Five Saints and their professor recently put their International Management studies to practice in Kenya. Jessica Salmon, Ph.D., assistant professor of management, led the May trip to Nairobi, which was partially funded through Siena’s Center for Undergraduate Research and Creative Activity (CURCA). Her students developed six different projects to assist Streets to Grace (S2G), which provides health, education and community support to address homelessness. Strathmore University and other social services organizations were also involved in their outreach.
The class was research-based humanitarianism – they tracked the work of existing organizations in Kenya to determine what services and interventions were already offered and how they were delivered, then created databases and game plans that were presented to the governor of Nairobi, officials of S2G, and others.
“Every single student who went on this trip has promised to carry on the work they began,” said Salmon.
Among the projects that had their basis in stateside classwork and came to fruition in Kenya: a database (which might be developed into an app) of possible solutions from the U.S. and other nations that could be applied in Nairobi; the outline of an efficient and systematic way to keep track of future interventions to determine if they are working; and research on financing for non-profits, from formal grants and government funding, to informal crowdfunding and securing resources such as old laptops.
Salmon’s class also created a curriculum to build self-confidence, which area mentors will share with the homeless of Nairobi so they can learn to advocate for and assist themselves.
In addition to sharing their curriculum, gathering data, and meeting with government and university officials, Salmon and her students also participated in “street feeding,” where they shared boxed meals and snacks with locals, and joined in impromptu soccer games with rehabilitated homeless kids. They explored area game preserves where they mingled with giraffes, impala and zebras, and attended a street concert fundraiser for homelessness.
So that they could directly meet with those their efforts are designed to help, they toured the slums of Nairobi. In this city, as in many other Third World nations, slums are formally named (e.g., Kibera Slum), much as suburbs are in the U.S.
“It was truly amazing seeing all of the hard work and dedication put forth all semester come to life,” said Kelsey Del Mastro ’18 of Ringwood, NJ. “I had a great time meeting with everyone and seeing how our projects could help them in their efforts to end childhood homelessness. I enjoyed hearing about what they are doing and furthermore what we could do to help to work towards this common goal starting in Nairobi.”
Salmon shared that their group learned about the nuances of the Swahili language and some of its dialects, where the word for white person - mlambi - was the same word for tarmac, meaning “a person who comes to us from the tarmacs.” Or muzungoo – “one who is lost” or “wanderer,” which also applied to foreign whites.
She explained that street signage and building numbers were obscure or non-existent and traffic was horrendous, making the tracking down of interview subjects and meeting locations a challenge, but on the whole, the experience was both rewarding and emotionally moving. Her students concur:
“Our trip to Kenya was life changing,” said Matt Eckler ’19 of Loudonville, NY. “The work we did meant something to the community but meant even more to us. We went to teach our curriculum, however, they were the ones who did the teaching by showing us that we take so much for granted here.”
His brother, Mike Eckler ’18, echoed those sentiments.
“I would say that I have never met a group of people that are more kind and genuine than the Kenyan people. I learned so much and really connected with them because we were so immersed in their culture. I even made a few good friends. This experience was eye opening and very rewarding and I hope to continue to work with this network of people and the organization that Dr. Salmon linked us up with for our class projects.”
Gregory Di Stefano ’18 of Schenectady, NY, and Blake Jarvis ’19 of Danbury, CT also made the voyage to Kenya.