As this 5 week journey is coming to a close, I find myself reflecting back on my time here in Kenya and how drastically it has changed many aspects of my life. Growing up as a white female in a financially stable household, living in towns where poverty doesn’t exist, in a developed country based on democracy, I have never come face-to-face with the hardships experienced by the vast majority of people living in developing or third world countries. I was ignorant of the issues of extreme poverty, trash and garbage buildup causing extreme air pollution and other negative environmental effects, and the lowered quality of life that exists in many places outside the US. Traveling to Kenya has been the most life-changing, perspective-gaining, and eye-opening experience I have ever had. This journey has washed away all my previous ignorance of these issues and replaced it with empathy for those who face significantly more hardships on a daily basis than me or most other people from my country.
From the very moment our plane landed in Nairobi, looking out the plane windows at the foreign landscape was so fascinating that I couldn’t even begin to wrap my head around the fact that I was in Africa, let alone going to be living there for 5 weeks. But culture shock hit me like a train during the first 5 minutes of our bus ride from the airport to our house. Seeing shacks built from wood scraps and corrugated metal where entire families lived, fruit vendors walking on the highways and leaning into our vans in hopes of selling us their produce, and the lack of infrastructure compared to the US were just a few of the many aspects of life in Kenya that seemed almost unreal to me. However, the most mind-blowing difference to me was the massive amount of garbage scattered along the roads, lining each and every street, and the burning piles of it every 50 yards or so. The issue immediately became clear to me: garbage control and environmental education were completely lacking here in Kenya.
During my first couple of days here, despite everything else that I was feeling and experiencing, I thought a lot about the garbage issue. How the quality of life for Kenyans was lowered because of it, and I wondered if a single individual like me (or even better, the CHI summer abroad 2017 group) could make even a small impact on an issue this big. Having firsthand experience with the pollution and garbage buildup in a country plagued by extreme poverty made me appreciate the environmental awareness of many Americans and the efforts of our government to promote environmental friendliness. So, you can probably imagine my excitement when I was placed in the Environmental Education group for the projects that we all would be working on at the CHI Academy. The members of this group were responsible for creating a compost system and teaching the students (and teachers) the basics of composting, from what can and what cannot go into the compost to why composting benefits the environment. The Environment Ed group also educated the classes on recycling their plastic bottles, and started recycling bins throughout the school. Seeing the students’ passionate interest in learning about environmental issues and the harm that can come from not respecting their environment made me hopeful. Although we have only been educating a few students in all of Kenya, if they are passionate enough to teach others about caring for the environment, things could really take a tremendous turn. This generation of students could have a huge impact on the future of Kenya, and I could not be any luckier than to be working alongside these brilliant, creative young minds and seeing all they have to offer the world.
The students at the CHI Academy are some of the most deserving children I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. Seeing their creative power come to life in the classroom and seeing their individual personalities shine was definitely the biggest highlight of my trip. Having one-on-one conversations with many of the students, I learned their hardships. Hearing that many of them had to walk over 45 minutes every day just to receive an education, that their families of over 5 people had to share one room, and how many students were barely able to attend school because their parents could not afford their education, made me appreciate my life at home 100 times more. But the thing that amazed me most was that despite how little these children had, they never had a single complaint. They are the happiest children on Earth, and their warm smiles and loving hugs never ceased to make me smile. I feel like the luckiest girl in the world, thanks to CHI, for being able to have this experience of a lifetime. And for that I am forever grateful.
If you know a high school student who is interested in applying for our 2018 Summer Abroad program, please click here. Applications open August 1, 2017.
If you would like to contribute to our Summer Abroad scholarship fund, click here.