how are you, my name is… etc. We learned a couple songs and a joke. But most of the kids of a certain age speak English, so that was cool, carrying on an English conversation with them.

Did you go a safari?

Yes! We went on one of our last days, and it was a day-long event. We watched the sunrise as we were driving into the reserve we were going to, and it was incredible.

So how do you feel about the upcoming season of “Degrassi”?

I’m excited for it to hit the air in Canada. It’s a pretty action-packed season.

Tell me a little about “Holly J.”

“Holly J” is the new resident mean girl in the group. I’m a transfer student from Lakehurst, a neighboring school to Degrassi.

A bunch of Lakehurst kids are coming to Degrassi this season and I’m one of them. I’m basically really mean, that’s all we know right now. I’ m mean to everyone who comes in my path!

Are you a mean girl in real life?

In real life? I’d hope that I’m not! Holly J is a caricature, more than your average mean girl. I try and am nice wherever possible.

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