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Traveled to the CYEC in Nyeri, Kenya with CED 499A: Nora Frumento, CED Major, Arabic & Spanish Minors

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Posted: November 13, 2012

I will always remember the times I spent with the children, laughing and loving every minute of it...
Nora and "ndugu zangu" ("my little brothers")

Nora and "ndugu zangu" ("my little brothers")

This past summer I spent 21 days in Kenya with CED 449A, Issues In Economic, Community and Agricultural Development in Kenya. When I describe my experience, I often find that I am at a loss for words because it was truly the best three weeks of my life for many reasons. I experienced so much personal growth. I learned so much about others and myself while also learning a lot about another country and the amazing individuals that I had the opportunity of spending time with. It’s hard to find the right words because I want to do justice by the trip, the CYEC, and the amazing people I worked alongside.

We spent the first four days or so in Nairobi adjusting to the time difference and meeting with various people from USAID, Land O’ Lakes and the Peace Corps. We also toured places like KARI, which is the Kenyan Agriculture Research Institute and ILRI, the International Livestock Research Institute. As students we were there just to watch and learn how to make contacts and promote everything the orphanage is currently doing and has to offer. We were also encouraged to give insight into the projects we were planning to work on at the orphanage and the different enterprises that the youth at the orphanage had already started.

The projects that I worked on during the spring semester were the workshops for the CBO youth at the orphanage. I was eager for a chance to work closely with the other students and I wanted to be as involved with the youth as I possibly could. Upon arrival and after our first group meeting, we quickly realized that we had to change our workshops. They were aimed towards basic business skills tied along with some leadership activities but what the youth needed were more business skills, which was something that I found to be a daunting task. Who am I, a nineteen year old who had barely taken any business classes, to be teaching people my age and above business concepts that at some points I struggle with as well? I struggled with this for a little while but realized that I was learning much more from this entire experience than I would be able to teach anyone and that it was okay. I was one out of several students on the project and we were determined to make it work and have it be beneficial for the youth.

We ran into several problems along the way that in hindsight I have realized I learned so much from. The youth we worked with were incredibly articulate and intelligent, but very shy. Who wouldn’t be shy in a room full of people they’ve never met? But this wasn’t something that we had taken into consideration before hand so we enlisted the help of the other students and with them we prepared icebreakers for the beginning and end of each workshop. We’d all spend hours sitting together in the kitchen or around our professor’s table reworking new business skills into the workshops along with ice breakers and along the way whatever else we found that we needed to incorporate, for that very same night’s workshop. I had never been faced with a challenge like that before. The youth were relying on us and we had to deliver.  It was difficult and we often found ourselves all wanting to go in different directions with the workshops and the way that we wanted to present them.

FrumentoKenya3.pngBut every night we managed to pull it all together and deliver solid workshops, spending hours with the youth going through what we had planned. One of the most rewarding things was when I noticed that we were starting to gain an understanding of how to facilitate discussion rather than introducing the next topic ourselves. I honestly can’t describe the feeling I had every time the youth would come across the next topic because they were talking enough and interacting enough that they came to it on their own. There were struggles with the workshops, but I learned so much from every problem that we encountered.  Teamwork skills, problem solving skills, communication skills, and especially time management skills were things I seemed to gain a new understanding and hold on while working through the workshops.

When I wasn’t spending time working on or in the workshops, I spent time doing many other things. The thing I miss the most is the time I’d spend in the early evenings with the kids when they arrived home from school. Every morning I woke up looking forward to whatever time I was able to spend hanging out with all the kids, watching the nightly soccer game, just goofing around and truly enjoying myself. The kids are so full of life and this energy that I can’t describe. They were so happy and engaged, eager to play with me and show me everything, like their new magic tricks they had learned with rocks. I will always remember the times I spent with the children, laughing and loving every minute of it. Some of the older youth were very excited when I expressed a serious interest in learning Swahili. Everyday they would come up to me and would make me practice my newly learned words by saying, “sema” which means, ‘say something’ in Swahili. I miss those smiles, kind words, and genuine human beings who are filled with so much drive and enthusiasm despite the circumstances that they are in and the challenges they face everyday.
  
Towards the end of the trip most of the class went on Safari. It was hard leaving the children knowing that soon I’d be leaving for good but it was a once in a lifetime experience that was definitely worth it. We went through the gorgeous, lush Aberdares one day and through Solio Game Ranch, which is in the Kenyan rift valley the next. I have thousands of photos from this part of the journey alone because every minute there was something new to see. During the part of the trip I feel like I bonded so much with several of the other students, who I still keep in touch with now. Being less than ten feet from some seriously big lions may just have that affect on people!

FrumentoKenya2.pngAlthough we were having a great time on safari we all exclaimed how happy we were to be heading home, back to the orphanage. Without realizing it the Centre had become our home. If I was to describe this experience to a future employer I would tell them that I need at least three weeks off a year to go home, back to my Kenyan family at the CYEC. I would tell them that I will be on time and stay late if that is what it takes because having a job that will further my career is not an opportunity the rest of the world has. I would tell them that if the internet is slow or the coffee tastes burnt, I promise not to get antsy or complain because these are such insignificant issues compared to the problems other people face. I would tell them that I have been inspired to be a better person everyday by the truly amazing, hardworking and driven individuals I met in Kenya. Like David, the nineteen year old who attends high school from 6am to 6pm, aspires to be an engineer and has worked hard to start his own e-waste jewelry enterprise. It’s a serious achievement to have passed the tests after 8th grade and have moved onto high school and he happens to be attending the best in the area.

One last thing I’d want to tell them is that together I hope we could start working on a fund or a project to get people involved with the orphanage because those kids deserve everything that we can possibly offer them. I’d also find myself at a loss for words because I’m not sure where to begin when talking about the best three weeks of my life, but I hope I’d find the right words to do justice by the trip, the CYEC, and the people I met in a little town called Nyeri, in Kenya.