Urban Homestay Spring 2018

By Shania Muncil, Sonja Jensen, and Corey Rost


Our group started off our homestays in Nairobi nervous and excited to meet our new families. We waited for everyone to arrive at our compound in Karen, and one by one families came looking for their student. We had delicious snacks prepared by Isaiah, and even two birthday cakes to celebrate Sarah and Gretchen’s 21st birthdays! We chatted with our families, getting to know one another, before we all headed off to our new homes. We were spread across the city, from the CBD to Runda, Westlands, and even Karen. We spent our three weeks taking classes at the United Kenya Club, visiting local malls, trying traditional Kenyan restaurants, and most importantly becoming close with our host families. Some of us were even lucky enough to attend traditional weddings! Part of our urban program also included “urban activities” that we participated in on Fridays. For our first weekend, we split up into three groups to learn more about Kazuri Beads, Lea Toto, and Ocean Sole.

Kazuri Beads

The women of Kazuri using clay from the base of Mt. Kenya to roll and shape beads  

Kazuri is a bead and ceramics factory located in Karen. It began in 1975 as a tiny workshop, with an idea to experiment and try new bead and jewelry designs. The founder of Kazuri started by hiring two single mothers, but quickly realized that there were many more disadvantaged women struggling to get by in Kenya that could contribute to the business. This initial premise led Kazuri to grow exponentially in the last few decades, with a workforce of now over 340 women. This increase in employment is important, as Kazuri’s customer base has grown widely as well. Not only popular at home in Kenya, Kazuri ships orders to nations all over the world. The meaning of Kazuri in Swahili, “small and beautiful” is easy to understand once you walk into their little shop and see all of the jewelry, ceramics and trinkets waiting on the shelves.

We started off our morning with Kazuri by meeting some of the staff and getting the tour of the factory. We walked through the bead-making process, from rolling clay and shaping it, to firing it through the kiln, hand-painting and glazing, all done right there at the Kazuri factory. Kazuri also makes pottery, such as mugs, plates, bowls, and small animals. After our comprehensive tour, we were allowed to choose any part of the bead-making process to observe and participate in. Because there is no place better to start than the beginning, we sat down to roll and shape beads.

Shania’s handmade beads 

The women at Kazuri were extremely welcoming, and are clearly experts at their work. They showed us how to take portions of clay and shape them into spheres or squares of different sizes, depending on which beads needed to be made. It’s safe to say it isn’t as easy as it looks, although some of us were better at it than others. As they worked, the women chatted and compared beads and materials, all while producing perfect spheres and cubes to be made into dazzling jewelry. Next, we moved to the painting room. Here women take beads that have been put through the kiln, and paint them with various colors, depending on what each order calls for. This takes a steady hand and a watchful eye, as each bead needs to be fully coated without any cracks.

While working with the women of Kazuri, it was inspiring to see how many disadvantaged women are now employed because of this business. Additionally, many of them have been with Kazuri for years, some for decades! These women are experts at their craft, and produce some of the most beautiful art we have seen so far in Kenya. We ended our day at Kazuri with a trip to the gift shop, and a plan to return again before the semester ends! (to learn more visit their website: http://kazuri.com)


Lea Toto


Lea Toto is an outreach program started by Nyumbani, a Catholic organization founded by American Jesuit Priest, Father Angelo D’Agastino, in 1992.  Nyumbani’s goals are straight forward – to reduce HIV/AIDS transmission rates and improve the quality of life for affected children and families.  To accomplish these goals, they currently work to provide assistance to children with HIV/AIDS through diagnostic services, medical care, holistic family and community building, preventative care, education and preventative care, environmental and sustainability education, and promoting self reliance.  Many of their programs target children in low income areas. They currently serve over 4,000 HIV/AIDS survivors every year taking small but important steps towards improving the lives of the over 200,000 Kenyan children under the age of 14 with HIV/AIDS and the approximately 1.1 million children orphaned due to AIDS (http://www.nyumbani.org)

Nyumbani is unique in that their approach focuses on a “whole-child model” meaning they view each child as an individual with specific wants and needs.  Lea Toto is a fantastic example of this model in work.  Swahili for “to raise the child,” Lea Toto works within Kenya’s slums to provide home-based care to children and families affected by HIV/AIDS.  Home-based care is important because it means less time and money is spent during hospital visits. In other words, it helps ensure that familial comfort does not have to be sacrificed simply because of a disease; “families can live better within their own homes.”  Since its creation in 1998, Lea Toto has served between 2,100 and 3,100 HIV positive children and 15,000 family members each year.

We spend the morning visiting Kenya’s Kangemi slum, home to one of Lea Toto’s 8 outreach sites. We began our visit with a meeting with some of the staff at the branch.  We discussed some of the programs and care they provide and what challenges they face. They told us that one of the biggest challenges of working within low income areas is ensuring basic medical, nutritional, and housing needs are met in addition to providing HIV related care.

With this in mind, and armed with the gift of a heavy box full of non-perishable food we broke up into two groups and, accompanied by some of Lea Toto’s dedicated social workers, went on home visits. Each group met with an individual or family that is involved with Lea Toto. We were welcomed into our hosts homes and we had the opportunity to get to know each other and to ask all sorts of questions ranging from what kind of assistance they receive from Lea Toto, the benefits and challenges of receiving aid before they became involved with Lea Toto and now with Lea Toto.  One group visited a young man receiving in home treatment and assistance while another group met with the mother of two children that are doing very well with a self administered treatment program and are going to boarding school with the help of Lea Toto!

After our respective visits, we regrouped at the main offices and got to discuss our experiences and ask any more questions we had. Our visits were vert different, but that’s the beauty of Lea Toto. They embrace each individual and family as the unique people they are and strive to provide individualized care.  Whether that be in the form of caregiver training, nutrition and food counseling, spiritual guidance, community building  training, or so much more.  Medical treatment of the disease does not necessarily equate to an improved life because diseases affect so much more than just an individual’s health; this is what sets Lea Toto and Nyumbani apart from the rest (to learn more about the work Lea Toto and Nyumbani do check out their websites! http://www.nyumbani.org/nyumbani-lea-toto-community-outreach/ and http://www.nyumbani.org)

Ocean Sole

Ocean Sole works to turn flip flop pollution in the oceans into art and functional products as a means to promote conservation of the oceans. In 1998 in Kiwayu, Kenya tons of flip flop pollution was washing up on the beaches creating an environmental disaster to the marine ecosystem and local communities. A year later, founder Julie Church, encouraged local women to collect, wash and cut these flip flops into the colorful products we see today. By 2000, these products were being sold commercially in Nairobi and in 2005 the company was officially established. Since then these colorful art pieces and functional products have gone global, raising awareness on flip flop pollution while improving upon local poverty through employment. Since the establishment of the company, Ocean Sole has cleaned up over 1,000 tons of flip flops from the Ocean and waterways of Kenya, provided steady income to over 150 Kenyans in the company and contributed over 10% of its revenue to marine conservation programs (to learn more about this incredible organization go to their website: http://oceansole.co.ke/).

