Friday, June 21, 2013

"People are people everywhere."

"People are people everywhere," has been one of the tag lines of ThinkImpact University, our pre-village training. Our group of 17 (15 scholars, 2 advisors) consists of the most diverse group of people that I have ever met. We all come from completely different geographic, religious, ethnic, etc. backgrounds. It could not be more beautiful. In three days, I have learned so much about other cultures from around the world, it is crazy. I cannot think of any better way to get to know people from every continent in one summer!  I am excited to see how my appreciation of people's diverse backgrounds further develops throughout upcoming weeks. 

During ThinkImpact University, we have been completing exercises in team building, leadership, cultural practices, problem-solving, organization, and so much more. These skills will certainly be transferable to almost any future situation in my personal and professional life. 

On Sunday, we transition out of ThinkImpact University and into one of the most intense, challenging, and rewarding experiences of our lives. We split into two groups and enter two different rural communities, each about an hour outside of Mombasa. Our new communities will prepare an elaborate welcome ceremony for us, then we will move in with our host families. Anupama (another scholar) and I will live with our host parents and their four children. From there, we will take each thing as it comes; allowing the experience to guide innovation and immersion. 

Tonight marks my last night of Internet for an unknown period of time (possibly until next weekend, possibly until mid-August). However, tomorrow, I begin life with an old school Nokia phone. Calling to the US is very cheap (6-7 cents a minute!), so I can be in touch at anytime by phone or text! My number is +254704978737.

One last thought, as my perception of cultures changes, I am quickly finding that what the news reports is not how one should judge a country or culture. Our scholars have incredible backgrounds, some include Mexico, Somalia, Taiwan, and India. It has been eye-opening to hear the beauty of their everyday lives and how different it is from the stereotypes that I had in my head about these respective places, which were based only on the information I knew from the media. With that, I am not regretting this decision one bit to have all of these adventures and learning experiences this summer. Catch ya next time!


Monday, June 17, 2013

Let's adventure in East Africa for a bit!

When I brought up the plan of traveling in East Africa before and after my program, most people freaked out, except my best friend, Britney, who had just returned from a trip to Tanzania. She assured me that I would be ok, and that if given the opportunity to travel, I should go for it. I have definitely not regretted my decision to go for it! I have been in Africa for 10 days, and so much has happened, I have no idea where to begin.  My brain has seen and thought so much, it is impossible to place it all in words. Here is a "brief" overview of what is going on in my brain:

To begin, there is no possible way to escape looking like a white tourist, which is a struggle when you are traveling around East Africa. Everywhere you go, and it does not matter if you are walking on a street or in an enclosed vehicle, someone will try to sell you something all the time (fruit, jewelry, tours, taxi rides, etc). Many sources advise westerners to not give money, donations, or candy out. It only took one day to realize what this has done to the communities that I have seen thus far. Economic local development and education are the answers, not a constant stream of western aid. Time, patience, and sustainable development are necessary to reverse the "white people will give us whatever we need" mentality. I am excited for ThinkImpact, because we are to prototype and implement this type of development with not a penny of capital provided by us. However, it will be a challenge, because there is a fine line between development and infringement on culture. 

This weekend, Tina, Alison, and I went on safari in Maasai Mara National Park. Although our time was short, we were still able to see many animals. A game drive feels just like you are in a Jurassic Park movie! We fly down extremely bumpy roads to see if we can make it in time to view whatever unique animal has been sighted. The most incredible experience that we had was driving up on a momma lion and her four cubs! 

At the end of our safari, we visited the local Maasai village, which is one of the most famous and oldest tribes in East Africa. If you have ever been to Living History Farms in Des Moines, then the very first Native American farm is a good way to imagine what life is like for the Maasai people. They live off the fat of the land. The men's responsibility is to take care of the cattle, sheep, and goats, while the women must stay at home to cook, clean, and care for the children.  We were surprised to learn that they hold Christian beliefs, and some children attend church on Sundays. Their homes are made from animal dung and mud.  After every nine years, they abandon their village and move to a new place to avoid using up all of their resources and leaving a large impact on the land. 

