Schreyer Scholar carves path for service-learning opportunity in Kenya

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Madison Taylor wasn’t sure if any of the girls would remember her.

The Penn State biology major and Schreyer Honors College Scholar was returning to Hekima Place, a home for girls and young women who have experienced trauma or hardships in Kiserian, Kenya, four years after her first visit there.

She had barely closed the car door after arriving at the home, though, when she and one of the girls immediately recognized the other — and embraced.

“They had grown so much while I was gone,” Taylor said, “and I had grown as well.”

Hekima Place has grown, and Taylor’s visit back made her want to continue to help it grow, and she is hopeful her fellow Penn State students will be inspired to follow the same path.

In 2005, the year Hekima Place was founded, 10 girls lived in a rented facility. When Taylor visited in 2013, that number was roughly 40. Today, more than seven dozen girls, from infants to university students, form a community with two dozen dedicated Kenyan house mothers and staff members, as well as volunteers from around the globe.

Taylor got to know the founder of Hekima Place, fellow Pittsburgh native Kate Fletcher, through a mutual acquaintance, and spent a month there following her junior year of high school. She would organize outdoor activities — hiking or gardening — during the day time and help the girls with their homework and trade stories with them in the evenings.

“Hekima Place shows these girls they can do whatever they want,” Taylor said. “They can take on the world.”

This past summer, Taylor was doing field work in Tanzania through Penn State’s Global Health Minor program and decided to take advantage of the relatively close proximity to Kenya. Her second visit lasted 10 days and gave her a chance to reunite with some of the girls and the staff and meet Jenny Roach, the current executive director.

Taylor helped convince Roach to visit Penn State in October, when she met roughly 35 students during an event organized by the student club Schreyer For Women, and several members of the club expressed an interest in volunteering at Hekima Place, and a few of them have plans to head to Kenya this May.

Taylor is hoping to tie one of the Schreyer Honors College’s Global Programs to Hekima Place and, potentially, SEGA, a school for girls in Tanzania, so that future students who make the trek can do so for credit. Taylor, who will graduate in May, doesn’t want another four years to pass before she returns to Hekima Place again.

“You go there, and people don’t forget about you,” said Taylor. “And as a volunteer for anything, that’s your duty, your obligation, to not just do it one time and forget about it. There needs to be a follow up and there needs to be some sort of way you keep that connection going.”

Students interested in learning more about Hekima Place can visit the organization’s website or contact Taylor directly at Maddie@psu.edu.

Last Updated January 24, 2018