So often we see examples of global citizens serving the world by traveling to new countries and cultures. But what about those who see disparities within their own community, and aim to resolve those? They are just as much ‘everyday ambassadors’ as those who trek far from home. Today’s post is from one such person: Mr. Ogonda Simeon, Director of Spring Break Kenya, an innovative social effort to engage Kenyans in public service within their own borders. Although he does not directly discuss the impact of technology on his attitude and work design, note that Kenya is the hub of Africa’s IT boom, and Simeon’s generation of college peers rely on their mobile phones and Facebook as much as their American peers to structure their social lives. You will see, without him describing it precisely, that Simeon is overcoming ‘tech traps’ by making human connections.
My name is Simeon and I believe “In humility there is no humiliation.“
This statement, combined with what I found to be a very troubling level of inequality in my country, Kenya, influenced me to forego the employment opportunities of a young college graduate in my nation’s capitol.
I graduated from Maseno University in Kisumu County at a time of devastating famine that affected mostly the rural, poor, vulnerable areas of Kenya, and I felt that it was my duty to find a lasting solution to the problems surrounding this tragedy. But rather than arrive with my own solution, I thought it would be important to consider the knowledge and resources that rural communities already had, and create rural-academic partnerships for maximum impact.
Out of this effort, Spring Break Kenya was born as an organization that brings university and college students to Kenya’s rural communities to work on meaningful projects, and develop young Kenyans with the spirit of community service. Among other objectives of Spring Break Kenya is; to edify, equip and empower the youth with social, practical and inspirational knowledge and understanding of their surroundings to achieve desired transformation, to provide information and tools that address the needs of rural communities in Kenya, and foster greater collaborative efforts amongst like-minded organizations to encourage a global identity of community leadership among students and the rural communities impacted by the camps.
Kenya is a land of vast cultural backgrounds and so part of the beauty of Spring Break Kenya is for our students to share educational and cultural experiences not only with remote Kenyan villages but also with each other. From these interactions, our students develop the passion and heart for serving their nation, and rural communities develop skills and projects aimed at fighting poverty and food insecurity (like teaching more productive farming techniques. And we hope we will strengthen our whole nation’s infrastructure as well, by involving the forestry service and district agricultural departments in our work.
One of our Springers with Kawino Primary School Pupils
So far, our results have been heartening. Over 400 “Springers” – university student participants – have trained several communities with environmental knowledge and entrepreneurship skills, additionally reaching over 1,000 primary school pupils in education activities. Our Springers planted trees in Anyuongi market and distributed another 200 tree seedlings to the schools and churches in the area in a ceremony that attracted approximately 100 members of the small village to intensify environmental conservation initiatives. We have also watched with joy as our Springers learn different languges, like Dholuo, the local language of one host community. The learning of indigenous languages in a country of multiple ethnicities like Kenya fosters National Integration as people of various cultures get to appreciate the cultures they were not brought up in and is a key pillar of our national values. We have seen our Springers begin projects with communities as strangers, and finish them on a much higher personal level.
The success of the camp and the fulfillment of the objectives have spurred the organizers and the participating students to begin planning for a bigger camp next year with more participants, especially from other countries to increase the level of exchange and interaction of different cultures and backgrounds. Additionally, Spring Break Kenya is planning after visits by camp participants to ensure follow up and progress of the initiated projects and a continued connection with the community that hosts the camps in every region would also facilitate the achieving of the mission of community integration.
This means that students overcome the stereotype of seeing rural areas as ‘behind’ or undeveloped, and helps the community overcome stereotypes of University students as rowdy and arrogant individuals. They see how they each have different skills that, when combined, can change things for the better.
Of the many skills our participants must possess, humility is a primary one. Particularly because, after years of being educated and conditioned to believe how powerful and important we are, these projects in rural Kenya force us to see that we still have a lot to learn, and that only by putting aside our differences and working together with others can we make our country a better place.