Nyeri, Kenya - Children and Youth Empowerment Centre - Andi Thieman


Posted: November 3, 2011

This summer I had the amazing opportunity to go to Nyeri, Kenya for a month.

Throughout last semester I worked with a Penn State professor and another student on an adaptation of a “Life Skills Curriculum” that is currently implemented in South Africa. Our draft of the curriculum was comprised of ten lessons on emotional health, including self awareness, anger management, managing anxiety and leadership. In May, Erica Eber, the other Penn State student, and I traveled to the Children and Youth Empowerment Centre (CYEC) in Nyeri, Kenya with the curriculum and supplemental materials.

We stayed at the Centre which is home to over one hundred street children from Nyeri and surrounding areas, as well as, some of the staff.  We had the unique opportunity to really get to know the children and staff members, immersing ourselves in their daily routines.  ThiemanKenya1.pngThe Centre is about a 20 minute walk to Nyeri, the biggest town near it; so it was incredibly rural and beautiful. We had planned to simply give the staff members the curriculum and have them teach it, since the children would probably be more comfortable learning from them; however, they insisted that Erica and I teach it. It was my first time ever teaching an entire class and I was incredibly nervous, but it ended up being such an amazing and rewarding experience.

The curriculum was created for youth ages 13-18 years old, since the centre had over 80 children in this age range, Erica and I split it into two separate classes. I took the younger group, the 13-15 year olds, while Erica taught the older group, 16-18 year olds. We each had approximately 40 students in our class.  The first few lessons were a little rough as the children were not used to my accent and had trouble understanding my English. The CYEC staff members were very helpful though, translating and occasionally just repeating exactly what I said in English which the children could better understand. The children were not participating too much in the beginning, however many of them understand English better than they can articulate it. 

I kept the class short and interactive, making sure the main points got across, but not dragging it out as the younger children’s attention span was not too long. We incorporated fun games into the lessons, such as a game of telephone to demonstrate the importance and difficulty of communication.  By the later lessons, the children were used to my English and understanding the majority of my teaching. They were also participating, sharing their answers with the class, and very attentive. It was so rewarding to see them understanding the concepts we were discussing.  The experience boosted my confidence in teaching and I found it’s something I really enjoy.

ThiemanKenya2.pngApart from the curriculum, I was also doing some research for my honors thesis. I interviewed approximately 20 Kenyans, both children and staff at the CYEC, on their perspective of leadership. For my thesis, I want to better understand Kenyan indigenous knowledge on leadership, such as what qualities make a good leader versus a bad leader. I comprised about 10 questions on leadership to ask each interviewee; while the staff had an easier time understanding and answering the questions, many of the children had difficulty articulating their thought in English. However, I am excited to begin analyzing the data.

All in all, my time in Kenya was amazing. Apart from our projects at the CYEC, we had the opportunity to go on safari, travel to other nearby towns, and spend a weekend in Nairobi. Furthermore, we built strong relationships with the children and staff at the CYEC and truly got to experience the culture.  I hope to visit again in the future.