The greatest lesson I have taken from my experiences with SIT and World Learning is the necessity of community. I first came to Kenya in 2007 on the SIT Study Abroad Kenya program. I enrolled in the program in order to practice my Kiswahili, explore a continent that I felt was deeply misunderstood, and to visit a country I had studied for several years. When I left Kenya, I left as a member of a community with promises made and relationships formed that would continue to deepen over the years. Ironically, as I was reveling in this newfound awareness of the power and love found in community, many communities in Kenya were soon to be torn apart by the post-election violence that rocked the country in 2007 and 2008.
After my first day with SIT in Bodo village, located in the southern coast of Kenya, I felt a deep and true sense of belonging. Maybe it was the natural beauty of the turquoise Indian Ocean, or the coconut trees whose fruits were turned into sweet communal meals. Or maybe it was the strong, witty, and determined women wrapped in multiple, multi-colored cloth wraps — which miraculously stayed neatly fastened all the time — or the children eating unripe mangos from the trees on their way back from school? Or maybe it was the unwavering support I received from SIT and other community members when I returned to Bodo alone for a month as part of my Independent Study Project to conduct research on girls’ access to education. Love is present in Bodo village, and this love pulled me back to Kenya a year later to follow up on the promise I had made as a student to help Bodo’s students continue to secondary school.
With the guidance and encouragement of two very fatherly SIT Academic Directors, Odoch Pido and Jamal Omar Awadh, I founded the Bodo Initiative, which finds education sponsorships for students in Bodo who otherwise cannot afford to attend secondary school. The Bodo Initiative sponsored three students its first year, thanks to my connections made through SIT. Amidst papers, exams, and numerous other worries during my last few semesters at Ohio Wesleyan University, the Bodo Initiative became an official project of the non-profit organization Education for the Future Foundation, or EFF, which finds education sponsorships for students across Kenya and whose founders were also former study abroad students.
Shortly after graduating from Ohio Wesleyan University in December 2008, I became the Co-Executive Director of Education for the Future Foundation, where I am constantly searching for sponsors, grants, and designing and running programs from my home in Washington, D.C. Throughout this time, I have stayed in contact with SIT and even returned to Kenya to visit the SIT Study Abroad staff in Nairobi. I also participated in World Learning’s CONTACT program, which inspired me to pursue peacebuilding and reaffirmed my belief in the power of listening to stories and perspectives of our fellow sisters and brothers in the world.
Not a day goes by when I do not think about Bodo village and wonder how the now 17 sponsored students from Bodo are fairing at school. These students would not be in school were it not for the connections and contacts made through SIT. In fact, EFF recently formed a partnership with SIT Study Abroad Kenya, which will allow SIT students to work with EFF to research issues of education as part of their Independent Research Project. I hope this partnership will welcome other SIT students into the now growing EFF community that, for me, began as an SIT student in Bodo village and that now spreads throughout all Kenya.