Bridging the Gap: Reflections from Kenya

Submitted by Sara Hollis, Sophomore BHP student who lived and worked in a rural village in Kenya during winter break

Haraka haraka hiena baraka (hurry, hurry has no blessing) was a common phrase heard in the rural village of Kenya where I lived and worked this past winter break. The phrase in itself is a stark contrast to the hustle and bustle of Austin, Texas. As a sophomore business pre-med student at UT, my schedule can seem so hectic with classes, internships, and the next fraternity party. School seems to become my identity from August until May, and it is so easy to forget about the happenings outside of my narrow scope.

After a stressful round of finals, nothing sounded better than a winter break of relaxation, reuniting with old friends, and a good old home-cooked meal. However, when I heard of a struggling orphanage in fear of shutting down, I opted to utilize the holiday by offering my help. Much to my surprise, I have found that my trip to Bukembe, Kenya has instead left me more rejuvenated than ever.

My visit to WEMA orphanage has been greatly appreciated by the locals here who have enjoyed my animated lectures, computer lessons, and HIV/AIDS activities. However, I may have learned more from these experiences than my eager students.

On my morning runs, I passed through the local market as everyone set up shop for the day. I was left exhausted simply by replying to the greetings of every passerby, and by the end of the trail, dozens of kids were trailing at my feet with excitement upon seeing ‘mzungus’ and trying to keep up.

The African culture is something very special. With the little they have, they offer to share with ‘the visitors’, and everyone shouts ‘karibu’ (welcome) from their windows. Everyone was excited to teach me colloquial phrases, and I immediately felt right at home.

I admit that I enjoy my unlimited wi-fi and soy-lattes on campus, so it was undoubtedly an adjustment to live in a village with no electricity and often, no running water. But it is true, without the distractions, one learns to enjoy the company of others, whether it is telling stories with the aunties at the orphanage or playing duck-duck-goose with the small children.

While our everyday world consists of the PCL, 6th street, and Guadalupe, the children at WEMA dream of the chance to one day live in our shoes and attend university. Although it may seem mundane to us and, at times, taken for granted, the mere thought of a bright future is enough to get them through the day.

The students diligently work in school, with the one in a million chance that they can receive a college education or attain skills to help bring their family income. The orphans shared with me their dreams of being doctors and lawyers, but it was more timid hope than reality. Every day, they go to bed with the realization that their father died of malaria or that their entire family was killed in the 2008 Mt. Elgon clashes on the Kenyan border.

Here at UT, we have everything at our fingertips. With the brains to solve problems and the hands to help others, we have the power to really impact those who need our help.

Out of the hundreds of programs offered by the UT Study Abroad Office, students graduate every year having never left the country. Worried about cost? Thousands of dollars in scholarships go unclaimed every year as well. With such a huge student base, we could reach all sorts of places and people. As college students, we may never have opportunities such as these again. You never know how one step out of your comfort zone might spark a passion while transforming you current mindset and future goals.

As I begin the spring semester with a refreshed perspective, I also challenge us to make the most of the opportunities given. It does not stop with our education; it is what we do with it. Let us share our education and perspective, whether it be with a new person we meet on the Forty Acres or a student in western Kenya.

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