For the other communities that I have witnessed, I have observed that they typically live very sustainably, but there is great room for improvement in healthcare, sanitation, and education. There are schools EVERYWHERE, but from what I have heard, the quality of education received varies widely. There is also little differentiation in markets, which creates a greater supply than there is demand and drives down prices. For example, almost every little shack sells coca cola and cell phone minutes. The outside walls are plastered with signage from coca cola and their cell companies, which is sad to see this much commercialization and market domination, even in the most remote places. Also, there are dozens of stands on each road that sell bananas, oranges, and passion fruit, and women everywhere who wish to sell you their crafts. 

Now, that I am in Nairobi, it reminds me greatly of China. There are many worldwide companies, ridiculous traffic, and people from every walk of life. It is developed...kind of. You can find the most extravagant hotels with all of the western comforts, but there also are people living on the streets nearby. When I look out my window, it looks just like it did last summer. Since I have been in Africa, it has been a constant sharp switch between feeling like I am in the western world and like I am in a third-world country. All depends on the place!

So what have you actually done? In addition to those observations, I have taken ferries, seen the most beautiful beaches ever, met people from all over the world, touched the Indian Ocean for the first time, gone on a spice and coffee tour, explored Old Stone Town,  eaten Swahili food, seen Mount Kilimanjaro (and gained a huge interest in climbing it someday! anyone want to come?!), played volleyball, made new friends, traveled on some interesting roads, and went on safari! The language barrier has not been a problem thus far, because most people speak English to communicate with tourists. For those who know me well, you will be very surprised to hear that I have been taking showers at night (when lucky enough to have a warm one!), going to bed between 8 and 10 pm, and waking up between 5 and 7 am! Isn't that just crazy?! 

My bag, which was lost by Delta on my very first flight, still has not been found, but I had a dream last night that it miraculously arrived at my hotel in Mombasa. So maybe there is still hope, but I have adjusted to doing without my bag and have been able to buy a few things here!

In 10 days, I have already gained an understanding of the phrase "in Africa, nobody is poor," which is the tagline of my program. I will describe much more as to what I mean by that at a later time. I depart for my program in a short two days! This is really exciting, because I cannot wait to meet the other scholars and my host family, but I also find myself asking what did I just get myself into?! Only time will tell, catch you up next time! :)


Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Why am I going to Kenya?

In 10th grade, I developed a strong interest in the environment, and I have been on a quest to save the planet ever since! I will be starting my junior year at the University of Northern Iowa studying environmental geography and French. I have been interested in international sustainable development for awhile, but I was not sure where to start. When researching summer opportunities, I was looking for an experience that would be meaningful and memorable,  expand my horizons, and make a difference. However, it was also very important that my experience would develop skills that will be beneficial for my future career. I came to the ThinkImpact Institute through my International Relations professor. When I read more about the program, I knew that coming to Africa with ThinkImpact for a summer would give me what I wanted out of my summer experience and more. My acceptance into the Kenya Institute came at the right time, as I was having difficulty deciding which direction to take my life, and this was an answer. It was a risk and a challenge that I knew I had to take on. If I did not do it, I would likely regret it for the rest of my life. So I am coming to Africa this summer to figure out more about my future, to breakdown cultural barriers, to build a global network, but most importantly, to make an impact on my local community.

What excites me most about the upcoming eight weeks is the people that I will meet, and hopefully, form close friendships with that I will cherish for a long time. If there is anything that I have learned in my life, it is that the world is very small and interconnected. All the time I am finding that I know someone who knows someone. This has led to many new travel experiences, friendships, and opportunities. I am looking forward to experiencing Kenya with the other scholars, learning from my host family, and working with my design team and advisors. The people that you meet along the way and the times you have with them throughout the journey of life is what makes life so beautiful and precious to me. Joining ThinkImpact has already contributed to this life philosophy, and I am sure that it will continue in the upcoming weeks, months, and years.

From my time in Kenya this summer, I hope to transfer the skills that I have learned in my previous experiences to my to TBD project with the local community. Although I have a very limited background in business, I hope to share perspectives from my volunteer, environmental, and rural background, to design something that has a meaningful, sustainable, and longterm impact. At the same time, I want to be able to accept and embrace challenges and failures. In addition, I want to continue developing soft and hard skills in leadership, time management, and cultural awareness. I am ready to face this summer and let it move me where it is meant to move me. I firmly believe that everything happens for a reason, and that Kenya is where I am meant to be this summer. 

