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CYEC in Nyeri, Kenya by Nora Frumento, CED & GLOBE double major with minor in Spanish and Arabic

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Posted: October 8, 2015

I keep going back because I want to a positive and driving force in the lives of the youth, just as they have been in mine.
CED499A at the CYEC

CED499A at the CYEC

This past summer I spent four weeks at the Children and Youth Empowerment Centre in Nyeri, Kenya with CED499A. This was my second time in the class and hopefully not the last. I’m grateful that I had the opportunity to be a part of the class again, with a new group of students, grad students, and professors who have become my closest friends and mentors.

The first trip to the CYEC defined the rest of my college career. It motivated me, a sophomore with no specific direction in mind, to find two majors that I have grown to love and gave me specific interest in youth and education programs. This second trip allowed me to gain a new perspective with which to understand the class, the projects, and community in which the CYEC resides. 

Over the past four weeks most of our time was spent at the CYEC, except for the several days in Nairobi at the beginning of the trip. We had a full couple of days in Nairobi, which provided us the opportunity to acclimate to the new environment, culture, and food while also allowing us time to do touristy-things. We toured several agricultural institutes, visited Mount Kenya University, spent time getting kissed by giraffes at the giraffe sanctuary in Nairobi [where I overcame my fear of giraffes, see right photo], went to a performance at the Bomas Cultural Center, and were given time to explore the city areas close to where we were staying. I really appreciate that we are given time to do this before heading to the CYEC because it helped us bond as class before going and working together for the next three weeks.

Overall, this past trip reinforced in me my belief that flexibility is key and having an open mind is a must. When we arrived at the Centre, my group found that what we were going to be working on had to be radically changed. My classmates and I saw firsthand that traveling to, and volunteering in a new environment can be hard, messy, and challenging.  From this I have learned that staying flexible with plans and being open minded to whatever may happen are not only important skills to learn but, also necessary in order to adapt to the new environment. It was clear how important it is to adapt and adapt quickly to new places in order to start working effectively within an organization, community, or in my situation, a youth empowerment center ready to move forward with our new workshops. 

My team was tasked upon arrival with coming up with two days of workshops that focused on the development of the new eco-village site that the CYEC was planning for a plot of land the neighboring idyllic area of Othaya [see bottom right photo].

The first day of workshops were with the youth and the second were with the staff, in order to give both groups the opportunity to voice and then discuss their ideas regarding the development of the site. We spent the two days throwing out any and all ideas so that everyone’s idea would be heard and briefly discussed, no matter how far fetched. Ideas ranged from agriculture development to building a movie theatre or bowling alley. I learned just how important it is to let any and all ideas be heard and discussed before moving forward as a group. This facilitated an environment in which all voices were heard and all ideas were discussed.

Traveling to somewhere so vastly different from my own hometown, not once, but twice has taught me a lot. Walking down the street in a country where you look so clearly different from others was and continued to a humbling experience in my life. Also, I have learned that no matter how different our cultures or customs may be, that inherently people still have the same needs, wants, and goals. For example, my classmates & I spent four weeks working alongside youth at the center the same ages as us, with similar life goals and wants. Although we came from different backgrounds, upbringings, educations, and religions, at the end of the day we found common ground on which to bond and realized that we were more similar than previously imagined. Realizing this was incredibly beneficial and allowed us to build friendships with people halfway across the world.

 From living at the CYEC once more, I have gained even stronger friendships and bonds with the staff and youth. The youth at the CYEC have continuously shown me what drive and resilience look like, in the forms of little kids all the way to adults. The first year that I traveled to the CYEC I was aware of their perseverance, but it wasn’t until this year that I was able to spend enough time with specific people to witness it. It became clear that I had just spent four weeks with children who have been faced with extreme adversity in their lives, but have somehow managed to establish a place within the CYEC for themselves, and therefore, in the community. This is in major part due to the help they receive from the incredible staff of the CYEC but, at the end of the day I believe that it is those kids who had to fight for themselves when no one else would, or no one was else could. All of those children made the conscious decision to stay at the CYEC. This was not something forced upon them, but it was choice that they made regardless of their instincts to run and distrust authority.

Faced with more obstacles than solutions, those kids have given themselves a shot at an education and a life, by staying at the CYEC instead of running away. After spending time with the kids, it’s clear that they are kids- they play, they laugh, they fight, they cry, they act like children. But, after spending time with them it is also clear that they are strong. I keep going back because I want to be a positive and driving force in the lives of the youth, just as they have been in mine.

They have showed me time and time again what determination and resilience looks like, and it has been one of the greatest influences in my life since.