An Ocean Sole employee works on the
final touches of a larger giraffe piece

Students started off their trip with a tour of the facilities. Our tour guide walked us through various stations that turned ordinary flip flops into pieces of art. Before anything could be done with the flip flops, they had to be scrubbed clean. Then they were sent to various work stations. Some workers pressed the shoes together to make templates and others used the flip flops to cover larger pieces. For these big pieces recycled house insulation is used to create the shape of the piece and it is then covered up with the flip flops. It is incredible how resourceful they are! We got to see them working on a life sized camel, one of their biggest projects yet.

Students pose in front of the life-sized camel.
One of the biggest projects yet! 

After our tour we got to experience, we got our hands dirty and helped out in the process for the remainder of our trip. We all started scrubbing the flip flops and engaged with the employees. One of the women we were working with had only been working there for 2 weeks. After a while, we all split up and helped at the individual stations. Some helped tediously glue the manes onto the lions, while others started from the beginning and helped construct hippos. There isn’t anything quite as valuable as experiencing something first hand. We all gained a new appreciation for the art pieces and the work that goes behind them while increasing our awareness of the issues the marine environment faces. Our day ended in the gift shop, a perfect place to get souvenirs for friends and family!

Karura Forest 

Our second friday in Nairobi was spent at Karura Forest, a beautiful expanse of trees and small wildlife. Found in the northern part of Nairobi city, the forest is managed by the Kenya Forest Service, and is approximately 1,041 hectares in size, making it one of the largest protected forests in the world. However, the forest wasn’t always so revered by all of Kenya. While the forest was officially gazetted decades ago, there was a significant struggle, especially during the 90’s, to develop housing projects that would have decimated a large portion of Karura. Fortunately, through prolonged and passionate environmental activism, Wangari Maathai and others were able to save the forest. Since then, Karura is a shining example of resisting land-grabbing by corrupt politicians, as well as a gorgeous sanctuary that poor and wealthy alike can enjoy.

The tall towering trees of Karura Forest 

Students started their visit to Karura with an educational video on the history of the forest, featuring one of their newly found idols, Wangari Maathai, whose book the students read earlier in the semester. They were then able to engage in a question and answer with Professor Karanja Njoroge, a board member of Friends of Karura Forest and was a colleague of the late Maathai. Soon after they left for a guided walk around the forest. They admired the tall towering trees and saw various animals frockling through the forest as they made their way to the historical caves of the forest that were used as Mau Mau hideouts during the fight for independence from the colonial British government. Further down the students passed a waterfall cascading down into a river before returning to the trailhead.

Students admiring and learning about
the caves used as a Mau Mau hideouts during the anti-colonial rebellion of the 1950s 

We would also like to thank a fellow Saint, Jay Ireland ‘77, President and CEO of GE Africa, for hosting us at the GE offices after our day at the forest and teaching us about his work. SLU connections are everywhere!


Urban Homestay: Nairobi Fall 2017

After spending an exciting week in Tanzania with the Hadzabe we were off on a new adventure: urban homestays! Each of us had the pleasure of becoming part of a family for three weeks in neighborhoods all over Nairobi. We all had a great time with our families and exploring the city while also attending classes as a group. Some of the places that we visited with our  families included: the Nairobi Animal Orphanage, the Giraffe Center, Ngong Hills, a traditional Kenyan wedding, and church. One homestay family even invited the entire group over for an afternoon barbeque. In addition to the outings with our families, we also had the fabulous opportunity to choose one of three organizations to visit: Kazuri Beads, Ocean Sole, and Lea Toto.

Meeting families and embarking on the three week homestay throughout the city


Kazuri, meaning “small and beautiful” in Swahili, is an organization that provides employment opportunities for disadvantaged members of Kenya, mainly women. It began as a small workshop in 1975 experimenting with homemade beads and has expanded into a full fledged bead-making operation. Their mission statement really resonated with me especially this segment, “In the developing world of today’s Africa, the greatest contribution we can make is to create employment, especially for the disadvantaged and this remains our guiding philosophy. The result is reflected in the strength of the Kazuri Family and the beauty of our products.” We found beauty in the empowerment of women, as well as the actual product- each bead was made out of love!

(The​ ​employees​ ​helped​ ​teach​ ​the​ ​students​ ​how​ ​to
make​ ​beads from clay)

While we were visiting we had the opportunity to sit with some of the women and construct some of our own beads. Employees spend their days rolling and shaping a variety of shapes and sizes of beads and in the few hours we spent there we realized how skilled these women are. In the time we were there we had a great time chatting with the employees and trying to perfect rolling the clay into spheres. We stayed primarily in the first phase of bead construction which involved making clay into the variety of shapes in sizes that the beads come in. After this they are put into the kiln and then glazed in a beautiful array of colors and then put back in the kiln for a final firing. Finally, the now finished beads are strung together into the final product and sold all over the world. It was wonderful getting to talk to the women as we worked and we were truly able to feel the sense of community especially during our chai break where everyone shared snacks they had brought from home.

Ocean Sole

On the first weekend a small group of us went to Ocean Sole, a small organization that turns old flip flops into artwork. As we walked around a guide told us “flip flops are the poor man’s shoe…everyone has a pair”. As a result, many of these flipflops are discarded and many of them are winding up in the ocean. Ocean Sole started collecting flip flops and recycling them into artwork of all different shapes and sizes. This organization took off after the United Nations ordered a few hundred key chains, which provided the money to build the organization headquarters in Nairobi, and to fund both the flip flop collectors and artists.

Ocean Sole Art

I was immediately struck by all of the colors. I stood next to an elephant statue that was bigger than I was and it was sporting electric greens, pinks, blues, and yellows of the flip flops that once wandered about Kenya. We were given a brief tour and then we were put to work. First we started by washing flip flops. Scrubbing off all the dirt and mysterious gunk that was caked on them. Once the flipflops are washed, they are cut, glued together into block like shapes, and then carved into the desired statue. After washing some of us went to the glueing station and others started to carve. I thoroughly enjoyed the time that I spent at Ocean Sole. I love the idea of recycling something- something gross and dirty like the remnants of an old flip flop, into something beautiful.

Lea Toto

Another component to the urban home stay, was small group participation in different local organizations close to Karen. One organization that we visited was called Lea Toto which means “To Raise a Small Child”. Lea Toto is a community based outreach program that helps to extend care to HIV+ children through medical services, nutrition, and counseling. Lea Toto works towards improving the quality of life that children and young adults have in poor informal settlements through community home based care. Through the use of community home based care the organization provides care directly to the child at home. While the children can still receive services at the center, members from Lea Toto come on site to the child’s home. Lea Toto provides services that the children might not be able to receive without this organization.  This allows for privacy, and for the organization to provide services to many more children compared to if they were caring for children directly at the center. Through Lea Toto we had the unique experience to talk to a few children who benefited from the services offered in the program. They welcomed us into their homes and we had a very interesting discussion about the stigmas associated with being HIV+.  We also discussed how Lea Toto has helped them both physically by providing medication but also mentally with counseling as well as providing a safe place and open community for discussion about the disease. The work that this organization does is extremely important and allows people living in poor informal settlements to seek the medical attention that they need while also getting educated and informed about HIV.

