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An African Adventure: Kenya Style - Sarah Peterson

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Posted: November 3, 2011

It was so entertaining and interesting comparing our lives, and finding the similarities and differences between us... In addition, I feel that I have gained a whole new perspective on my life...

I have wanted to go to Africa for as long as I can remember.  Since I have started traveling on my own, it has been my dream to go somewhere on the continent, so when I learned of the opportunity to combine my interest in African and health, I immediately started looking into how I could make it happen.  Four years after I first learned about the project, I hopped on a plane and flew across the world.

On our flight over we had the opportunity to stop in Istanbul.  Our layover was long enough that we were able to walk around a bit which turned out to be a real treat.  Istanbul was such an incredible combination of art and politics and history.  There was so much character everywhere we looked.  We had a ball walking around the bit that we did, but I can’t wait to go back and explore more!

PetersonKenya1.pngWe first got to Kenya and spent a few days in Nairobi.  It was interesting walking around that city after seeing Istanbul.  They were so vastly different but both really interesting.  Nairobi looked more like a western city than a European or African.  There were times where I could have sworn we were back in the US.  One major difference was the food served.  We had flown in late at night, so our first meal was breakfast.  I ordered cereal and coffee, thinking there was only so much variation that could exist there.  I was served my cereal with steaming milk, and coffee that was milk based as well.  I would soon realize that food was one of the largest differences I would encounter.  I am a fairly adaptable person, but when it comes to strange food, it takes me a while to get used to things. 

After our few days in Nairobi, we traveled to Nyeri, Kenya, where most of our trip was to take place.  This was where the Children and Youth Empowerment Center is, which is the base of our project.  There we were met with kids ages 3-23, the older of which helped us with the project, and the younger of which constantly supplied us with Kiswahili lessons and soccer games. 

Once getting to Nyeri, we immediately set to work making the kiosks successful.  Our first trial was at the CYEC, meeting with people from the surrounding community and seeing how exactly things were going to go.  It was definitely a bit rocky at first, but by the end of the day we had figured out exactly what we were going to do and how we were going to get patients through in a respectable amount of time.  My specific part of the project was looking at the role of the Community Health Workers in the healthcare system and in our kiosk system.  I would work on the kiosks when I had time, and then when I had down time I would meet with the healthcare workers, discuss what they did, and explain what Mashavu is and how they could fit in. 

PetersonKenya2.pngAt first, we all had ideas of what the project would entail.  However, after the first week all we had to show for it was a few more Kiswahili pleasantries learned, and a few pounds  gained from all of the fried bread that we were eating (It is customary for a person to be welcomed into the home with a cup of tea and a piece of fried bread).  It took a solid week and a half before the health workers of the area were comfortable enough with us to actually start chatting with us about was going on. We slowly began to understand exactly what the health needs of the country were.

While understanding the health needs, it was equally interesting to find the different  needs of the students we were working with.  We often needed a translator for our meetings, so we spent a large amount of time with the students of the CYEC.  It was so entertaining and interesting comparing our lives, and finding the similarities and differences between us.  I hope someday to go back and see them again, as well as to perhaps see them stateside.  In addition, I feel that I have gained a whole new perspective on my life and the health needs of my country.  It also showed me the bigger picture of what I could do in the future to help address these health needs.