This program is organized by WISER International in collaboration with DukeEngage.

Program Dates

May 22 - July 19

Service Focus

To empower underprivileged girls in rural Kenya through improvements in education and health. Service themes:

  • Health: preventing teen pregnancies and child marriages by supporting adolescent girls in academic and health educational programs.
  • Women’s empowerment: providing opportunities to develop leadership skills so girls can drive change in their communities.
  • Education/literacy: creating opportunities for youth to practice English in preparation for national exams in English that determine access to further education.

Program Leader

  • , Ph.D., Associate Professor of the Practice, Biology Department and Duke Global Health Institute; President, WISER International. Dr. Broverman studies the interplay of gender, health and economic development in East Africa and teaches global health courses with a focus on HIV/AIDS.


While working for two months in rural Kenya, students will assist the WISER NGO to create environments that produce exceptional young women that can drive change in their communities. WISER accomplishes this by a range of interventions that include health, education, and leadership development. Community partner interactions will include adolescent girls enrolled in the WISER secondary school, primary school communities, women’s community development groups, youth church groups, and NGO staff. Opportunities for students may include expanding a sexual and reproductive health training program; collecting data on the nutritional status of children; working with youth STEM entrepreneurs; and developing multimedia projects with youth to showcase their challenges and strengths. Students will gain an in-depth understanding of global health challenges in a rural and underserved community.

Dr. Broverman has worked in Kenya for 14 years, since she collaborated with Egerton University to develop the first HIV/AIDS course for incoming students. This led to a research interest in the role gender played in creating the elevated HIV infection rate in girls in East Africa and how educational systems could be used as powerful intervention points to reduce risk. To develop and assess interventions Dr. Broverman started the NGO WISER in Kenya and WISER International in the US. Together these organizations have created a highly successful model for reducing HIV risk in girls and producing high achieving leaders from a poor, traditionally low performing community.

Student Learning Objectives/Outcomes

After being immersed in Muhuru Bay working at WISER students will:

  • Understand the complexity of social determinants that reduce health outcomes;
  • Improve their skills in cross-cultural communication and learn the importance of culturally anchoring interventions;
  • Learn to recognize the strengths that local communities bring to understanding and addressing their own challenges; and
  • Understand how gender impacts HIV risk.

Service Opportunities

  • The WISER School Community: working with the faculty, staff, and students to support and develop education, technology, and health initiatives. Specific projects can include expanding a sexual and reproductive health program and training new peer leaders.
  • The wider Muhuru Bay community: working with primary school students and teachers to improve education for both boys and girls before critical national exams in English. Students can also work with local community based organizations and women’s groups that need assistance in grant writing and program development.
  • Literacy Projects: using photography, writing, video, and art to increase English skills in adolescents and help them explain the complexities of their lives to others.
  • Science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) entrepreneurship clubs with adolescent girls to build skills, job training, and leadership opportunities.
  • Community health projects on nutrition or mental health. Varies by year.

Placements are brokered as a group during the spring semester prior to departure to ensure we place every student in a project that they are interested in while also meeting the expressed needs of our community partners. Students often participate in more than one project over the summer. Note: while this is listed as a group site, you may not be doing a group project depending on what you work on.

Program Requirements

Language: None.

Coursework: Specific courses are not required; however, students taking courses relevant to HIV/AIDS, global health, women's issues, engineering innovation, or international development might be given priority.

Other Skills: Students involved in research will be given pre-departure training. Documentary and writing skills welcomed.

Personal Qualities:

  • Ability to manage stress in novel environments and with little personal space. Students will be living communally in a bunk house and have limited opportunities to be alone. Introverts welcomed!
  • Ability to see situations from different perspectives, even ones you disagree with. To be curious and open without judgement.
  • Ability to work in a community in which the male-female dynamic can by very different from in the US.
  • Strong problem solving skills and flexibility. Being able to reach a goal even when the path keeps changing.
  • Self-reliance and self-confidence. Understands and meets their own physical and emotional needs with an age-appropriate mixture of optimism and realism.