Karura Forest Urban Field Trip

I love to walk in the forest. “When you walk into the forest- you will not leave without a smile” Joyce, Emily’s host mother said to me as we walked into the gate of Karura Forest. What a special place. Karura Forest is a 2,570 acre woodland that was first established in 1932 and later protected by Wangari Maathai. Originally the forest was not exactly a place you wanted to be because it was dangerous. The forest was later threatened by development in the 1990s, but because of Wangari Maathai’s efforts- the forests stands today. In addition to this, the forest is a now a nice, safe, green space for the people in Nairobi.

Reflection with Amber:

Over the course of the Urban Homestay I spent a lot of time in this forest. I went walking with so many important people in my life here, my host family, my actual mother, and my friends. We even took a field trip the forest as a group.  There were so many interesting nooks, crannies, and little wonderlands in the forest. There were pine trees dripping with old man’s beard moss that reminded me of home, there were dense pockets of greenery and vines tangled over a stream that was inhabited by frogs and little fish, and then there were the trees. The lovely, beautiful, incredible trees. Some of them were ancient, some were in their first year of life, but all of them were working hard to bring fresh clean air to the city of Nairobi. That is such a gift. My family lived close to the forest and every afternoon I when I returned home from school I would sit outside and take in the fresh forest air, no burning trash, no car fumes- just the good stuff.

I really valued the time that I spent with my host family, especially at this time. Because of the re-elections the political climate has been interesting to say the least. It was so interesting to watch the news, to get into debates with my family over dinner, and to feel like I was pretty in the know with what was going on. I also felt very humbled by the kindness of my family- they welcomed me into their home with open arms and I quickly felt right at home. I found that relationship to be a two way street and I am thankful that I was able to spend a lot of time with my family and I look forward to staying in touch with them for a long time.

Reflection with Ella:

I am so incredibly grateful for my experience with my urban host family- I wish it was longer than three weeks! I was able to get very close with my two host brothers and two host sisters. I didn’t realize how alike we are, we all loved similar music and movie genres, as well as being outdoors and spending time with our families. I was also able to understand Swahili a lot more while at my time there. Although my family spoke fluent English as well, they would speak easy Swahili to me so I can learn and speak back to them. I appreciated our conversations regarding Kenyan politics, education, and society; I was able to really feel what it is like living in urban Kenya. This is such a great component of the Kenya Semester Program, and I am so happy to have a Kenyan family I can keep in contact with and hopefully see in the near future!

Urban Homestay Fall 2016

Our second major homestay component of the program is based in around Nairobi, allowing us to travel and become more comfortable in the city through class trips, weekends out and exploring the streets between lectures.  This component lasted three weeks, each student being placed with families in Nairobi and the surrounding suburbs. On Sunday Sept. 25 our new parents and siblings came to the compound in Karen to gather us. We all packed our bags, put on our nice outfits and waited for our parents to pick us up. The yard was decorated beautifully with a large tent and chairs and Seth, our chef, made snacks and tea for the occasion. Families came and went with their new American children. Those who were left at the end anxiously waited as we watched our friends leave excited to meet our new families. That night we all enjoyed dinner in our new houses, exchanging stories with new mothers and fathers and new brothers and sisters.

Students enrolled in the history class were taken by their professor to learn and see the history of Nairobi. This is a view from the top of the Kenyatta International Convention Center.

Monday morning meant another week of classes for us. However, with the urban homestay we only have classes four days a week with Fridays off for field trips. Each of us went to classes, using the time between them to go explore the nearby city of Nairobi. Whether trying a new place for lunch, bargaining at city market or finding new stores in the winding streets, these three weeks allowed for us to become more comfortable in the city we live so close to. After classes we’d go home and get to spend the evening with a family, a nice change from the more college style living at the compound. We now had people who asked about our classes at dinner, made sure we were finishing our homework, and helped us pack lunches. Our new families were very much appreciated, making it a little easier to be away from home for all of us.

On Friday of the first week we all got to experience different parts of the city, through three different organizations. One group went to talk to PAWA 254, an art-ivism (art-activism) group based in Nairobi. They call themselves a “hub for visual creatives in Kenya,” providing a spaces for artists of all kinds to work and have a chance to take classes and share their pieces. The pieces and projects they support help to create social change. Students who went here for to explore the workspace, hear about projects and see where performances take place. Another group went to Kibera, the largest slum in East Africa, and went to different organizations that are working with the youth here. First they went to Uweza, a program that helps students with school funds and provides safe and empowering programs for them. These programs include things like a soccer team and art clubs, which help develop talent, build life skills, and improve emotional and mental well-being. After this, they went to the Red Rose School. This institution provides primary education for over 400 children in Kibera. This school is actually supported by a number of groups at St. Lawrence, including Omicron Kappa Delta. The last group went to Lea Toto, a community-based outreach program which extends care of HIV+ children in the Kangemi slum. They do this by providing medical services, nutrition, counseling and capacity building to children affected by HIV/AIDs as well as educating their parents and caregivers. Everyone learned a lot from their trips and enjoyed being able to share their experiences with each other.

Student artists showing off their work in the Uweza art gallery. Pieces can be purchased online, profits help buy more materials as well as going to the student’s education

Student artists showing off their work in the Uweza art gallery. Pieces can be purchased online, profits help buy more materials as well as going to the student’s education

Not only do we get to explore on Fridays, but sometimes during the week we got to as well. On Wednesday Sept 12th we took the day off of some of our classes to go to a town hall meeting hosted by the US Ambassador to Kenya Bob Godec at his residence. Here students had the chance to vote in the upcoming election, talk to people who work at the embassy and then ask questions. We all enjoyed conversing with fellow Americans and seeing what they were doing here in Kenya as well as hearing about what our Ambassador had to say about Kenyan modern events. While here we learned lots of things, such as the lowering of travel warnings for Mombasa, which hopefully means students, can begin to travel there again through the program and for IDS. Overall this was a very educational opportunity, one of the best parts of this semester are all the chances for experiential learning.

During our time in Nairobi we also had the chance to explore the neighboring town. One really fun thing that a group of girls did was go get dresses made at a tailor. Mia, Erin and I (Emily) had a day off together and went on an adventure. Erin’s host mother Flo is a well known tailor who was gracious enough to make time for us during her busy week to meet and talk to us about her job and then help us choose fabric and design a shape. While here she told us about working with the President’s mother and niece to design clothes, it was crazy to think this women was making us things too! We each chose patterns of cloth and then talked with Flo about what shape would look best on us and with the fabric. Then we each got measured for the dress, a first for all of us to have something fitted to our own bodies. We returned a week later to try on our new creations and get any alterations that were needed. Each of us loved our creations so much we couldn’t help but order another beautiful dress. Now we all have hand-made, one of a kind pieces of clothing to bring back home that will always remind us of our time here.

