Hello. My name is Abdelwahab Sinnary, the academic director of St. Lawrence University Kenya Semester Program. Our students spent their last month of the semester completing their independent study (IDS) projects. They were individually placed with different organizations in East Africa according to their academic field of specialty and interest. Before their IDS they had completed three months of coursework and field trips during which they studied the various aspects of the culture, environment and development in East Africa. Aided by their previously acquired knowledge and cultural immersion they were ready to live, work and travel intendedly during their IDS. We are both proud and glad to share a summary of their IDS reflections, which are a testimony to their achievements. We, the program directors (Wairimu Ndirangu, Lina Karingi), and rest of the staff, as well as Matt Carotenuto (Coordinator of African Studies) would like to sincerely congratulate our students for their achievements as indicated in the below summary of some of the highlights of their experiences!
Emily Adams and Klare Nevins:
For the past month we have been living in the Eldoret working with a program called AMPATH. AMPATH has a partnership with Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital. It is a far reaching, integrative program that is committed to promoting global health by providing care for patients, training medical professionals, and funding research. Visiting the street children was probably the most emotionally difficult thing that we did because it was clear to see from interacting with the kids that they were struggling. They were living in poverty, fleeing potentially abusive households, and subsisting off of glue huffing in order to stay warm, chase away hunger pangs, and num the experience. Especially for us, coming from one of the world’s most developed countries, much of this was shocking: we had never seen anything like it. We also came to realize that, despite everything that these kids have been through, that’s what they are: just kids. They want the same thing that every kid wants, that is, to be loved. This became clear when they would grasp at our hands during our visits, yearning for human contact and affection. All in all we felt like it could be our contribution to the kids – by spending time with them and talking to them we were validating their stories, their experiences and choosing not to just pass them by. We met close to 100 children during the month and as we leave Kenya we will not forget them. As emotionally taxing as it was, meeting and learning from them was an unparalleled experience that neither of us would trade for the world.
Completing my independent study at Laikipia Wildlife Forum (LWF) was the highlight of my Kenya semester, second only to the week spent in Tanzania with the Hadzabe. LWF is located in Nanyuki, Laikipia County has recently come under the executive direction of KSP’s own Peter Hetz, who was the director of the KSP back in the 80’s. My duties for the first two weeks were focused on a tree planting project. We planted 1,200 indigenous trees on Ngare Nything’s degraded riparian. When/if I return years from now, there will be a forest that I helped to make… how cool is that!? Running this event helped me to understand what exactly goes into events organization within an environmental group, giving me a new appreciation for all they do. In addition to learning more about myself, participating in LWF helped me to see just how important interacting with communities is in conservation, because people are 90% of the problem, but also 90% of the solution!
I did my IDS at Kazuri, an organization that assists single mothers who are looking for a stable income to support their families. Kazuri has been featured in magazines, newspapers, and films like “Out of Africa”. I was worried that I may be an economic cost to the company, but I ended up making several designs for stock that sold in the store and I prided myself on selling some beads in the shop. I also learned a lot of hands on skills, such as rolling beads, glazing beads, designing beads, throwing pottery, creating small animals, firing beads, and threading beads. I learned that I am horrible at throwing pottery. But I did kind of situated myself of the career path that I would like to pursue, which is some sort of collaboration of the arts and female empowerment. I think I also learned to take risks, to put myself in awkward or socially uncomfortable situations. I welcomed a variety of tasks and tried each of them, and continued to try to perfect them. I hope to pursue a business relationship with Kazuri and work again with them in the future!
The highlight of my professional work at Flying Kites was co-teaching a workshop at the Launch Pad. I worked with a woman named Mercy who is a dream coach, and we spent three days facilitating lectures and activities with the students regarding how to set goals and the mindset one needs in order to follow their dreams. The students will soon be attending university and do not know much regarding the professional world. Each child I interacted with was so wonderful and so unique. I wish I could talk about each individual one, but my fingers would get too tired from typing! Needless to say, on a personal level I was able to gain stronger senses of patience and understanding while working with these kids. This will be essential for my career as a teacher as I’m sure we all know that an these attributes are necessary for an individual who works with a large group of people at once.
I was a bit nervous at the thought of going off on my own and being completely independent in a new setting with new people (especially since I’m the only student in Uganda), but I am happy to report that my nerves were uncalled for. I’ve really enjoyed my IDS at Arise and Shine Uganda (AASU), Uganda which combines community development, education and women empowerment. The Babies Home has over twenty kids, most of whose parents couldn’t afford to feed and house them due to large family sizes or insufficient income levels, though there are some orphans as well. While I get to play with most of the cuties, my main job is to care for the Bulungi kids, who have Cerebral Palsy or other physical or mental disabilities. While disabled children are unfortunately oftentimes rejected in society, in Luganda (a local dialect), the word “Bulungi” means fine and therefore the children are referred to in an endearing way. I help feed the kids—as they are not able to feed themselves—and entertain them by holding them in my lap, pushing them in the swing, and singing James Brown’s “I Feel Good,” which they love to be bounced around to! I also focused on understanding how the organization operates despite insufficient funds. I learnt that it’s really important to keep local values at the forefront of running a non-profit, and because the director and workers are so in touch with the issues AASU and its benefactors face, they have done a good job targeting those problems and working with the community to figure out sustainable and efficient efforts through which these issues can be addressed and solved.