Program Details

Description of Community: Students will live in Muhuru Bay, Kenya, a rural village of about 25,000 spread out over a peninsula in Lake Victoria. The community is predominantly fishermen and subsistence farmers with some small business people. Most of the community lacks electricity, clean water, or access to sanitation and has the highest HIV, malaria, and infant mortality rates in Kenya. There are very few cars and most people travel by foot. The community is deeply supportive of WISER and very welcoming to guests. The climate is warm, about 85-90℉ during the day, but going down to 70℉ at night. WISER is five minutes from Lake Victoria and has beautiful views of the surrounding land and sunsets.

Housing and Meals: All students will live together on the six-acre gated WISER campus overlooking Lake Victoria. Electricity can be unreliable but there should be several hours a day with access. If there are long term power outages students may not have access to hot showers and may have to use heated buckets of water, as most traditional Kenyans do. Housing on campus will be bunk-beds in a common mixed-gender dormitory. Local women can be hired to do laundry if you do not wish to wash your own clothes.

Meals will be provided by the WISER cafeteria. Protein is very rare in the local diet and most food is based on cornmeal, rice and beans. Students can enrich their diet by buying protein, fruits, and vegetables in town and cooking for themselves in the visitor’s kitchen using a propane burner. It becomes fun to see what favorite foods one can assemble!

Health Note: Peanuts are a common ingredient in the local cuisine. Ready, nearby access to treatment for travelers experiencing a severe allergic reaction to this and other food(s) may be limited at this program site. Students who are considering application to DukeEngage-Kenya-WISER should review these facts with their families and medical providers before applying. Once accepted, a participant with severe food allergies is expected to inform DukeEngage, , of their specific concerns and needs no later than January 19. The DukeEngage staff will work with participants on a safety assessment and to identify reasonable accommodations and meal options.    

Transportation: Most transportation within Muhuru Bay will be by motorcycle taxi with vetted drivers. Transportation outside of Muhuru will be provided by a trusted company that has worked with WISER for eight years or by another chartered service approved by our community partner.

Communication: Wireless internet is available on campus. Internet modems and Kenyan cell phones will be made available for all students.

Opportunities for Reflection: Your site coordinator and fellow students will lead regular reflection sessions in which you’ll be expected to participate. We normally have one day a week when we all cook dinner together and reflect, as well as on Sunday night we have a dessert party and check in with each other before the week starts. Reflection topics often include feeling too small to make a big change; trying to understand how the community views you; dealing with different value systems that don’t give the same status to women or children that you are used to; and how to handle your departure after making close relationships.

Other Opportunities: Despite this being a ‘group site’ you may not be involved in a group project. Most students spend the day apart involved with their projects and return to the WISER campus in the evening. Most projects end at 5pm and students find they enjoy interacting with community partners in the evening for dinner, playing sports, or just hanging out with the WISER girls studying or dancing. (See the music videos!) Muhuru Bay is very safe and students enjoy jogging or walking along Lake Victoria, visiting local caves, or spending time in town to get a cold soda. Living quarters are tight, and finding personal space can be a challenge, but you can always go for a walk or drive. In the past on weekends students have traveled to Kakamega Forest or Migori Town to have a weekend ‘away.’ As a group there is a safari planned for the end of the trip.

More Information

Videos about WISER:

Videos of and by WISER Girls:



  • Half the Sky: turning oppression into opportunity for women worldwide.
  • It’s Our Turn to Eat: the story of a Kenyan Whistleblower. This book provides an in-depth introduction to the role of tribalism in Kenya and is valuable in understanding the dynamics of Kenyan relationships.

Journal Article:

  • Education and vulnerability: the role of schools in protecting young women and girls from HIV in southern Africa. Jukes et al. AIDS 2008, 22(suppl 4) S41-S56

Curricular Connections

Women and International Development House Course, AIDS and Other Emerging Diseases, Global Health Ethics, Fundamentals of Global Health, Global Mental Health, Development and Africa, Medical Anthropology, Global Health Focus Program, Women’s Studies.

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DukeEngage students in 2014 helped the WISER girls make this music video.