During our urban homestays all of us had the opportunity to familiarize ourselves with the city of Nairobi. By living with families scattered around the city we learned how to use public transit to navigate the city.  Due to the complexities of public transit in Nairobi we all were helped by our homestay siblings. My older brother Emmanuel, who is a SLU graduate, class of 2015, was there to help me. Having Emmanuel there to help me was amazing. He didn’t just help me get where I needed to go but he was eager to show me new places around the city and take me to spots that I as a foreigner would not have otherwise visited such as the Kangemi Market. The Kangemi market was near our house and that is adjacent to the Kangemi slum. Being able to go to this market allowed me to see an entirely new aspect of Nairobi and without my Emmanuel I most likely would not have been able to visit it.

Emmanuel, my other brother George and myself also visited the Giraffe Center in Nairobi. The Giraffe Center is a tourist attraction where you can feed and pet giraffes and they have a museum on the cite to inform its visitors about the animals. As fun as we had at the center I can not say the same about journey there. To get there we were taking public transportation and had planned on taking two busses. This plan quickly dissolved. After our first Matutu (the Nairobi busses) we got on our second that said it was going to Karen, the part of the city where the Giraffe Center is, but halfway through the drive it took a turn and ended its route in a very different spot from where it said it was going. At this point our only option was to take an uber the rest of the way. Uber in Nairobi is relatively new and they have not quite figured out the most effective way to manage it. When we called the uber it said it was 6 minutes away but due to the faults in the uber system over here we finally got the uber after an hour. It took 3 ½ hours to get the the Giraffe Center but it was worth the journey.

Some of us enjoying a trip to the Giraffe Center

Some of us enjoying a trip to the Giraffe Center

Nairobi as strange as it may sound is a hot spot for SLU graduates. Max Miller from the class of 2014 is currently living in Nairobi. He moved here several months ago and before that he was located in Mombasa on the eastern coast of Kenya. Max attended KSP during his time at St. Lawrence and moved back right after he graduated. To any extent possible he is always looking to be involved with the program and is a great connection to have in the city.

During the Urban homestay our core course class had planned Friday activities. One of the activities was visiting the Karura Forest. The Karura forest is located in the middle of the city and is a staple of the greenbelt movement in Kenya. In the recent past this land was being taken over by questionable means and being used for development but in an effort to save the forest there has been improvement to the forest security and there is much more government involvement in maintaining it.

We also were taking our Swahili classes in Nairobi rather than on the SLU compound. We got the chance to go to breakfast in the city and visit the city market so we could utilize what we have learned.

Mia ’16 on top of the PAWA building just outside of downtown Nairobi. This space acts as a performance hall for musicians as well as a canvas for artists

Mia ’16 on top of the PAWA building just outside of downtown Nairobi. This space acts as a performance hall for musicians as well as a canvas for artists


Urban Homestay Spring 2016

Introduction to the Urban Homestay

What were we possibly to expect being told that we were about to live for three weeks with families none of us had ever met before?  I certainly didn’t expect to be welcomed ‘home’ literally with arms wide open, but that is exactly what happened.  And so, I added the warm hugs and smiles from my host sisters and parents to my ever-growing list of the ways in which Kenya has surprised me and shattered my sense of expectation.

The Urban Home Stay is by far the lengthiest of the three home stays in which we as students participate in throughout the duration of the Kenya Semester Program. It triples the length of the Rural Home Stay and on behalf of my peers, I can say with honesty, I felt nervous to embark on this particular leg of our adventurous and enlightening semester.  Living with people you do not know is always a learning experience, and for young American college students who have, for the last several years, been so accustomed to living much of the year only around peers our own age, integrating back into a family lifestyle did admittedly take some adjustment.  However, once assimilated, the idea of coming back to home and family each day after school became a comfort in so many ways.

Our time living in Nairobi, the heart of urbanization in Kenya, was by no means idle time.  As I write these words now still cannot believe how twenty days have passed by so quickly.  In addition to taking classes and spending evening and weekends with our home stay families, Fridays were occupied by exploring other aspects of the urban center of East Africa.  On the first Friday, we as a class explored the flora and fauna and impressive history of the Karura Forest, capped off by a weekend where several students ran a half-marathon (see more below).  The second Friday was marked by a visit into the informal settlement of Kibera.  Both a challenge and a blessing, we were shown intimately streets, homes and the interworking’s of a Kibera school by two active NGO’s:  The Red Rose School and Carolina for Kibera.  Three weeks is a long time to spend in one place, but the duration of time allowed us to not only learn as students but to build connections and see the world a little differently as people.

Kibera: Kenya’s Largest Informal Settlement

On our second Friday with in our Urban Home Stays, we had the privilege of being hosted by the Red Rose School and Carolina for Kibera.  Both are NGO’s that work in the informal settlement to better the quality of life for its residents. Divided in half, each NGO hosted eleven KSP students and showed us both the triumphs and the challenges of working in Kenya’s largest informal settlement.

Located just outside Nairobi’s central business district, the contrast between rich and poor and upsettingly stark. But, like every other incredible experience here, Kibera turned out to be a place that went beyond my imagination and in many ways shattered my westernized stereotypes.  If I’m being honest, I anticipated dirt pathways narrowly winding through shanty houses constructed one on top of the other from metal and rubbish.  I expected to walk through filth, garbage and human fecal matter.  I braced myself for unwelcoming and judgmental stares and prepared for the risk of pickpockets and beggars.

If I continue to be honest, in some places, my stereotypes were not completely inaccurate. On my way to the Red Rose School I did notice a lot of garbage, and very few smells were ones that I would describe as pleasant.  However, I was taken aback by how much had surprised me.  I found the Red Rose School to be an absolutely pleasant and pristinely kept place.  Painted a happy robin’s egg blue, and murals of Disney fairytale and Pixar characters decorated every wall.  The children radiated happiness and I’d like to think that not all of it was solely in response to the visiting Wazungu.

While at Red Rose, each of us was placed in a classroom of students to help the teacher and interact with the students.  I was placed with a seventh grade class and was intimidated by the onslaught of curiosity.  I was asked about everything from my favorite singer to what I wanted to be when I grew up. I decided as one point to turn the tables ask I few questions of my own, but when I asked these twelve to fourteen year-old children what they wanted to be when they grew up, I realized that their intelligence and self-asserted pride far surpassed that of any child I had ever met before.  Mary* wanted to be a banker, Angela* wanted to be a neurosurgeon, Thomas* wanted to be an aircraft engineer and we all laughed and agreed that Moses*, who wanted to be a pilot, would fly Thomas’ planes.

