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I am officially one week into my civic engagement program, but adjusting to the culture and environment is still very much a work in progress. When our vans full of DukeEngage students pulled up to the Women’s Institute for Secondary Education and Research (WISER) in Muhuru Bay, Kenya last week, we were immediately welcomed with open arms (quite literally) by the students and teachers at the school. Admittedly, prior to our arrival, I was quite worried about the difficulty of cultural adjustment, as well as to what degree I would be accepted in this community as an outsider, or in Swahili, referred to as a “Mzungu.” Seeing how happy everyone at WISER was to have us as their visitors this summer truly erased that discomfort, but I still have a ways to go on the road to embracing this cultural immersion experience.

Although we’ve only been here about a week, I have managed to keep myself rather busy already. Last year, the girls learned about circuits and building “torches” (flashlights) with Mikayla and Kendall in their engineering club. I hope to pick up where they left off, but still teach something new, so the curriculum that I’ve written for this summer is designed to focus on energy conversion, optimization, and material & structural property analysis. We began this past Saturday with a physics lesson, exploring equations of motion and energy conversion as a precursor to learning about motors in the coming weeks. Since I don’t have a lot of prior teaching experience, and I am in a new culture, I am concerned about being able to teach the girls something that they will enjoy and find useful, and do so in an engaging manner, but I look forward to the challenge. I have also started helping the Form 4 students, equivalent to high school seniors, with their math studies as they prepare for national exams. Although I’m considerably nervous about communicating effectively and teaching in a cross-cultural environment, seeing the excitement on the girls’ faces lifts my spirit.

Because the girls are so busy during the day, I haven’t had much time to interact with them outside of eating lunch or dinner with my designated group, “Magnificent House.” But even from the limited exposure I have had, I can tell that this group of girls is more motivated and determined than most people I have met. Many of the girls at WISER come from very difficult backgrounds and living conditions, and women’s education is not highly prioritized in the Kenyan culture, so I am even more amazed at how brilliant these girls are and that they have managed to overcome so many challenges at such an early age.

One of the things that I have truly come to appreciate about WISER after learning more about the school and the NGO is that it is truly a launching pad for having a better and healthier life. As a child, I was not raised in a neighborhood where scholastic achievement was deemed important, and a good education was not easily accessible, but after participating in summer programs and being surrounded by people who genuinely cared about my future, I realized that receiving an excellent education was not only a true possibility, but also that doing so empowered me as an individual. To know that WISER, as an organization, institution, and community, is made up of people dedicated to holistically improving health, education, and economic outcomes for girls, makes me excited about being here and helping push such a fantastic cause.

I can’t wait to see what the rest of the summer has in store!