Dispatch from Kenya: Welcome to Nyeri

Dispatch from Kenya: Welcome to Nyeri

A group of students from seven Penn State Colleges are spending part of the summer in Nyeri, Kenya to work on three humanitarian engineering and social entrepreneurship projects, Mashavu, WishVast and Eco-Village. These projects seek to bring technology to people in this region and demonstrate how it can affect their lives in positive ways. In this excerpt, recent College of IST graduates Anthony Zmoda (Mashavu team) and Steve Garguilo (WishVast team), discuss the students’ arrival in Kenya.

Steve Garguilo: A Few Welcomed Stops
While I've been fortunate enough to have had numerous international experiences in the past (Hungary, Spring '08; India, Summer '08; Morocco, Spring '09), I was eagerly anticipating this trip knowing that no two experiences are alike. Once all the rest of the team members (there are 33 total students in all working on WishVast, Mashavu, and Eco-Village) had arrived at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, we crammed (quite literally!) into a bus for downtown Nairobi.

We finally got something to eat (including some delicious fresh fruit) and then spent the night in a hotel in the city. With the morning came an ICE COLD SHOWER (thankfully my only one of the trip) and then our trip to Nyeri with a few welcomed stops along the way.

Nairobi National Park

While obviously our goal for this trip is to complete work on our Humanitarian Engineering projects, we wanted to make sure to get a well-rounded experience along the way, so our stops on the way to Nyeri were to a giraffe orphanage and Nairobi National Park. At the giraffe orphanage, we learned there are three types of giraffes found in Kenya, and had the chance to get very close to a couple. At NNP, we saw a variety of animals from monkeys to lions to cheetahs to an ostrich.

At each destination there exists a different entry fee for Kenyans vs. non-citizens. While this was unfortunate, it was expected, and we paid the higher amount in order to go inside. At NNP, the sign said that the price for students and/or large groups was $5, yet they still wanted to charge us $15. This is a common theme at times with large groups of "mizungos" (tourists), as earlier in the morning the person at the currency exchange had also changed the price for us. This is similar to experiences that I have had in India, and I believe it stems from the perspective that Americans have everything and can afford anything. It's hard to blame them for thinking this; I just wish it wasn't so. In the case of NNP at least, Khanjan Mehta (a senior research associate at Penn State) was able to argue with the person enough to get us in for the correct $5 price.

The rest of the day consisted of the scenic yet bumpy bus ride to Hotel Ivory in Nyeri. After a stop for dinner at a restaurant which featured a very good menu (I got a nice chicken dinner), we finally made it. The last stretch of road to the hotel was an uphill climb, and our bus was zigzagging all the way up the hill in an effort to get more traction. This made us all very glad to arrive and get some rest after a very long two days.


Anthony Zmoda: Making Introductions
After several long days of travel from the U.S. to our final destination of Nyeri, Kenya, the Mashavu team was excited to take their first trip to the Children and Youth Empowerment Center (CYEC). After months of preparation and anticipation, it was exhilarating to experience firsthand what has been so frequently described to us. We drove about five minutes down the road from our hotel to a dirt path that veered sharply to the left. It wound us in and out of farms and tightly knit properties laced with exotic plants. We arrived at a large iron gate, which was subsequently opened by our familiar friend, Joseph. Joseph, one of the students at CYEC, traveled with us from our hotel in Nairobi. From the minute we arrived, we were greeted with wide curious eyes of scattered students trekking around the complex.

Trekking up to CYEC
We were introduced to Edward, a staff member of CYEC, and given a tour of the surrounding buildings. The landscape was lush, green and full of vegetation. A stream marked the end of the property, which we found to be particularly serene. After the tour, we at last met one of our main stakeholders of the Mashavu system, the CYEC resident nurse, Marysimiyu. It was a relief to finally tour the clinic where the initial phase of Mashavu was to be implemented. The location and resources that we had discussed for an entire semester was finally put into perspective when we saw where would actually be working. We then were introduced to the students who would be our guides throughout the surrounding community to conduct our research of the usability of our system.

Introducing Ourselves
We told the residents that we were students and they ended up being very receptive to our conversations and questions. The health issues that were very evident throughout the town were a large part of the citizens’ lives, and they often felt stuck in their situations. However, this did not deter them from engaging us in friendly, informative conversations. We figured that they may have assumed that we were on some sort of mission trip.

Many of the families’ children were currently attending CYEC Kenya because they could no longer support them in their environment. It was a very overwhelming and eye-opening experience, and we are looking forward to working with them throughout the trip.

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Last Updated June 02, 2009