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Penn State in Kenya - Caroline Gimmillaro

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Posted: November 3, 2011

It was amazing to realize how similar these youth were to us even though we’ve grown up worlds away. I learned a lot about what it’s like to grow up in a developing country and that my hopes and aspirations are not that dissimilar from theirs.

This summer, I had the opportunity to travel to Kenya with my Community, Environment, and Development 499A class. It was an amazing experience and my favorite class at Penn State.

The embedded course works with the Children and Youth Empowerment Center (CYEC) in Nyeri, Kenya. The CYEC is a residential and educational program created to provide basic needs and education to street dwelling children in rural Kenya. During the spring semester, we researched ways to help the CYEC’s agricultural program and youth cooperative. I researched and designed a microfinance program that will help the youth start their own businesses.

GimmillaroKenya1.pngFor three weeks after the spring semester, we traveled to Kenya to practically apply our research at the CYEC. Our journey began in Nairobi, where we met with agricultural research centers and agricultural business suppliers. We also visited a giraffe sanctuary and the national museum.

A few days after arriving in Kenya, we traveled to Nyeri to the CYEC. There, we were greeted by hoards of smiling kids. They were so happy to see us and immediately introduced themselves and showed us around the CYEC. They asked about the students who had traveled with the class last year. This demonstrated to us that the kids were really appreciative of the work that previous CED 499A students had done to help the CYEC and were very happy to have the class back.

We spent the next three weeks working to help these kids. We worked with the older youth running the cooperative to teach them how to manage a successful business. We worked with the youth to create budgets, financial and inventory records, and consumer contact lists. I also worked with local people to design a microfinance plan that would give loans to the cooperative to help it expand.

But we did much more than work. We spent a lot of time playing soccer and having our hair braided by the younger youth. We were also able to spent time with the older youth. It was amazing to realize how similar these youth were to us even though we’ve grown up worlds away. I learned a lot about what it’s like to grown up in a developing country and that my hopes and aspirations are not that dissimilar from theirs.

GimmillaroKenya2.pngWe also got to go on a safari where we saw zebras, gazelles, hyenas, elephants, rhinos, and so many more “Lion King animals”.  A lion even come right up to our vehicle! We also traveled to the equator and straddled both hemispheres. On a trip to Mount Kenya, we came face-to-face with a huge family of baboons!

I learned so much from this experience because it was a practical application of what I have been studying in the classroom. I was able to use my education to help others. I also go the opportunity to go to Africa and immerse myself in a new culture. I met some amazing people and still talk to them regularly. This class was worth so much more than three credits. It helped me explore the world, apply my education, and help others. It was certainly the highlight of my college education.