CMU post-grads venture to Kenya to volunteer

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESWhen students reach the end of their long educational journey and graduate college, many spend time celebrating.

Recent graduates from Central Michigan University however, spent their post-grad weeks volunteering. In Kenya.

Two days after graduating from CMU, Olivia Jenkins and her two roommates made the nearly eight thousand mile trip to volunteer in Kenya.

Jenkins had studied abroad in Maseno, Kenya in May of 2013. She said when she left, she knew she would return. This time around she brought her roommates. Fellow graduate Hesham Salman and senior Josh Wessel.

“‘We’re coming, thats it!’ We didn’t really give anybody expectations of what we were gonna do and we just did really what we wanted to do and we kind of just called it by ear, see how we felt that day and just had fun with it. It wasn’t a tourist experience at all it was really like we became Kenyans for the three weeks that we were there.” said Jenkins.

Jenkins and her roommates organized and paid for the entire trip out of pocket. While they didn’t have an itinerary, the three Chippewas made the trip with an overall goal to help serve HIV patients and orphans.

Jenkins said, “We worked closely with Maseno Mission Hospital and also His Arms Kenya Orphan Project. They’re both different groups that I had worked with before but this time we worked more in the hospital. I spent a lot of time in the maternity ward and kind of helped with mothers and delivery. I got to see a birth and help through a birth and that was pretty awesome.”

Salman said he used his CMU background in computer science to improve the technical systems at the hospital.

He said, “I worked with the I.T department at the hospital. The department is a bit of a stretch it was really just one girl, who was still a student, and she was kind of working all the systems in the hospital. And what I did is I networked all the buildings and I made sure that all of their computers could speak to their central server because prior to that point they didn’t.”

The group experienced a number of cultural differences while in Kenya.

For example, they were puzzled at first when they saw a funeral., In Kenya it’s treated as an all night celebration. More of a street party than a time of sadness.

Salman also said Kenyan hospitals are very different than American facilities..

He said, “I mean I was absolutely shocked by the hospital just because I mean you have chickens and monkeys running around the entire hospital. Other than that I was absolutely moved by everybody there I mean everybody was just so hopeful and happy and just they really made me feel warm inside.”

Jenkins said hanging out and playing games with the local children was an important part of their trip.

She said the group was impressed to see how happy the people in Maseno appeared despite not having much.

She said, “It almost makes you feel disgusted with yourself. It really humbles you and it really makes you appreciate every little thing that you have. And especially because they’re so happy and nobody here in America is happy, but everybody over there is happy and they have nothing.”

Jenkins and her friends went to Kenya with the thought to help change the lives of those they served. The trip also had a profound effect on their own lives.
She said witnessing other cultures through first-hand experiences, whether it’s through volunteering or recreational travel, is something everyone should do.

“You need to get out of America, you need to go to like Europe even. You just need to open your eyes to a completely new culture because you’re like ‘yeah I know there’s other cultures, yeah I know there’s other things out there’ but until you’re there and you’re watching people eating chicken bones its like you don’t know and you really need to know. You owe it to yourself and to the lives you’re going to affect; you owe it to them too to go do it.” She said.

Salman added, “If the world is a book then I mean if you don’t travel then you’re really only reading one page of it.”

Salman said it’s easy to fall in love with volunteering and traveling.

And if, as he said, the world is a book…then perhaps it really is worth a read.