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The Student News Site of DePaul University

The DePaulia

The Student News Site of DePaul University

The DePaulia

The Student News Site of DePaul University

The DePaulia

    Kenyans welcome students with ‘open arms’

    While Kenya is estimated to have a 40 percent unemployment rate, DePaul students learned that people who lack money can be rich in other resources. Over December intercession, 20 DePaul students of various areas of study traveled to Kenya as part of a short-term study abroad to learn about environmental concerns and the cultures of Eastern Africa.

    “The people there said they welcome us with open arms,” said senior public policy student LeAaron Foley, “this little 8-year-old said to me, we’re a family, we’re brothers.”

    The students traveled around southern Kenya to many destinations including a small village on Mount Kenya, a Maasai village, and a safari destination. Throughout their travels, students stayed primarily in Karen, a suburb of Kenya’s capitol, Nairobi, as guests of the Green Belt Movement.

    The Green Belt Movement (GBM), is an organization started by Dr. Wangari Maathai in 1977 to “advocate internationally for the environment, good governance, equity and cultures of peace” and to “empower Africans, especially women and girls,” according to greenbeltmovement.org.

    “The GBM works have enabled households to improve their natural resource base from which livelihoods have been improved,” said Judy Nyaguthii Kimamo of GBM. “A practical example being that now the women are living in houses constructed from the trees they grew about 15 years ago,” she said.

    Students observed GBM’s work as they stayed in the village of Kiang’ondu on Mount Kenya. Here, the primarily female-run families opened their homes to DePaul students for three days as students learned about farming and community.

    “Being [in Kiang’ondu] made everything seem so natural, like everything was the way it was supposed to be,” said Foley.

    Considered part of the large percentage of unemployed Kenyans, self-sustained farmers in Kiang’ondu grow their own crops with skills they learned through the Green Belt Movement. While most of the people don’t have as many material possessions as many Americans are used to, they grow a large variety of food and resources for their families.

    “They were completely happy just with what they had,” Tabbert said.

    Not far from GBM’s home base of Karen is Kibera, the largest slum in Kenya and arguably the largest in all of Africa. Kibera is a community made of tin-roofed shacks, poor sanitation, and is the home of 800,000 to one million people.

    DePaul students spent a day in Kibera with the children from Red Rose School. They talked with students and teachers, made activity books with the children, and donated supplies to the school.

    “They were so grateful for the items, even though [the items] were so simple,” said Jaclyn Tabbert, a junior psychology student.

    “Despite the destitute look of things the people are really genuine and sincere,” said Devin Meyer. “The kids there are so ambitious despite their circumstances,” she said.

    The DePaul students who traveled to Kenya said their outlook on service and community has been changed from their time studying abroad.

    “Being able to recognize that the way we do things isn’t the only way to do something is huge,” said Foley. “There are other types of people who do things differently based on their experiences,” he said.

    “The way I relate to organizations has changed because of this experience,” said Meyer. “There are ways to put money directly into the hands of the people who will be using it. I want to make sure when I give money or time I want it to go directly to the community rather than a huge organization like UNICEF,” she said.

    “There’s a different world outside of where we are,” said Foley. “If you get a little uncomfortable exploring the other parts, that’s good. It’s important that you get out of your comfort zone, it makes you such a more well-rounded person,” he said.

    Kimano said she also enjoyed the cross-cultural interactions.

    “Clearly it’s becoming very important to connect research and development to inform each other so as to implement relevant and practical initiatives that contribute greatly to the growth of a people and a nation,” Kimano said.

    A Kenyan proverb says, “You must treat the earth well. It was not given to you by your parents. It is loaned to you by your children.