May 10, 2014

Peru and Kenya: Parallel Worlds, Worlds Apart

I have now been out of the United States for about 15 out of the last 18 weeks. And I’ve been a full-time college student the entire time. Amazingly, I haven’t felt like I have been missing out on any learning at the school. In fact, I cannot think of a better use of these last 18 weeks than what I have been doing.

My spring semester was spent in Peru for SST, where I studied and did voluntary service while living with host families for 13 weeks. After a 3-week stay at home in Kansas (and a few days in Goshen), I then embarked on this trip.

I’ve always wanted to come to Africa, which is why I couldn’t pass up the opportunity. Honestly, though, after SST I wasn’t sure how to feel about leaving the country again for this trip. I worried that I’d be unprepared because I missed a lot of the preparation for the trip that the other students did. I worried I wouldn’t value the work I was doing compared to the service work that I had just completed while living and working directly with the people of Peru.

After a week or two at home, though, my excitement grew to far surpass the worry. After packing bags with the film group in Goshen, I just knew the trip would be great. After leaving Peru, my favorite memories were about bonding with the group and this group in Kenya is just as fun.

Peru and Kenya share many similarities. They each have large markets to sell produce, clothing, jewelry, and all sorts of goods—but the one we visited in Kenya is even bigger than any I saw in Peru. The variety of cultures, tribes, and native peoples is obvious in both places. There is very large wealth inequality in both countries. Cities will have fancy, new, fancy architecture and small, tin or plywood shacks. The difference is that in Lima they’re separated by neighborhood and in Kenya they can be right next to each other. The people in both places are very nice and happy to talk once they know you. In both places they will wave and yell a greeting to you as you walk by. Kenyans call us white people “Mazungu” (sp?) and in Peru we are “Gringos.” However, the Kenyans do it much more often and the Kenyan children are much cuter when they yell, “How are you?”

My experience has been much different in Kenya than in Peru because of the type of my work. In Peru for half my time I lived with a family but spent my days learning in a classroom. Then the other half of the time I lived, worked, and played with my family without a break. That type of work was mostly just interacting with the people. I taught some English, but that is not a skill that will help me as much in life. I do not plan to be a teacher. In contrast, this Kenyan experience has been an amazing exploration of future career options. I’m studying communications, video, and graphic design and hope to use my talents in those areas to promote a cause, organization, or church that I think is making a positive difference in the world. Here in Kenya, I’ve had an opportunity to interact with many amazing people from organizations that are doing amazing work. Best of all, I feel like my work will help them to help the people of Ngong, Ndeiya, and many other communities like these all over the world. It’s funny that I was worried I wouldn’t value the work I’m doing, because it is now obvious how important the work is to those who are sharing their stories with us, the organizations guiding our expeditions, and to the good of the global community which we are a part of.

I feel like my experience allows me to confidently say that Foods Resource Bank, Mennonite Central Committee, and World Renew are doing Aid Work the right way. And, even as a student still learning the trade, I am able to help. This trip has been amazingly inspirational for me to do overseas and domestic service work and to pursue documentary filmmaking further.

With love from Nairobi,
Jake

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