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Upendo Moja Kenya--One Love

Posted: September 26, 2013

Arika talks about her experience on a three-week international immersion experience to Nyeri/Nairobi, Kenya, and its impact on her life.

My heart is heavy this week as I am here in the United States while my heart is also in Kenya with the people who changed my summer.  As many of you already know, Nairobi’s Westgate Mall was the location of a deadly massacre that has now claimed more than 69 lives.  I would like to share with you how my life was touched by so many beautiful lives in three short weeks.

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This past summer, I took a trip of a lifetime with the AGECO 499A class with Ms. Janelle Larson and her team.  I was bold enough to take my first international adventure to a continent that made the Lion King famous, Africa. I knew when I originally came to the conclusion that I wanted to travel abroad while I was at Penn State that I wanted to make a difference and change someone’s life. During my semester we prepared during class and outside of class researching different projects that would in the end result benefit the Children and Youth Empowerment Centre in Thunguma, Kenya.  I tried to prepare myself for the trip by researching what all was being done at the C.Y.E.C. As much as I planned for every curve ball that would’ve been thrown my way, the experience was more eye-opening than I could have imagined.

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As I landed on African soil, I already started to feel a part of myself starting to fall in love with the country.  The first week of our journey was spent getting to know the Kenyan culture: experiencing new foods such as chapatti, which is very delicious; touring various colleges and learning what agriculture programs they have to offer their students; and overall learning of the long history of such a united nation.  I have to hand it to Kenya, their hospitality towards our group was nothing short of wonderful! Not once did I meet a person who wasn’t excited to meet me and hear about my life in America. It’s also neat to see how people have connected with our own President because of his family ties to the country and asked us how he was doing. After spending a brief few days in Nairobi, I packed my overflowing luggage bags to a small “matatu,” a small white van, and began my long journey to the centre listening to the upbeat sounds of Kenyan music. We arrived to the centre so late in the night that we didn’t want to wake the children. Yet, regardless of the noise the children were so eager to meet all of us that I soon became a jungle gym full of children hugging me around my waist and my neck, sharing so much love with a stranger they barely knew. It was in that moment that I knew what true love surely felt like.

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Most of my days consisted of working with my counterpart Jenna Moser, another Penn State agriculture student, developing new ideas for the agriculture program’s enterprises to implement. At first, I felt severely overwhelmed and not sure what we were going to do with the amount of limited resources we were provided. Luckily, between Jenna and I, we had enough ingenuity to develop several ideas that we hoped would take the Centre far. We educated the youth on the importance of animal husbandry and the nutritional requirements that needed to be met for the animals they were housing. It was sometimes a challenge trying to convert my American farmer attitude and trying to make it simple for the Centre to replicate. We learned that by meeting in the middle we could accomplish more than if we went along with just our own ideas.

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During our down time we spent as much of it as we could with the small children who still attended pre-school and near the evening when the other children came home it was straight to the soccer field to watch them all have a good time playing with the older youth and staff members. I enjoyed the time I spent with the children because they were the reason I came to Kenya. Yes, I joined a class in the College of Ag Sciences to help improve their agricultural systems but, there is only so much you can do in three short weeks. Originally, I thought that by going to Kenya I would be making an impact on the world and getting one step closer to helping solve international agriculture problems. Yet, it seems as though the children at the C.Y.E.C. and the staff that I encountered while on my exploration in the southern hemisphere had a large impact on me instead.

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Four months have passed since I’ve been in Kenya and not a day goes by that I don’t think about my new friends and a young girl named Ruth, who I happened to form a sister-like bond with while I stayed at the Centre.  You will never truly understand how grateful you are to be living in a country such as the United States until you’ve explored the world. I’ve learned to appreciate the small things in life such as seeing my parents every day and being able to have all the resources around me to have the education that I’m earning today.

I would recommend anyone who has a drive or a passion for helping others to consider looking into these programs when you come to Penn State. This summer has been one full of changes and I am forever grateful to have impacted the lives of so many. If you’re interested in learning more, please check out the College of Ag Sciences International Programs website, full of these amazing opportunities! 

Until Next Time!

 --Arika