By Jacque Bode
In May 2019, a group of WSI supporters traveled to Kenya to visit the students and meet with the program’s volunteers and partners. This post is the first of several by that group of travelers. Jacque Bode is the mother of WSI co-founder Tom Bode. -Ed.
What a joyful challenge to try to put into words the enormity of experiences of my visit to Kenya. By far, encountering the Kenyan people and their culture, was my favorite – and most especially, meeting and talking with our Kenyan students.
I have deep admiration for these young people. They have grown up in poverty – a kind of poverty that I believe rarely exists in the USA – but with their intellect, determination and ability to sustain hard work for years, they will be a force of positive change in their communities and the world. I was especially touched by Brenda, who overcame her shyness to visit with me a bit. She said she misses her mother very much – I was sad to learn the students are not allowed to visit family except on school breaks – but her education is so important she is willing to endure her homesickness to continue her studies. She shared that her dream is to become a pediatrician, or if that isn’t possible, a teacher, or an accountant. Unlike in our country, a Kenyan student’s choices are determined (and limited) by how they place on qualifying test scores. After visiting with Brenda, I was left believing she will indeed become a pediatrician.
Another striking moment for me was visiting with Peris and Villatricia at dinner. These two young women are at two different universities in Nairobi (Peris will be a junior in chemical engineering and Villatricia will be a sophomore in education). They were quietly well spoken, pleasant and clearly happy to be able to visit with Katie and Tom. However, at one point in the conversation, the subject of politics came up. Both young ladies became quite animated in their discussion, revealing excellent analytical skills, and an ability to clearly convey their own views and ideas with a maturity and honesty that was very impressive. I thought to myself that if this is a measure of the success of all the supporters of WSI, then we are wildly successful!
I was struck, too, at the strong emotional connection the students feel with Katie and Tom. Clearly they idolize Katie and Tom, and Katie particularly showered the students with love, affection and appreciation. You could see the girls just soak up Katie’s energy and faith in them – and see how Katie’s faith in them inspires their faith in themselves. You can see how they want to become the same kind of strong, smart, well-educated professional woman Katie has become. The boys, also, enjoy that special connection but are a bit shyer to express this with words. Their beaming faces tells it all.
My ‘take home’ recognition from my experience in Kenya is that while it may feel very discouraging to make big changes in our complex and troubled world, powerful change can and does happen on an individual level – individuals like Katie and Tom who have the energy and determination to devote themselves to WSI (in spite of their already very full lives), and who inspire the young people WSI supports in Kenya. These young women and men already are a positive force in their communities. I believe they will continue to be forces of change – not only because they will have an education and the skills to make good decisions in their own lives and the lives of their families, but they have the drive and capacity to continue to strive to become the best they can – and to inspire others to follow their example.
My heart is full. I am grateful to have had this experience.