Clinton School student Rebecca Webber (Little Rock, Ark.) is currently in Migori, Kenya, for her International Public Service Project with Kenya Relief, where she is working conjunction with the Kenya Relief staff to implement a new medical records system and create an evaluation plan which will serve as the foundation for a monitoring and evaluation program for a new clinic. Below is a reflection, written by Webber, of her early weeks in Kenya.
To catch you up on what is going on, let me start from the beginning.
My husband, Todd, and I met Michael and Sandy Boultinghouse last summer at our church. As we got to know the Boultinghouses better, they shared with us that they had been doing mission work with an organization called Kenya Relief and were planning to take their longest trip yet. They were leaving to spend a year in Migori, Kenya, to help the organization start a self-sustaining farm. They left the US last October and have been in Kenya building a house and cultivating the farm ever since.
Over the course of the last two semesters as a student at the Clinton School, I was able to keep in touch with the Boultinghouses and hear about all of the things that are happening in Migori through the people there. The more I heard from Sandy about Kenya Relief, the more I knew that this was the organization I wanted to work with for my International Public Service Project.
Kenya Relief is an organization that is made up of a school, an orphanage, and a clinic which are all located on the same plot of land in Migori. The orphanage is home to about a hundred children while the school serves five hundred children from all around Migori. The clinic is unique in the area, as it focuses on providing surgical care through several mission teams of doctors, nurses, and surgeons who come for two-week periods to provide safe and affordable surgeries. It is common for people to walk or bike for as many as five hours to the clinic for surgical care they would not otherwise be able to receive.
Through several emails and phone meetings, Steve James, the founder of Kenya Relief, and I designed a project around the implementation of an electronic medical records system at the clinic. The system will allow Kenya Relief to track its service, provide annual reports to stakeholders, and eventually conduct an evaluation of its program to statistically prove the impact on the health of the community.
The first two weeks I spent in Migori were filled with learning new phrases in Luo and Swahili, meeting new people, and trying new things. My very favorite thing about Kenya so far has been the people. Every person I meet says “Mzungu! Hujambo!” (White person! Hello!) and immediately follows that phrase with some variation of “Karibu!” (Welcome!). Many others ask about how “Uncle Obama” is doing (fun fact: President Obama’s ancestors were from the Luo tribe in Kenya and they are very proud of that here in Migori).
Kenyan people greet visitors in their country the way people in the United States might greet family members at Christmas. This experience has already given me a new perspective of what it is like to be in a new place, learning all new ways of doing things. I hope to remember this experience the next time I encounter someone who is visiting the United States.
I think the overarching theme for me so far is how much there is to learn from this place and the people in it. This year, my classmates and I spent a lot of time discussing countries in the global South and their developmental, social, and economic statuses resulting from the processes of colonization and decolonization. In fact, I focused many of my own papers on Kenya because I knew that I would be traveling here this summer to complete my project.
In the beginning, my goal was to learn how to help the people of Kenya. I thought that if I learned why the country was in its current state, I would be able to meet Kenyans where they are, with where they have been in mind, so that I could make their lives better in some way.
However, through the processes of study at the Clinton School, I learned that not only is that particular mindset fairly common for my background, it is destructive at best. Wanting to be of help is not a bad thing, nor do I believe that my heart was necessarily in the wrong place. But your heart can be in the right place even as you cause someone harm.
You see, the point is not that Kenya and its people need my plans. Kenya is the way that it is because so many visitors came here with a plan already in mind. What Kenya needs is listeners and learners with resources. For this reason, I have made it my goal to ask good questions and listen well while I am here.
From your friendly, neighborhood Mzungu,
Rebecca Bryan Webber