These children had big dreams and understood that school was going to take them to those dreams.  There was a clear understanding that education was a way out of Kibera.  However, despite dreaming of leaving Kibera, I was surprised to learn how much many of these children took pride in being from Kibera.  One of my peers told me of walking through the settlement with three boys, all the age of fifteen.  Speaking openly, my peer asked them, “So, what is it like to live in Kibera?” He did not receive the answer he expected.  “We really like it here,” they told him.  “Kibera has its problems, but we are proud to be from here.”  I was surprised too when my friend and classmate told me of his conversation.  I was also left extremely humbled.  Had I met these children a year ago, or even two months ago, I would have seen only dirt, hungry and poverty and I would have only felt disconnected pity.  But, perhaps the true beauty of the Kenya Semester Program is not that we come home with incredible stories and Instagram-worthy pictures.  Perhaps we are truly lucky because we will return home changed; changed enough to not only see the fortune in our own lives, but hopefully we will return home changed enough to understand that fortune extends beyond our western definitions.  It is only found in the structural excess of a penthouse room or $500 Frye Boots, it can be found in children who wear the same clothes every day and in families who have so little but share it all with anyone around them.  The families and children that we met on our visit to Kibera had pride, determination and a love for others that went beyond the fortune currency and I feel lucky to learned so much from my short time there.

Karura Forest

On our first Friday excursion we left the hustle and bustle of downtown Nairobi and visited Karura Forest, an arboreal oasis inside the city itself. Karura Forest is one of the largest forests within city limits in the world, encompassing about 2,500 acres including wooded areas, pathways, rivers, and plenty of smaller animals such as dik-dik, duiker, bush pigs and various species of monkey.

One controversy after another has plagued the Karura forest since its founding in 1932, from logging and land grabbing to criminals and gangs using the forest as a hideout. Today, however, the forest has been reclaimed and is open to the public after a long battle by tenacious activists such as the late Wangari Mathai, former leader of the Green Belt Movement and Nobel Peace Price Laureate.

Our visit began with all 22 of us filing off the bus and piling into an old colonial-era squash court that had been converted into a projector house, where we met with an employee and watched a short documentary on the Forest’s tumultuous history. I was surprised to learn the size of the movement that took on the land developers and ultimately succeeded in preserving the forest for future generations, and that the movement here became a national symbol of resistance against land grabbing in Kenya.

Following our introduction to the significance of Karura we set off on a nature hike to explore the forest and some of its special natural features. Our guide Bernard first took us to Lily Lake, an abandoned stone quarry that has since been reclaimed by nature, a fitting tribute to the people who took back the forest from development. Continuing our walk, we soon found ourselves among towering coniferous evergreens that uncannily reminded many of us of forests back home in America. Our guide explained that during the colonial era a demand for timber to feed industry and the railroad led to many of these non-indigenous trees to be planted in Karura. This invasive species suffocates growth of native species by blocking sunlight and taking a lot of water, however, and are currently being replaced with native species over time by park managers.

Leaving the grove behind, our next stop was a series of caves tucked into a cliff-side. After roaming around the spacious caverns, we rested for a bit in the coolness of the caves and listened to our guide tell us of their role in Kenyan history. Considered sacred in ancient times, the caves served as a hideout for Mau-Mau during the fight for independence. After snapping a quick group photo, we trekked on to our last stop. The sound of rushing water grew louder and louder as we neared the last stop, and soon we found ourselves admiring a striking 15-meter waterfall that tumbled down a rock escarpment. This time there was no history lesson, just us enjoying our surroundings like so many other Nairobians who come to Karura to get a break from the grind of the city.

All in all, our time spent in Karura Forest was a refreshing change of pace from the busy first week of our urban homestays. We entered looking forward to spending an afternoon in the tranquil forest, and left with an appreciation for the efforts it took to save the forest for the public to enjoy today and the importance of public advocacy to preserve places like Karura for future generations.

The Urban Family Dynamic and the Blooming Generation Gap

I feel as though I can speak for most of the KSP when I say that describing the family and community dynamics of my urban home stay has been exceptionally difficult. In comparison to the rural home stay, there is much less of an attachment to one’s community in Nairobi than we experienced in Nyeri, which is where we did our rural home stays. While in Nyeri, our families knew almost everybody in town and even those with whom they were not familiar were welcomed with open arms. However, in our urban experiences, almost every home was a gated compound. In my experience, my family drove private cars up to their gate, which was electric and could be opened with a remote but was still guarded by an askari (the Swahili word for “soldier”). They knew very few people in their surrounding community and paid for everything independently. Having the ability to go to the local Nakumatt rather than purchasing milk from the family down the street created a much more isolated feeling within the home. The gates and hedges acted as a physical barrier from the rest of Nairobi and when I was in the house, I rarely felt the effects of urbanization.

We all attended classes downtown at the University of Nairobi and many of us lived with parents who work within the Nairobi business district. The commutes could be up to two hours long due to the fact that Nairobi is designed for about 250,000 people, but is home to as many as 4 million. Compared to our rural home stay experiences, my peers and I noticed that there is much more emphasis on education because the resources are more readily available and accessible in Nairobi than in Nyeri. Most of our mothers in the urban home stay had spent more time in school than those in our rural. As a result, the family sizes were slightly smaller. My urban home stay family was comprised of a mother, a father, and two sons, however my rural home stay family included a mother, father, three daughters, two aunts, two uncles, a son, and a grandmother. Because people, specifically women, in the rural areas tend to receive less formal education and ultimately make a living in agriculture, the family sizes are much larger because they need more helping hands on the farm. Furthermore, when women spend less time in school, they tend to have more children because they can being rearing babies at a younger age. In my experience, my urban home stay mother received both a B.A. and an M.A. in the United States and did not begin her family in Kenya until she was in her 30s. My rural home stay mom had her first child when she was in her early 20s because she did not go to university.

In terms of interfamily dynamics, we noticed a strong generational gap in the urban scene. The younger generation, those who are now high school and college aged, seemed to have a much stronger national identity while their parents and grandparents identified more with their traditional ethnic groups. In my household, my parents both spoke fluent Luo, which is their ancestral language. They also consider Kisumu, the hub of the Luo community, to be their homeland even though they live, work, and raise their children in Nairobi. My home stay brothers, however, were 14 and 20-years-old and considered themselves to be Nairobians first and Luos second. While they both said that they understand bits and pieces of the Luo language while their parents speak to one another, neither of the brothers can respond in Luo.

I thought it was fascinating that people my own age have started to move away from ethnic affiliation and form a national identity because as a result, Nairobi’s youth has created it’s own language to discuss subjects that have historically been cultural taboos. The language is called Sheng and is a mostly a fusion of Swahili and English but also includes words from other local dialects. Because the objective of Sheng is to speak without authority figures decoding the conversation, the language is constantly evolving with current events and words are reassigned new meanings very frequently. There have been several attempts to create Sheng dictionaries because the nature of the language renders the dictionaries obsolete in about a year. The government has caught on to Sheng and, consequently, a radio station called Ghetto Radio has emerged to educate young people on subjects such as sexual education, the importance of higher education, and how to drink responsibly. In 2005, the Kenyan government began using Sheng on billboards in a campaign about HIV/AIDS prevention to educate young people while avoiding offending the older generations who may have been taken aback by the public discussion of sexuality. The introduction of Sheng is enhancing the generational gap, however it has also had a unifying and education impact on people in the late teens and twenties.

