Over winter break, I was lucky enough to participate in the Conservation Social Work course in Kenya. It was a life-changing experience that has completely changed my outlook on life as well as impacted my professional goals. The Conservation Social Work in Kenya course is offered to concentration year students and is part of GSSW’s animal-assisted therapy program (although you are not required to be in the animal-assisted social work certificate to participate). Throughout the fall quarter, we met every couple of weeks for class and then we traveled to Kenya for 2 weeks over the winter break.
It would take me pages and pages to describe my entire Kenya experience, but here are a couple of stories from my trip:
- This is the fun story…We had the opportunity to visit the Betty and Jock Leslie-Melville Giraffe Center where we got to feed and pet rescued giraffes. After getting to know them a little bit most of us chose to get up close and personal with the giraffes, allowing them to eat pellets of food off of our lips. It turns out giraffes are quite slobbery kissers and have large, black, sand-papery tongues. (If you would like more information about the Giraffe Center, you can go to www.giraffecenter.org.)
- This is the sad story…We had the chance to explore Kibera, which is the largest slum in Africa (and the 2nd largest in the world, behind India). As we walked through the slum, we heard children chanting, “How-are-you?” and “Muzungo, muzungo!” (“white person, white person!”); we saw mounds of trash, mangey dogs, and lots of people; and we smelled cattle legs being grilled on fires. It was extremely intense and like nothing else I have ever seen in the United States. All of the homes were made of mud and sticks with sheet metal as rooves. Most of them had a “store” on their front porch and when you walked into the home there was generally one 10 foot by 10 foot room that 5-7 people lived in with no bathroom. Most of us were completely speechless and even now, it is hard to really describe what it was like to visit Kibera. Although it was sad and emotional, it was also frustrating on a larger scale. The Kenyan government does not acknowledge that there are 3 million people living in Kibera (they say there are only several thousand). They do not have any kind of medical care or job security. In fact, the only time the government pretends to care about what is going on there is during election season. Overall, it was an amazing experience to interact with the community and to see the struggles they are experiencing.
- This is the perspective-changing story…In one of the villages we visited called Kasigau, I spent some time interacting with a family in their home. When it was time to make lunch, they said that it was customary for the visitor to slaughter a chicken. I had no idea how to react–I didn’t want to be disrespectful to the family, but there was no way I was going to be able to kill a chicken by myself. Thankfully, one of my translators actually did the slaughtering, but I did help with the rest of the process. While the whole thing was going on, one of the 13 year old girls asked me if I didn’t eat chicken. I told her that of course I eat chicken, so then she asked me why this was such a big deal for me if I ate chicken. I then had to explain to her that in the United States, we generally go to a grocery store to buy packaged chicken that no longer resembles a bird. She could not understand this whatsoever–it just did not make sense to her that there were factories that supplied this type of food to us as consumers. It really made me think about how disconnected we are from the food we eat in the United States. As I have reintegrated into our society, I find myself passing by the meat sections in the grocery store and feeling sick because of how inhumanely those animals were most likely treated. This experience really changed the way I think about the food I am putting into my mouth.
Overall, Kenya was an amazing experience and there are plenty more stories where these came from. While we were in Africa, our class actually attempted to blog about our experiences. So if you are interested in learning more about the things we did while we were there, you can visit http://learn2conserve.wordpress.com