Kenya Believe It?
Before coming to St. Lawrence, I had seen the statistic that approximately 65-70 % students study off campus. However, being an international student, who would technically be already studying abroad here, I did not put much thought into the study abroad programs. It wasn’t until I got on campus, when the statistic really meant more than a number. I constantly found myself surrounded by people who either loved their abroad experience or were planning on going abroad. Amongst the many conversations I had with other students on campus, I happened to have a conversation with my peerpod leader about the abroad program she was interested in. The program she was excited about was the Kenya HealthCare Delivery summer program. Being a first-year, I had never even heard of this summer program, but being on the pre-med track and hearing about all the things this program had to offer, including shadowing experiences, working with public health organizations, and learning about a health care system in another country, I knew that exact moment that I was suddenly interested in this three-week long program and applied for the program my sophomore year.
The three-week summer program was basically a three-week road trip in a cool looking jeep that held six St. Lawrence students, Professor Wairimu Ndriangu, and our driver. We started in Nairobi, traveled westwards, and ended our program in Eldoret. Throughout the three-week long trip, we stopped in between at multiple locations for lectures about communicable disease, women’s health, and to visit programs and health care facilities. When people ask me about my favourite memory of this program, the list of course includes eating Chapati, Samosas, enjoying afternoon tea, waking up to see Lake Naivasha, and seeing the Masai Mara, but most importantly it includes a long explanation of how I now have a new perspective of the medical field.
One of the first places in Nairobi we visited was Nyumbani, which is a home for children with HIV or AIDS. Nyumbani had almost everything for these children: a home, a school, a church, a laboratory, and a library. Because it’s very important for patients with HIV or AIDS to stick to their treatment regimen, there were nurses who made sure that the children were taking their pills and their blood levels were regular. Something else I realized right away from the visit here is that people working at Nyumbani weren’t simply focused on helping the children become better physically, but help them learn, become independent, have religious support, and overall provide help holistically. Even though this was one of the first visits to a health care program in Kenya, the holistic care and approach became a common theme among the health care programs we visited later on. In Mumias, we visited the WADADIA program, which provides women with fistulas receive the medical help they need, and also learn a skill that they could use to support themselves economically. A valuable component of this program that we got to be part of was the community outreach program for raising awareness about fistulas. In addition to visiting these programs, we also had opportunities to shadow doctors at the national hospital, visit dispensaries and clinics in the urban slum, and even got to talk to a traditional birth attendant in Talek.
After visiting and experiencing such a wide variety of health care programs and facilities in Kenya, I came a realization that the medical field isn’t merely about providing patients with treatments and medications, but that it actually is making sure that the patients are provided with all the opportunities to improve their quality of life. Through this amazing experience, I not only became interested in pursuing a Public Health minor, but also got to build on my interest and passion in the medical field. As many students at St. Lawrence say after coming back from being abroad, I can join in and say that participating in the Kenya Health Care delivery program was one of the best decisions I’ve made during my four years at St. Lawrence. So, the next time someone starts talking about their study abroad or off-campus experience, keep your ears open, because even if you may not want to study off campus now, you never know when you’ll suddenly have the desire to experience something new!