The Jam: an inevitable aspect of life in NairobiKenya Root

One of the first things I talked about with my host parents was how I was going to get to the United Kenya Club in Nairobi from my home in the Nairobi suburb of Karen.  We settled on a plan of me taking a taxi into the city at 6:15 every morning in order to arrive by 8:30 when classes started.  So every school day of my urban home stay I would wake up at 5:15 have breakfast, get ready for class and then sit in traffic for two hours.

I had it worse than most of us, some only had a 30 minute drive into the city provided they left early enough.  The difference at leaving for Nairobi at 6:20 and 6:30 could make the difference between arriving at 6:50 and 7:30 for some of us.  So some students would leave earlier then necessary in order to spend 30 minutes commuting in rather than an hour.

While the commute was annoying it did provide time to do homework, read, or take a nap.  It was a bit of a break from our hectic schedule, a time where there wasn’t anything I was supposed to be doing and no pressure to be productive.  When you have as much going on as we do even sitting in traffic can prove relaxing.

Traffic in Nairobi is a mix of private cars, taxies, and Matatus.  Matatus are the privet bus system that supplies most of the “public” transport for the Nairobi area.  They cost between 50-100 Kenyan Shillings and run on roots in and out of Nairobi.  They are known for their unique paint jobs and the loud music they play.  The Matatu system is poorly regulated however with many drivers bribing Police Officers instead of keeping their vehicles up to code.  They also partly fill the public transportation need in Nairobi as the city lacks government run transit systems.

To attempt to reduce traffic many roads are being expanded but the city is having a hard time keeping up with the cities rapidly expanding population.  The city’s population has increased by over a million in the past decade and the growth shows no signs of slowing down in the immediate future.  A train system is planned to be built within the next couple years, but, it has run into funding and corruption problems.  In the absence of such public transit the Jam in Nairobi is readily apparent for the daily commuter.


Urban Homestay Fall 2015

Over the past three weeks the KSP students were all experiencing Nairobi through the lense of Urban Homestay families in and around the city. Be it in New Kitisuru, Kilamani, or Riverside we all had differing experiences culminating in three amazing and memorable weeks.

These past three weeks have been in stark contrast to our experiences in Tanzania and our rural homestay. Many of us were surprised at how progressive our families were, and took comfort in the similarities that existed between Nairobi and our respective hometowns.

During our UHS we attended daily Swahili classes as well as our elective courses. This large period of academic time allowed us delve deeper into the areas of government organization, historical issues, biodiversity topics, and gender inequality in Kenya. Many of these issues we were able to experience first hand within the city. Our core course professors also took us on weekly field components which played a great role in our experiential learning.

The first experiential component included in our core course was a visit to Kibera. Being the second largest slum in Africa, we were exposed to aspects of life many of us had never experienced. We visited an organization called Carolina for Kibera that introduced us to the area, and guided us around the slum. This organization aims to “develop local leaders, catalyze positive change, and alleviate poverty in Kibera” (Carolina for Kibera). We walked around for a few hours in small groups because the non-profit organization aims to discourage slum tourism.image001 We visited the homes of three high school aged students. These students have all received grants from Carolina for Kibera to further their education and help provide them with opportunities they might not otherwise receive. We met the students and their families and were able to talk openly about everyday life. We were also able to visit one of Kibera’s nutritional aid centers. Centers like these provide nutritional aid for children below six months of age to age four. In addition, we visited the largest health center in Kibera. We were able to see first hand some of the new technological resources available to communities. This includes new X-ray machines, laboratories, and various pharmaceutical resources. Overall, this trip was very enriching, and as always, we found great similarities between our lives and those of the people who live in Kibera.

near the "Mau Mau" caves, Karura forest, Nairobi

near the “Mau Mau” caves, Karura forest, Nairobi

The second excursion was to Karura Forest. Karura is a protected national forest in the heart of Nairobi. It is open to the public for various leisure activities such as biking, walking, hiking, etc., on well-maintained, beautiful trails. It is the home of the infamous Mau Mau caves where the Mau Mau freedom fighters hid during their fight for independence. We were able to take a guided tour through the forest to see the caves in addition to waterfalls, wildlife, and countless scenic views. Karura is a great example of how conservation is taking a front seat in Kenya politics, and spaces like Karura are exemplars for sustainable living.

Later that same afternoon we were also able to visit one of the many curio shops throughout Nairobi. This one was the Maasai market, located at Village Market. We were encouraged to use as much Swahili as possible to both better our skills and avoid being overcharged for our foreigner status. We came away from the afternoon of bartering exhausted but satisfied with souvenirs to show for our work. Every time we go to markets to barter we are determined to further our Swahili, gain a greater cultural understanding of the market economy, and hopefully make some friends in the process.

Maasai Market goods on display

Maasai Market goods on display

The final activity we were able to take part in during our Urban Homestays was a Relay for Life event raising money for cancer prevention, a major issue in Kenya due to lacking resources and funding. Haley’s homestay mom, Katheke, is a breast cancer survivor turned activist. She organized the event featuring 24 hours of food, dance, and honorary lantern lightings in the Nyayo National Stadium. Haley’s host family’s participation in the event was a great example of how cancer awareness is growing in Kenya, and we were thrilled to be a part of that progress for a night. This is yet another example of how we were able to find similarities between the lives of Kenyan people and our own lives.

Alison, Haley, and Alita at the Relay for Life event

Alison, Haley, and Alita at the Relay for Life event

Overall, our urban experience in Nairobi has flown by. We are so grateful to the families that so generously took us in, and the people that welcomed us throughout our time in the city. Although our main time in Nairobi is over, we made lasting connections with our families and plan to maintain our ties for years to come. Although we are now switching directions and entering another rural component of our semester, we will take with us both everything that we have learned and the new connections we have made. Stay tuned to hear about our upcoming adventures in Kisumu and Amboseli.

Kwa Heri!



Last Weeks of Classes in Nairobi

Blog Post- Week 6 & 7

Hello again, world. Life here has been pretty busy. After traveling to Amboseli and Kisumu, we finished up the remaining two weeks of classes before parting ways to begin our IDS programs. The second to last week of classes was focused on preparing for the Swahili exams, which took place on Thursday and Friday. With class registration taking place the majority of the final week and the ongoing issue of questionable (at best!) Internet connection at the UKC, we were fortunate enough to have our professors teach classes on the compound. While this may come as a shock to some of you, final papers, exams, and class registration all rolled into one week is actually not very enjoyable even here in Kenya. Luckily we found lots of ways to treat ourselves: trips into Karen, visiting the elephant orphanage, playing soccer and volleyball, doing yoga, and eating food (a favorite group activity) filled up our days and helped us maintain our sanity as we powered through our final exams.

