Dr. Timothy Shea, Associate Professor of English at Millersville, has been teaching secondary humanities at an international school in Kenya for a two-year leave of absence. Here is an update on his experiences.
I gotta admit. I was a bit nervous accompanying a bunch of teenagers whom I barely knew to rough it in the middle of Kenya where they would need to survive without technology and where they would need to share a handful of pit toilets, two bucket showers, and basic village cuisine. I anticipated a week of whining, apathy, and drama but, boy, was I wrong!
From the very beginning, these kids showed me what’s right about today’s teens. They pitched in to set up tents, help with meals, take turns with toilet use, and all with smiles and good attitudes. I know they were impressed with the sacrifice our host, Pastor Nicholas, and his family made for us to be there. He gave up his home, prepared our meals, and facilitated our service to his community. I was most impressed with the ways they interacted with the local community, from the vivacious church members to the kids with HIV. They played, laughed, told stories, and helped their new friends have a happier life.
Each year Rosslyn Academy takes all of its middle and high school students to sites all over Kenya for a 3 – 5 day camping expedition where they engage in community service while learning more about themselves, and the local culture. It is tiring and stretches their comfort levels but they learn so much in the process!
This year I accompanied sixteen 10th graders to the central highlands of Kenya, nestled between two mountains–Mt. Meru and Mt. Kenya–and surrounded by tea farms and waterfalls where we camped out with a local pastor and his family and learned what it means to serve others.
We painted several buildings of an orphanage for kids with HIV. In between painting, we played with these kids and were amazed with their sense of contentment and happiness. In between our working, we hiked through tea farms to a waterfall and caves,we listened to a local village legend tell stories about the Mau Mau uprising, and we hiked up a dormant volcano. In the evenings we played games, debriefed around the campfire, and reflected on our learning in our journals.
On our final day, we joined all the other high school groups to debrief on the ways this experience changed them. I was blown away by the difference roughing it and serving others with a group of teens for a few days would make. I have gone on lots of field and service trips with teenagers and was ready to deal with the drama, cliques, and whining that often goes with these fun experiences. Amazingly, I didn’t experience ANY of that! In fact, it was quite the opposite. Some of my group members were even new to Rosslyn this year but yet, in no time, they were quite close and were constantly looking out for each other in beautiful ways. By the end of the week, they were letting each other know how much they appreciated each other and how they wanted to make sure they didn’t lose all that they had gained on this trip. As their teacher, I was thrilled and awed by their growth and how such an intense experience could make such a big impact on them. I look forward to seeing how this experience continues to transform us all this year and how it affects the ways they continue to interact with those who surround them every day. THIS is what makes teaching rewarding and fun!