Princeton University

Class of 1995

Summer Service Fund Reports


Report from Kenya by Leighna Kim '01

November 29 2001

According to recent statistics, 24 million people in sub-Saharan Africa are HIV-positive. In Kenya, it is estimated that one in seven are infected with the virus. These figures were constantly haunting my thoughts and my efforts during my summer in Kenya. There were many challenges every day in both becoming a part of the community that I was living in as well as the challenge of gaining credence when talking about this disease that was wiping out huge populations of people and effecting the economy of a country and people I had grown to love.

My summer in Kenya was the best experience I have ever had. During the ten weeks that I spent submerged in a foreign culture, I experienced several lifetimes. Stepping off the plane, I was most shocked by metropolitan Nairobi that seemed similar to New York. I soon found out that there was physically very different geographical terrain that did not seem to belong in the same country. By the end of the summer, understanding and feelings of belonging soon replaced my initial shocks of the culture and country.

I volunteered with a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) named Global Service Corps (GSC), an American volunteer organization. Along with several other participants, I lived in a town named Machakos, with a wonderful Kenyan family whom I have grown to love as my own. Machakos is a small town about one and a half-hours southeast of Nairobi that is surrounded by hills and steep valleys. During our time in Machakos, our primary objective was to become a part of the community and help educate the population of the endemic that was devastating so many sub-Saharan countries.

I worked primarily in the Municipal Public Health Office. It was with this office that I had the opportunity to observe their work with sanitation and education. I was able to observe bottling plants, coffee plants, flour mills, and many other industries in the Machakos area. I was also able to work along side their technicians in community groups discussions on STDs, and more specifically about HIV/AIDS.

My primary focus was with the secondary schools and set up classes with the principal to meet with the classes individually. I usually had the advantage of not only being a foreigner, but also being a young person trying to befriend and teach the students about HIV/AIDS and to dispel any myths that they may have come across. While teaching, I made it a point that I was being completely honest about the disease and that they should be honest when discussing their fears or questions.

My work this summer was often filled with frustration of not being able to do enough, but I had satisfaction at the end of my time there when I was able to step back and see the small results, even if it was the creation of an AIDS Awareness group by Kenyan students who felt the need of having such an organization. There were so many times when I felt as though the exchange was not adequate because this country and these people were teaching me so much about their culture, themselves, life, and myself.

Kenya is a beautiful country with beautiful people, and there is nothing that I would ever exchange this experience for. I grew accustomed to their time, their food, their personalities, and their smiles. It was not difficult to think of Machakos as home.

I definitely achieved and learned all that I wished and more this summer. No words or pictures can fully explain my experiences, but my decisions and outlook in life will be forever affected by this country called Kenya.

Thank you very much for your support that allowed me to have the memories that will last forever.
Leighna Kim '01


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