The Friday evening after finishing our Swahili exams, we all got together to host one big potluck in celebration of finishing exams and our very own professor Amisi’s birthday. We invited all our professors and everyone made their favorite dish from home (major shout outs to both the buffalo chicken wing dip courtesy of Mac-Daddy and the roti made by Meera)

Some of us were on bartender duty which included Jenny-mix-a-lot and Dr. Dawa (Jeff), who whipped up some cocktails which Amisi particularly appreciated [Disclaimer: The Kenyan drinking age is 18 years]. Both Sinnary and Wairimu made appearances and they both brought us some delicious dishes! We also came up with a theme for the night’s festivities, which required everyone to wear some of their favorite items they have bought in Kenya. To finish up the night we had a photo shoot and were able to snap a quality photo that we will frame and hang up on the compound wall! It was truly a perfect night to finish up our week of Swahili exams and forget about the upcoming week of pain and paper writing.

During the last week, we visited the David Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage, a place where young elephants who are abandoned if their mother dies in human-wildlife conflict or if they are trapped in a well (which happens pretty frequently) are raised and prepared to return to the wild. The elephants were very eager to drink their milk, which prompted nearly 100 tourists to all start taking pictures. While at the surface the orphanage looks like a great organization, the visit brought up a lot of conversations about the controversy of wildlife conservation organizations. Some see this as a solution to human-wildlife conflict while others believe that while these organizations may have the best interest at heart, they may not always be effectively addressing the root of the problem.

Having fun before the IDS begins

Having fun before the IDS begins

After the two very stressful weeks, we were all ready and excited to head off to our IDS programs. While the majority of KSPers stayed in Kenya, some students traveled to Tanzania and Uganda. People worked on a variety of different projects: childcare, community development, environmental and biological conservation, health and education, art and craftwork, and language training. In the next few weeks, be sure to keep an eye out for each student’s post summarizing his or her IDS experience!

Somehow—we can’t believe it—this will be our last group post for our Kenya semester. We’ve all had an amazing semester, learning and experiencing so much that it is sometimes hard to put into words. Upon return, if you ask us “How was Kenya?!” and we find ourselves at a loss for words other than amazing, incredible, etc. understand that we would need more than a quick conversation in the street to even begin to explain “how Kenya was.” But don’t worry, if you’ve got an afternoon/day/week, we would all be more than happy to talk for hours! That being said, we are all, of course, excited to come home and see our family and friends. We will never forget our time in Kenya and strongly encourage anyone looking to learn a lot, meet some incredible people, see some amazing sights, and gain independence and a sense of appreciation that is un-achievable in our everyday lives, to study abroad on the Kenya Semester Program.

-Lindy, Jeff, Jenny, Megan

Nairobi: Urban Homestay

Class weeks 3, 4, and 5/Urban Homestay Blog Entry
By Klare Nevins, Claire Pacione, Maggie Cummins,
Kate Tuttle, Wei Song, and Ashley McDuffee

Hello every one! So this blog post is covering the week three, four and five of classes. In addition to attending classes at the United Kenya Club in downtown Nairobi we also began our three-week urban homestay component. Each student was placed with a family that lives in or just outside of Nairobi. Many students went to live with families that have been hosting St. Lawrence KSP students for many years, while others were the first students to be hosted by families. I think I can speak for us all when I say leading up to the day before our new families came to pick us up at the compound we were feeling a whole mixed bag of emotions. Having just come back from and intense but unforgettable week in Tanzania, we all were still reeling from the prospect of adjusting yet again to a new environment, with new people and new experiences. This is the nature of the KSP program; we do a lot in not a lot of time. We are so grateful for all the experiences, but we have a real understanding of how this semester is intense in more ways than just adjusting to a foreign country.

Now let’s hear from some students – here is what they had to say about some of the standout experiences they had during their Urban Homestays:

Claire Pacione:

Here we are ready for the First Lady's Half Marathon. Over 10,000 people participated!

Here we are ready for the First Lady’s Half Marathon. Over 10,000 people participated!

Jambo marafiki wangu!

Looking over the Kenya semester program schedule, I was honestly most apprehensive about our three-week urban homestay. Having grown up in a small town near the Pacific Ocean in New England, I had never lived in a city before. Although I have experiences of venturing into Boston, a 40-minute train ride away, I expected that Nairobi would be a different kind of city than Boston, or even New York.

One of the aspects of this program I was most excited about was learning from cross-cultural relationships. When transitioning into my urban homestay, it was the relationships built with my homestay family, and in the city, that allowed me to prosper during the urban homestay I originally assumed would be most difficult!

Living in a household with my Kikuyu host family, their Kenyan Canadian friend, my Kenyan host cousin (41) who was raised entirely in Britain and his Armenian wife made for interesting conversations around the table!

In support of Kenya’s First Lady, Margaret Kenyatta’s, Beyond Zero Campaign focused on maternal and infant health, a few of the girls and I decided to take part in the Beyond Zero 10k / Half Marathon! I have been a runner since I was in high school and enjoy supporting and experiencing races; Kenyatta’s race was the largest city race I have ever taken part in. Upon registration we picked up purple shirts that displayed the First Lady on the back of them raising up a healthy child. The campaign seems to be highly supported by the individuals I have spoken with during my homestay. Generally, my Kenyan friends feel as though the First Lady is taking into her hands a necessary conflict and confidently moving forward with it. Through talking with my host mother about the campaign, I slowly but surely talked her into coming along and it was a great experience!

The race experience opened my eyes to the great support Margaret Kenyatta’s campaign holds. Once again, it is through these cultural-relationships built that have taught me, and my classmates, more about Kenya, its people, and more about ourselves and our growing perceptions of this world.

Beyond Zero is the organization that the Half Marathon was fundraising for. Check out the website for more information! http://www.beyondzero.or.ke/

Beyond Zero is the organization that the Half Marathon was fundraising for. Check out the website for more information! http://www.beyondzero.or.ke/

Maggie Cummins:

My experience in the urban home stay was not life changing; I did not pick up any new skills, learn experiences of people that vastly differ from my own, or spend nights in living conditions in which I had not previously encountered. This trip, rather than introduce me to yet another dissimilarity between Kenyan and American culture, showed me a plethora of similarities between the experiences of urban people (in this context, I consider myself to live an urban lifestyle in the States). My host sister was 22, had recently graduated from a school in South Africa, and was currently job surfing, a foreshadowing of my own future after graduation. We shared a similar sense of humor and enjoyed the same things, and I found that conversation flowed easily with her and her mother, and I never felt the need to censor myself (both in the sense of context and language). This is more than likely due in part to their English, which might have been better than my own, and their education. In the rural areas, I found little commonalities in conversation, and in Nairobi, I felt as a though I was able to express my own thoughts and begin to shift perspective a little more to understand the views of my family. It was comforting to come home after school and be greeted by an overstuffed couch and TLC on the television, a reflection of afternoons spent in the states, and I won’t lie, I loved the luxury of having a house keeper!

