The following blog was written by Rashiidah Richardson, a Junior in the Bonner Leaders Program at the Campus Y. Rashiidah works at Sacrifical Poets.
by Rashiidah Richardson
It has now been approximately a month and a half since I have been in Kenya, and I have experienced so much. I have stayed in two of the three major cities in Kenya, Nairobi and Kisumu. I have visited the United Nations headquarters as well as community activist in Kibera, Nairobi’s biggest slum. I have studied the progression of urbanization in planned and unplanned settlements. I have worked with a local fishing community to construct a formal market. I crossed the equator; I have stayed in a rural village called Simenya. I have even visited Barak Obama’s grandmother. All this while studying Kiswhahili, planning a research project, hanging out with my host families, and experiencing life in Kenya.
It was my hope to come to Kenya as an open book with the goal to experience and not try to form too many preconceived notions of what I would observe. East Africa, and Africa as a whole is not the typical study abroad destination for most student due to multiple factors, not one of the least being misleading stereotypes about the different peoples and their cultures. This is why I think the opportunity to stay with host families throughout my travels around Kenya has been an invaluable experience.
Morga Star Academy in Mathare North with teachers and staff at Nairobi National Park
In my initial homestay in Nairobi, I stayed with a family of all women. I lived with my mom and sister, two aunts, and a cousin. Mama yangu mwenyeji katika Nairobi was a former flight attendant and ran a catering business. I would spend much of the afternoon after homework listening to the stories of the different places she visited. Katika Kisumu, I lived with my mother and younger brother. My brother, who is in primary school, successfully campaigned for the position of vice president of his school. He specifically requested a sister, and I think I can confidently say he is not disappointed with me. Familia wa tatu katika Simenya walikuwa wakubwa. I lived with my mother, my younger siblings, and some of my extended family in a compound set up according to the traditional of the Luo culture. It was there I stayed for five days. I was given the name Atieno “, one who is born at night.” I was named after nyanya yangu mwenyeji who would only speak to me in Luo. After five days I can successfully say “erokamano,” thank you.
Rooftop view from Maseno University of Kisumu city center going away celebration in Simenya
As I am continuing to process all I’ve experienced in the limited time I have been here, I can say that being in Kenya has already changed my perspective on how I view social justice and public health. Furthermore, it has reaffirmed the commitment I have to the work I do back in the states. I am glad that I was able to visit several awesome community organizations that focus around issues I am passionate about including youth empowerment.
One organization I visited was the Mathare Youth Sports Association (MYSA). MYSA is located in the Mathare Slums of Nairobi. Like many informal areas, sanitation, particularly the disposal of waste is a big issues. Part of the sports program, particularly for futball, is allowing teams to earn points towards the league through community clean-up projects. In addition to addressing environmental issues, part of the programming includes interactive theater, a community library, HIV/AIDS awareness and testing, and other initiatives. One the aspects of the program I was pleased to find out is that much of the staff were Mathare residents, and many of them had grown up participating with MYSA and decided to give back to their community.
At MYSA Headquarters with staff
Through the Bonner leadership program, I have had the opportunity to make a four year commitment with a local non-profit organization. I have had the chance to serve and grow with the local Chapel Hill community in a way that many college students do not have the opportunity to do. During my time, I have learned the importance of service, the importance of grassroots change, and the pressing issues of social justice.
As beautiful as I have found Kenya to be, I have also observed poverty and human rights violations in a way I could have never prepared for. These experience have solidified my belief that there is so much work in this world for all of us to do so that we all can live our lives fully. And I have found so much encouragement in the bravery and tenacity of the many social activist, advocates, and community members I have met.
This experience has made me think more about the reason why I do what I do. It was well in the words of one “professional volunteer” I had the pleasure to meet: “I was given this gift, and I had to use it to serve my community.”