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Goal achieved!

My junior year of high school, I made the goal to travel to four continents and all 50 states in college. I am excited to have successfully completed that continent goal today (10 states to go!)!

As for what I have been up to since my last post, I said goodbye to Britney in Chicago, contacted Delta a million times (they lost my main bag between Chicago and Detroit), explored Brooklyn a bit (special thanks to Suzanne's lovely friends for hosting me), walked around Central Park, saw the area near the World Trade Center, and made a last-minute run to Target to grab a few essentials since my bag was lost.   

My flights to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania from the US were a breeze. I flew on Turkish Airlines through Istanbul. The airport is very nice, and Istanbul is beautiful from the sky. I was not able to see any evidence of the protests. Throughout the course of my many flights, I met some incredible people doing incredible things all over the world. Including, but not limited to, a world-traveled Irish business man, a mom and her daughter accepting an award at Yale, a former Coast Guard member working at the 9/11 memorial, a college girl from the UK volunteering in Tanzania, and a group from the Netherlands about to climb Mount Kilimanjaro. Mom was worried about obtaining my visa at the airport, but there were no problems, it just took waiting in line for about 40 minutes, and I was lucky that I was at the front.

So first impressions of Africa - I love it! I have stayed in my hotel the whole time, but I can see some of what is going on outside. It is very noisy with people talking, bands playing in the street, and cars driving on the dirt road. People are smiling and laughing! There's a party going on in the streets now - it is Saturday night! 

As for right now, I am staying in Dar until the morning trying to fight off this jet lag, and I will meet up with my travel buddies and head to Zanzibar!

My first meal in Africa - chicken and chips!

Outside of my hotel window

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

The Beginning of a Journey to East Africa

Hi everyone! Shortly, Britney and I are driving to Chicago, where I will begin my journey to East Africa! I cannot believe that it is here already; it came so fast! For those of you who are not sure of my summer plans, I will be participating in the ThinkImpact Institute in rural Kenya. If you are curious about what the program offers, feel free to browse their website - or to keep reading! I am also traveling to Zanzibar, the Mount Kilimanjaro area, Nairobi, and Uganda with some other girls before and after my program! I have been asked by ThinkImpact to answer three questions that people have frequently been asking me about my summer. 1) What are you doing exactly? Good question! The ThinkImpact Institute is a social entrepreneurship and international sustainable development program. I will work with other college students from across the country and world to design innovative projects in our rural Kenya communities. We will live with host families and truly live life as they do throughout this 8-week program. I have no idea what project I will work on, and I am completely okay with that. Once we have time to adjust to our new communities, we will begin building partnerships and testing innovative ideas. We are to provide no start-up capital to our projects, and everything will come from our local communities. I am looking forward to working hard and seeing what can happen when students from across the world come together to make an impact! I hope to not only make an impact on my rural community, but I also wish to apply meaningful lessons from my experiences back in my day-to-day life in the United States. 2) Rural Kenya?! How are you going to survive? I am going to open my eyes to a completely new culture, and I live as the locals do! While I am not sure what conditions that will exactly entail yet, I am confident that my ability to adapt to new situations easily will serve me well. Plus, those many outdoors and backpacking experiences from the last few years certainly help, too! I cannot wait to share with everyone the customs and traditions of my host family and community that I will learn. 3) You are always doing cool things, how did you find out about this opportunity? My International Relations professor, Dr. Lindsay Cohn, posted about applying to the ThinkImpact Institute on Facebook this winter. When I checked out the ThinkImpact website, I was on the phone with my best friend, Britney, and I screamed in her ear, "I want to do this; it would be perfect!" The tagline on their website, "In Africa, nobody is poor. See what we mean this summer," is what truly intrigued me to look into it further. Previously, I had thought about going to India this summer with the Foundation for Sustainable Development, but the ThinkImpact curriculum, support, and experience is what led me to pursue ThinkImpact. My acceptance into the ThinkImpact Institute in Kenya came as a welcomed answer to what direction I should go with my life (in the short-term at least!). I will check in again with you when I land in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, on Saturday! Cheers, Kara