Empowerment and Education in Kenya: Emma’s Experience

Emma is a brilliant 21-year-old student who’s about to finish her Bachelor in Political Economy. Before moving to London for her studies, Emma was a member of a volunteering program called WISER, that led her to undergo a memorable journey in Black Africa back in 2014. In this interview she will tell us about her experience in Kenya and what she has learned from it.

Hello Emma! When and why did you decide to go to Kenya?

I decided to go to Mohuru Bay, Kenya in my junior year of high school because I wanted to undertake a volunteering opportunity to help girls in the developing world. The reason why I chose Kenya over many other destinations is that I felt particularly passionate about helping young women, since in many countries in need like Kenya there is still a huge and problematic gender disparity, where girls are highly marginalized and not nearly given the same opportunities as their male peers. My role in the group was to help the students at WISER, a secondary all-girls school that takes care of their education, situated in the area with the highest HIV and malaria rates in the whole country. In this case, the location of the school is crucial, since the stellar HIV rates and the poor girls’ schooling rates are very likely to be linked, as prostitution is often the only alternative to support themselves and their families.

“…I went to the local primary school to teach English to little girls, and I saw three 10-year-old girls pregnant…”

Tell us about your experience. Is there a particular episode you would like the share?

My group and I left for Mohuru Bay on February 2014. I was very excited because we had spent many months prior to the departure preparing for it, by meeting on a weekly basis, discussing about the sensitive issues of the country, learning about Swahili culture, and organizing fundraising activities.

In Kenya I taught the girls of the WISER school English and also later helped raise funds to build a water pump that would purify the water for the local community. I think that what WISER is doing is crucial for the development of the country (also from an economics perspective, as student of economics), not only because it is taking care of the schooling of these girls, but because it is also takes care of their health, which can be very precarious is countries like Kenya – as I said, the risk of contracting HIV or malaria in Kenya are very high.

Needless to say that my ten days there have been unforgettable because they opened my eyes to a beautiful culture that was screaming for help. A moment that will stay with me forever is when I went to the local primary school to teach English to little girls, and I saw three 10-year-old girls pregnant. The teacher asked me to talk to them and help them understand their situation and what that meant at their young age. I was shocked and scared to approach them because I felt the situation was out of my hands and way beyond my capabilities. I still attempted to make them understand the severity of the situation and convinced them to stay in school after the birth of their children.

The year after your trip to Kenya, WISER gave the opportunity to a high-achieving student from their secondary school to come visit your own high school in Switzerland. Could you tell us about this girl and the time she spent in the Western World?

Of course, I remember Violet very well. She came to visit us from Kenya during our first semester of senior year. After winning a competition in her school, she was allowed to come to ours for a week in order to discover the lives of western girls. I remember her kindness and intelligence throughout the week, helping and teaching us so much about the life she lived in Kenya, and never mentioning the vastly different lifestyles we shared. I remember Violet being very shy, but she spoke to our student body during an assembly, telling us about her life, and how during her academic year her uncle had killed her father due to land tenure issues. After temporarily dropping out of school due to that unfortunate incident, she had decided to come back because she wanted to finish her studies and become an engineer. I was left extremely inspired by her tenacity and bravery.

Would you be able to tell me a few things that Kenya left in your heart after your experience?

Without any doubt, after this trip I was left inspired by the bravery of these young women. Kenya also left me with lots of gratitude in my heart for my upbringing. This will definitely be an experience that I will cherish forever, and I hope that I was able to leave even just a little trace of “good” in these wonderful girls’ hearts. If I was able to have even the smallest positive impact in these girls’ lives, then it was worth it.

If you could talk to a person you met during your experience in Kenya who would it be, and what would you tell him/her?

I would talk to Veronica Machira, the girl who I partnered with during my stay in Kenya and whose house and family I visited. If I could talk to her I would tell her that I still remember meeting her family and being shocked by their generosity and kindness towards me despite their modest life. I would tell Veronica that her intelligence in school and maturity for her age impressed me to a huge extent and that surprisingly she seemed happier than most of the girls in my school. And finally, I would tell her that I wish she fulfilled her dream of going to university and travelling the world. I will never forget her.

Thank you so much Emma or giving us your time! I wish you good luck with the rest of your studies and I leave you with the hope that your words will inspire our readers to undertake a volunteering trip like the one you just told us about.

Monica Landoni

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