I have had the pleasure of spending my month-long IDS at the New Life Home Trust in Kisumu, an organization that takes in orphaned and abandoned babies, toddlers, and special needs children in hopes of placing them with adoptive families. This experience has not only taught me how to care for children and critically analyze governmental policies, but also to juggle passion and emotion. It is very easy to become too emotionally invested in the lives of these children, but your emotion cannot cloud your passion to help as many children as possible. This is a hard balance to achieve, and I am not yet there, but I feel it is a wonderful lesson as I continue my journey to becoming a pediatric psychologist. My time with these children was precious, and it was an experience I will never forget. Anytime I hold, snuggle, feed, or kiss a baby, I will remember the babies who first stole my heart, the babies who had the will to survive, and the faith in us to find them a better life.
I did my IDS at Nyumbani Children’s Home in Nairobi. Nyumbani is an orphanage that focuses on holistic care and development for children who are HIV positive in hopes of eventually integrating them into Kenyan society. During my time at Nyumbani I taught computer classes to the children who were on holiday from school. When I was not teaching, I spent time in the children’s cottages, playing and eating meals with the kids, helping the house moms and children with daily chores, and helping the children complete their community service around the Nyumbani compound. I also spent the afternoon outdoor activity time with all of the children which was very beneficial in getting to know them all better.
I sit here trying to find the words for the impact that the Africa Yoga Project (AYP) has had on me and reflect on the eternal bonds I have made with those all across the world who have been impacted by the yoga project. The AYP community creates an atmosphere that encourages you to expose your raw self; your raw beauties. In sharing a Saturday morning community class lunch with a fellow AYP teacher, we come to a conclusion that recognizing a human being’s innate attraction to compassion exposes the raw similarities between all human beings. We are more alike than one may have been taught. From the influence of experience here, I remind you to take hold of your own autonomy to seek the similarities between human beings before seeking differences; in finding differences, respect them as they are, for you can see the beauty in them too from pondering why they may exist. I have learned to take advantage of the chance to show another person compassion, to share love. I feel the impact of this as I reflect on moments I held the hands of Clinton, or Henry, during the days I helped teach yoga to special needs children in Kibera. If nothing else, you have the autonomy to control how you interact with others in life; to control your attitude. You have the ability to show another person compassion, an emotion that will forever be instilled in the universe once you release it, no one can take this away.
For the past month, I’ve had the opportunity to work at ProKraft Africa, a talent representative agency based in Nairobi. The organization helps to promote Kenyan artists, and more specifically photographers. ProKraft Africa helps them connect with other businesses or people to create job opportunities such as personal projects and commercial advertising. At ProKraft Africa, I was able to learn about the photography side and the business side of the organization. I researched copyright laws and past issues to help better understand ProKraft’s copyright laws and how they are able to best protect the artists’ rights to their work. I also became interested in the role social media plays in an organization’s marketing/publicity, specifically one such as ProKraft which is involved in the art/photography industry. I was given the responsibility to research effective ways for businesses to use social media networks, such as Instragram, Facebook, Twitter, etc. My time spent working at ProKraft Africa was an incredible experience and has continued my love for photography and increased my interest in pursuing a career in the photography industry, rather than only as a hobby.
During my IDS in Confucius Institute at University of Nairobi I did not only learn how to be a good teacher, but also got the chance to better understand the relationship between Kenya and China. I also did library work, which improved my organization skills and let me have an idea of books students and teachers need, and I also attended International Cultural Festival. The best part was that I suggested to teach Chinese teachers Kiswahili, which worked very well, because it’s also important for Chinese to know more Swahili in Kenya. The last week I tutored some students with their Chinese and helped them prepare for the coming Chinese competition.
During my time at General Electric (GE) I learned all about the power sector of different countries in sub-Saharan Africa including their access rates to electricity. I specifically worked on “report-outs”, or PowerPoint presentations that gave an in depth analysis of the countries of Ghana, Cameroon, Gabon and Côte d’Ivoire. Within these report-outs I focused on whether or not GE should invest their products into the power sector of these countries based on many different things including their macro-economic background and future outlook, the structure of their power sectors, their business environments regarding policies and financial agreements, in addition to my own recommendations for the optimal GE engines for each country. I had no prior knowledge of the concept of a country’s power sector, nor how electricity is even generated; yet, I was able to learn very quickly and loved my experience.
Jenny Van Ooyen
For my IDS I was fortunate enough to work with the African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) under the CEO Kathleen Fitzgerald, a SLU grad herself! I spent my time working in the office doing research for three different projects. I helped African Wildlife Capital, AWFs financing project, do research on private equity and venture capital firms based in Nairobi which they may want to work with. I also did research for AWFs tourism strategies in Ethiopia and Cameroon. This involved compiling information on macro-level tourism trends like national park tourism, tour companies, and general leisure tourism for both countries. I also went micro-level and examined information on every national park AWF is considering for ecotourism development in both countries, which involved gathering data on tourism infrastructure within parks, lodging, access, and what current threats, if any, the parks face (poaching, agricultural encroachment, deforestation, etc.). It was truly an eye-opening experience to be involved in the actual process of implementing conservation projects. Oh, and if any of you want to travel to Cameroon or Ethiopia, I’m the girl to talk to for all your tourist needs.