While the hands on activities were few, unlike my rural experience, I felt as though my urban experience gave me the opportunity to learn more about the diversity of Kenya as it’s represented in Nairobi, and I additionally had several opportunities to network and make connections with Kenyans my age. Many factors contribute to diversity of culture; nationality, ethnic group, gender, class, religion etc., but being in Nairobi contributed to the visibility of this diversity rather than isolate one group. My urban home stay was a valuable experience that offered me a wealth of knowledge that differed from my other experiences in Kenya so far. I’m sure a significant part of my attraction to the urban home stay is the comfort of living, where I had working water (for the most part), electricity, and wanted for nothing (‘ceptAnnie’s mac&cheese). But all in all, the communication played a vital role in my overall experience. I was fortunate to have a family educated in interests similar to my own. And those couches were ON POINT! Overall, an amazing experience!

Kate Tuttle:

Hamjambo marafiki! I also had a very enriching, and educational three-week urban homestay. While my peers and I were all taking our regular classes at the United Kenya Club, the most insightful learning I did during these weeks was after school. My urban host family consisted of my mom, dad, and sister, Diana. They also have one other daughter, who is currently abroad in Canada at university. However, Diana was unfortunately in the hospital for the first two weeks that I was there, with a condition that they described pretty vaguely when I asked; so, I naturally kept my curiosities to myself, with the assumption that it was something the family did not feel comfortable discussing. The beauty in having three weeks with a different family of your own is being able to distinguish how families react to certain hardships like these. While I may not have had full insight on exactly what had happened to Diana to make her go to the hospital, I did see how the family acted while they were genuinely worried and concerned for their daughter’s well-being. In addition to visiting Diana whenever we could, and even during my Mom’s work hours, the family turned to religion to help alleviate the situation. In our classes here, we have been learning about the devoutness of Kenyans to Christianity since the implementation of missionaries during the colonial times. Yet, I did not realize the extent to which the members of my urban family would turn to religion for peace of mind, as I did not witness such religious devotion at my rural homestay. While I have had my doubts about religion in the past, I will admit it was refreshing to adopt their optimistic and thankful outlook on life. For example, every few days before meals I was expected to say what I was grateful for. While it not only put into perspective all of the luxuries I have each day, it also was a bonding moment for me and my family to put aside our issues and look at what is more meaningful in life—health, family, and happiness. I do not intend to attend church or religiously affiliate myself after this homestay, however I do think I will—and already have begun to— start realizing what is important to fear or worry about, and what is not.

Ashley McDuffee:

It is extremely hard to categorize any experience here in Kenya as your favorite, because you experience so many incredible things each day. However, the Urban Homestay is certainly among my favorite experiences here. I was extremely apprehensive about this component; I’m a country girl through and through and have never liked cities. I was pleasantly surprised to find that Wairimu and Sinnary were right as always. They place the component at a time when you’ve gotten comfortable enough in Kenya to brave Nairobi life with the homestay families. I had already spent a few weeks exploring Nairobi in-between classes held at the UKC. Once I got my bearings the city was no longer as terrifying as it had once been. Before long all of us were finding favorite coffee shops and restaurants and bargaining at theMassai market like true Kenyans. As far as my family was concerned, I have never felt more at home in Kenya. I had amazing parents and three sisters, one of which was my age and still living at home. I truly felt like these people were as much my family as my mom, dad and brother at home. Anytime we would go to an outing they would introduce me as their daughter “Anyango”, a Luo name they gave me. One of my favorite experiences was when my sister, an aspiring singer, had rehearsal with her friends for an upcoming gig. She allowed me to sit in on their rehearsal. I hadn’t told her I’m a singer as well, and have taken formal lessons since a young age. They were having trouble with a harmony so I sang an alternative one; they had no idea I sang. I immediately became one of their group and even helped create a mashup which they opened the show with. Although I was not in Nairobi to perform with them I had an incredible time bonding with my sister through something we both love. After this experience I will always have a home and a family here, and that is something truly priceless to me.

Ashley McDuffee with her host sister Prisca. They got along really well, especially when they found out they both have a passion for singing!

Ashley McDuffee with her host sister Prisca. They got along really well, especially when they found out they both have a passion for singing!

Wei Song:

Wei Song with her Urban Homestay sisters

Wei Song with her Urban Homestay sisters

Habari zenu! My three-week urban homestay was definitely one of the best experiences I had in Kenya. I grew up in a small city in China with a population of three million, so everything my homestay family did for me really helped make me feel like home. I’m a psychology major, and fortunately my host stay mom turned out to be a psychology teacher! She teaches in an International high school in Nairobi. We had so many great conversations at anytime – even when we were watching television, driving, or doing work. She took me to her school and let me join a Chinese class (Chinese happens to be my first language) and her psychology class so I got a chance to appreciate the one of the best International schools in Kenya. She also introduced me to her students and friends, one who became a good friend of mine. My two host sisters were ten and twelve years and they were so outgoing, kind, and we always played together. I really feel like we are real sisters and a real family. Although we didn’t have much time spent together, we tried our best to make the time we were together meaningful. They took me to the elephant orphanage, and we went out for swimming and dinner during the weekend. They have a house help named Mercy, and she is really like a family member in the house. We would make jokes of each other, and we shared our different life experiences. She is only twenty-three years old, and my mom told me that she wants Mercy to go back to school and would even be willing to pay her tuition. I feel so lucky that I had the best family, which I still consider as my family even after I have left. We still talk to each other and my mom still calls me daughter. I really feel I have a home in Kenya now, and I’ll always miss them and remember the great time we spent together. SAFI SANA

Wei Song with her Urban Homestay mother

Wei Song with her Urban Homestay mother

Klare Nevins:

Thank you to all the students who took the time to share their experiences. After the Urban Homestays, I think we all were surprised just how much we felt like we were a part of a family, in a way that we haven’t been since we left home in January. My personal experience was incredible, and I truly could not have asked for a more open, thoughtful and caring family to live with. One of the biggest things I got out of the experience was a realization that I could live in a major urban city, and live in it functionally. If you had asked me if I would feel this way at the beginning of the semester I would have said absolutely not. By seeing how families live on a daily basis and build the structure of their days around the same things I value in my home, I was truly able to understand not only the adaptability of humans but also recognize that we all are more alike than we think we are. As an Anthropology major, the classes I take mostly revolve around the diversity of different cultures around the world. By learning about different cultures we can in turn be more open and accepting of versions of the human experience that may differ from our own. Although this is vital to comprehend, I was most struck this week by the understanding that even though I had never met my family before and had no basis of connection other than their willingness to open their home to me, I left feeling like I truly had a Kenyan family. How was this possible? I saw it through the universal connectors of humanity – feelings of compassion, love, family and kindness. I think to at least some extent every single person feels these emotions, therefore we all have the capability to connect with anyone in the entire world. I don’t know about you but that makes me feel pretty inspired.

Thank you for all those who take the time to read this, and as always, we thank those at home and in our St. Lawrence community that have helped us make this incredible experience possible!

Asante Sana