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Off to Africa

Off to Africa

Just a few days after Commencement, six CHC students, including two newly minted graduates, will travel to Kenya for the trip of a lifetime.

The College-sponsored trip to Africa is part of a program run by the African Sisters Education Collaborative (ASEC), of which CHC and the Sisters of Saint Joseph are founding members. ASEC’s mission is to facilitate access to education for women religious in Africa. Infant elephants are fed synthetic mother’s milk at the Nairobi Elephant Orphanage.

Another founding member, Marywood University, is sending two students on this biennial trip. The team of eight students and two adults will travel to Nairobi where they will stay for three weeks at the compound of the Little Sisters of St. Francis, which includes a chapel and a convent.

There, they will work on one or two of a variety of service projects. The Sisters in Nairobi provide outreach services within their compound that include a hospital, refugee center, a center to help victims of HIV/AIDS and their caregivers learn to manage the disease, a center for street boys, and more

In the past, CHC students have traveled to Tanzania, where they taught English to students in a rural school. Since Kenya is a former British colony, most residents already know English, so tutoring is not a pressing need.

The CHC students are part of the Global Studies course, Kenya and Africa in a Globalizing World, taught by Jacqueline Reich, Ph.D., associate professor of political science. The Marywood students are being taught by Margaret Gannon, Ph.D., IHM. The two educators have been taping their classes and sharing them so they can cover twice as much material with their co-travelers.

In the weekly class at CHC, students have been learning about the history and culture of Kenya, its tribes and their customs and food. Since none of the CHC participants has visited Africa before, they are all ears about information about safety (including sleeping under bed nets to avoid malaria-carrying mosquitoes and drinking only purified water) visas and passports.

They are even learning some Swahili.

“Just a little, just to get by,” says Reich. “It shows honor to the people.” She describes how Swahili was a language of traders across the African continent invented by the British occupiers because many of the tribes had no written language.

“We are not only learning about Kenya, but they are getting a sense of how we, as Americans, are connected to Africa and why we should care,” she says.

The CHC participants, who had to apply and then meet with a committee for approval to travel, already have a strong understanding of what it means to give to others and Reich calls them all “very giving.” One has strong personal reasons for going. 

“I was born in a beautiful country (Honduras) with its poverty, corruption and violence much like Kenya,” says Iris Reyes-Bugg ’18, a Communication major. “I was born with very little and look at me now, attending a private Catholic college. I feel that by going on this service trip I will have an opportunity to give back and to say thank you for all that I have.” Scene from Little Sisters of St. Francis, where participants will live and work for three weeks.

In addition, the students are running fundraising projects. Even though the trip is a College-sanctioned event, each student is responsible for raising $2,000. They are doing this in a variety of ways, including a pizza fundraiser, a second-hand sale, a GoFundMe account, donation jars set up around campus, part-time work and—for anyone wishing to help out—an online link through CHC’s website

The trip won’t be all work and no play, of course. Plans have been made to visit one or two animal reserves in the southern part of the city, where they can feed giraffes. They also will visit an elephant orphanage established after a synthetic version of elephant milk was invented a few years ago, saving countless infant elephants whose mothers had died either of natural causes or as victims of poachers.

The eight students will be accompanied on the trip by Reich and Jennifer Mudge, a licensed social worker and new Program Evaluator for the Sisters Leadership development Initiative at ASEC, who travels to Kenya regularly.

“I’m very prepared that I’m going to see living conditions that I’ve never seen,” says Reich. “I’m expecting to be overwhelmed and expecting our students to feel the same.” She plans to include time for daily reflection and sharing so they can all process their experiences. The students will prepare a presentation to be given on CHC’s campus in the fall.

— Brenda Lange