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Back to Africa

Brendan Hayes with son Kellan in South Luangwa, Zambia.

Brendan Hayes ’04 (KSP spring ’03)
Why did you choose the KSP?

I grew up in Tupper Lake, N.Y., about an hour drive from St. Lawrence’s campus.  I didn’t have much travel experience apart from trips to Canada growing up.  I wanted to experience some place new and different.  I had a vague notion about being interested in international affairs, but I also harbor a passion for the natural world. 

There were probably other programs that would check these boxes, but the KSP also had a great reputation among alumni and people who have come into contact with the program.  In fact, just the other day, I ran into the new deputy director for USAID in Malawi (I work in Lilongwe, Malawi) and he was asking me what got me interested in development in Africa.  I started telling him that I went to this small liberal arts school with a study abroad program in Kenya, and he interrupted me and said, “St. Lawrence University… you must know Joseph Lekuton.…” Lekuton ‘91 was a Kenyan scholar at St. Lawrence and is a member of the Kenyan Parliament.

What was it about your KSP experience that inspired or compelled you to stay involved with Africa?

I certainly don’t think it was any one thing, but I left Kenya having had a great first experience in Africa.  This kept me interested and open-minded about returning. 

I also had my first encounter with the AIDS epidemic while on a fisheries internship in Kisumu.  I was conducting community interviews for a paper I was writing about the Nile perch, and the beach chairman interrupted us at one point and said something like, “this is important, but our biggest problem is AIDS.” He then reeled off the names of all the people from his village who had died from AIDS.  When I had a chance to work on an HIV prevention project with the Peace Corps, this experience played a big role in my decision to accept.  I’m now in my sixth year working in public health in southern Africa.

Do you have a memorable story to share from your KSP?

Hiking Ol Doinyo Lengai, a volcano in northern Tanzania, in the middle of the night was one of the most impressive experiences I’ve ever had in nature.  We also spent time in Tanzania’s Yaeda Valley with the Hadzabe, among the last hunter-gatherers in East Africa.  Those few days, along with homestays with the Samburu and Meru people in Kenya and navigating hectic Nairobi, are experiences I reflect on constantly, even after five years living in the region.  You’d be hard pressed to recreate a learning opportunity with such breadth and diversity.
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